Contraband - NZ Customs


New detector dogs protecting the border

New detector dogs protecting the border 

Labradors Ember, Dee, and Virgo all arrived in New Zealand in late July (2015) from the Australian Customs and Border Protection’s dog breeding centre in Melbourne, to become Customs detector dogs in New Zealand — and now that’s exactly what they’re doing.

The three new Customs dogs were all put through their paces during an extensive training course, and again during their police validation in late October (2015), which they all passed with flying colours.

Acting Chief Customs Officer Detector Dog Training, Ruth Bennett says the teams went through a number of operational scenarios set up by NZ Police to test capabilities of both the dogs and their handlers.

“Happily, all of our teams passed their validation and are now a welcome addition at ports throughout the country helping protect our border at the busiest time of the year,” says Ruth.

We met up with the Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch based teams to see how their first few weeks in an operational environment ahs gone – here’s what they told us:

Dee and Ezra

Dee’s handler Customs Officer, Ezra says she’s a veritable ray of sunshine with a glistening golden coat and a cheeky smile, and we’re inclined to agree.

Dee, who is one year and nine months old, is a very energetic golden Labrador. She may be small in stature but she has endless energy when she’s searching mail and parcels at the International Mail Centre or passengers and baggage at the airport.

“During our training course, Dee showed she has the skills and has got what it takes to be a drug detector. She is up for any task put in front of her and proved this when she passed her validation – and now she’s bringing those skills into the operational environment and loving it!” says Ezra.

Dee had her first find at the International Mail Centre so all the hard work is already paying dividends.

After a day of searching and sniffing on the job, Dee loves to chase a ball down at the park or go for a walk.

Ember and Monica

When Senior Customs Officer, and experienced dog handler, Monica first met Ember she noticed a gorgeous shiny black Labrador with light brown eyes staring at her from the back of a Customs vehicle looking “super-cute”.



To Monica’s surprise she was bulldozed by highly energetic Ember the minute the van door was opened.

Monica says: “during the first week of our training course Ember was nicknamed ‘bucking bronco’ because she was really naughty and would wiggle, drop to the floor and playfully try to nibble my hands when I was putting the harness on her.”

“Sometimes it took longer to get Ember’s harness on than it took to complete a training scenario.”
Over the weeks Ember made huge improvements and learned to locate all of the white powder drugs she was trained on. She is very confident drug detector dog and enjoys working at the airport and screening cargo.

“Ember searched her first cruise ship in early December, but she’s still on the hunt for her first find.”

At home, Ember aged one year and seven months, lives with two retired detector dogs, 15 year old Lulu and seven year old Macca, and she enjoys pestering the both of them as much as she can.

Virgo and Rob

Drug Detector Virgo and her handler, Senior Customs Officer, Rob have been operational for just on a month now and Rob says Virgo is adjusting well to working life.

“At one year and 11 months old she has all the signs of a good drug detector dog and although she hasn’t had her first find yet I’m quietly confident that it won’t be too far away!”

Virgo has already had a couple of indications at the airport which have resulted in admissions of using drugs but luckily for the people concerned they were not carrying any drugs.

Rob has noticed that Virgo has developed some interesting quirks since being in her new home in Christchurch including a love of the carrots in Rob’s vege garden.

“She has figured out how to dig the carrots out of the garden to eat without disturbing any other plants — she’s the stealth carrot eater!”

On hot days when Virgo isn’t working, or digging for carrots, she enjoys jumping through the water slide with the kids and going for swims. She’s already become part of the family and looking forward to more fun in the summer sun.