The Detector Dog Program has evolved significantly since its beginning in 1969 when Customs and Border Protection started with only two dogs. Procurement of suitable dogs was targeted at unwanted dogs from animal shelters, dog pounds and private homes. From these early beginnings, the Program continued to grow throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
By the early 1990s, the volume of work led to difficulties in sourcing quality dogs. The Customs and Border Protection Detector Dog Breeding Program was developed to produce a reliable and high-quality supply of dogs. This development included research into the most suitable breed of dog to meet the requirements of Customs and Border Protection.
The Labrador Retriever was selected for its focus, versatility, temperament and strong hunt-and-retrieve drives. A three-year study was held at the Customs and Border Protection breeding and development site in Melbourne in conjunction with the University of Melbourne and the Guide Dog Association of Australia.
In early 1993, a three-year pilot breeding program began using Labrador Retrievers purchased from the Guide Dog Association of Australia and leading breeders. The first pup, named Fred, was whelped in May of that year. The result was a dramatic increase in the number of puppies that met Customs and Border Protection standards.
Between 1993 and 2006 (13 years) Customs and Border Protection bred 1,000 pups, however it has taken only five years to breed the next 1,000 puppies. Our 2,000th pup was born in April 2011.
The breeding program is now the only source of Customs and Border Protection detector dogs. It promotes a strong gene pool providing healthy, positive dogs that are confident in unfamiliar environments, determined, and with an untiring desire to retrieve.
Many other agencies also use dogs bred by Customs and Border Protection, including the Australian Defence Forces, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, and State and Territory Police. The dogs bred by Customs and Border Protection have been deployed in a variety of fields, including arson, currency and food detection.