Tamara Lopez: Hello, and welcome to @CanBorder, a podcast offering an inside look at the ways the Canada Border Services Agency works towards protecting and bettering the lives of Canadians and travellers crossing the country's border. I am your host, Tamara Lopez.
We would like to acknowledge that we are recording this episode on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Metis Nation of Ontario, the Anishnabeg, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Huron-Wendat peoples. This land is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. In the spirit of reconciliation, we invite all listeners to reflect on and continually learn about the land they currently reside on and the Indigenous communities it is home to.
Welcome everyone to @CanBorder, the CBSA podcast. I'm your host, Tamara Lopez and today's episode is on Detector Dogs. I'm sure we're all excited to learn about Detector Dogs in the CBSA, so let me introduce today's guests. We have Ryan Gamble, Jean Brochu, Supervisor, Detector Dog Training Program in Rigaud, Quebec, and Emily Rowe. Welcome everyone.
Emily Rowe: Thank you.
Ryan Gamble: Thank you, good to be here.
Jean Brochu: Thank you and nice to be here.
Tamara Lopez: So let me get into my first question. Ryan, what is a Detector Dog and what do they do on a daily basis?
Ryan Gamble: So the Detector Dogs fall under the detection tools that CBSA employs on a daily basis. My canine partner Indy and myself work in various areas of the airport, screening passengers, luggage, cargo and aircraft.
Tamara Lopez: Now, do you work in a team or do you work by yourself?
Ryan Gamble: I work with a team, the Enforcement Teams, mostly. This is where we like to concentrate our efforts on higher risk destinations that are coming in. Could be trans-border or international.
Tamara Lopez: Okay now Emily, same question for you. So you have a Detector Dog as well. What do you and your canine partner do on a daily basis?
Emily Rowe: So Paige and I are working primarily in the land mode. So we focus on transport trucks, cars, people, we search a courier system within our facility. And every once in a while, we get called out to do trains and any planes that may come into the Niagara District Airport.
Tamara Lopez: So, Emily, as a Detector Dog Handler, what sorts of items are you looking for that cannot come into Canada?
Emily Rowe: So primarily in our team's profile, are odours of drugs and guns, so that's what we're looking for in this mode.
Tamara Lopez: And, Ryan, for yourself, is your dog trained in a similar background, or what is your dog trained to search for?
Ryan Gamble: Indy and myself are also at the same profile as Emily, drug and firearms. However, the CBSA does employ two other scent profiles, one being currency, and the other one being food, plant and animals.
Tamara Lopez: Okay. So there is more than one scent profile that the dogs might be trained on.
Ryan Gamble: Yeah, that's correct. Just for an operational standpoint. So for example, if myself, I refer something in, the officer knows that my dog is trained in drug and firearm, so that's what they're gonna be looking for. On the other hand, if let's say the currency dog sends in a referral, they know that they're looking for currency and the same with the food, plant and animals, it just kind of streamlines a process so the officer can focus on the task at hand.
Tamara Lopez: Okay, now you, Ryan, you mentioned that you work in an airport environment. What is that like in terms of having a Detector Dog?
Ryan Gamble: We're seeing multiple flights a day. So for example, I'm searching planes that are holding, let's say between 180 upwards to 300 people. So as you can imagine, if you're going to pick up your luggage around the carousel, it's very hectic, very busy, everyone's looking for their bag, it's very dynamic. So it's just to give you, I guess, an idea of what type of environment we're working in. But also being outside around the planes, it's very loud. There's also a lot of moving parts with the baggage handlers, running their equipment. So all of the environments at the airport are very dynamic and the dog needs to be socialised very well so that they can operate in those environments and not be distracted.
Tamara Lopez: Great point on socialisation, and I'll be sure to ask Jean about that later when it comes to the training portion. But you mentioned that you work in a baggage hall and there could be upwards of 300 people that could be a distraction for your dog. People asking questions, like, "Can I touch your puppy?" How do you keep your dog focused on the task at hand?
Ryan Gamble: Through lots of training, that's for sure, like I said, the dog needs to be used to searching around people and know that it's a part of a job, so training definitely falls into that. I definitely say it's a balance from when I first started to now.
There's always lots of people who wanna pet your dog. But the example I give, if someone goes to pet the dog, I might give them a funny look and they're a little taken aback, but I ask them a question: if this was a seeing eye dog, would you try to pet this dog? And usually their first reaction is, "Oh, no, I wouldn't." So I say there's no difference and I just continue on my way. So people, obviously, they want to pet the dogs. They're happy-go-lucky so I can see why they do it. But sometimes we would like the travellers to maybe be a little more mindful of their surroundings zone and that we have a job to perform.
Tamara Lopez: And that's great by being more mindful, an awesome scenario that you gave us there. If this was a seeing eye dog, wearing a coat, you wouldn't wanna pet that dog and so the same thing for the CBSA. These are working dogs and therefore we don't pet them.
Now, Emily, same question for you. Now you may not have the same volume of people that are experienced at an airport, but you have trucks and you have cars, so what exactly is that like in terms of keeping your dog focused?
Emily Rowe: My experience at the land border is a little bit different than Ryan's. We work primarily outdoors, so we have weather considerations. We work in the rain, we work in the snow, ice, all of those conditions. We also work inside warehouse searches and whatnot, as opposed to Ryan searching a plane or being around a carousel with maybe 300 people. The most I might see is 40-50 on a bus, but generally it's two-three people.
Paige wears a "Do Not Pet" emblem on her vest that she wears to work, so I don't really have too many issues. There are people who wanna pet the dogs, but we just ask that they kindly don't, and generally that goes off without a hitch.
Tamara Lopez: Again, same point similar to Ryan, being more mindful of your surroundings and ensuring that individuals do not pet the dogs as again, they are working dogs.
So my next question is for Jean, why does the CBSA use dogs as opposed to other animals?
Jean Brochu: The CBSA uses Detector Dogs, primarily 'cause of their natural ability and their hunting desire, contrary to other animals. They just have this natural ability coming from lineage from wolves, their primary instinct of survival. Therefore there are certain breeds that we use that have more of that than other breeds. But generally speaking dogs all have this built ability of sensing out and sniffing and being curious, some are more than others.
Tamara Lopez: And again, dogs have the most acute sense of smell, which helps them detect cargo and luggage in a non-intrusive way.
You mentioned different types of breeds. Which dogs does the CBSA use for food, plant and animal, for currency and for firearms?
Jean Brochu: Presently, the CBSA for the food, plant, animal, it's a combination of the breed Beagle cross mix, Labrador Retrievers. For the currency, well, all the breeds that I've mentioned can actually go for it. And for the drug and firearms, like the same thing. We - generally speaking, the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Flat Coat Retriever, Springer Spaniel.
We look at the size of the dog also. If they're working in an airport, well, they're basically searching people, so we are looking for a, maybe a higher dog, so they have access to what they're actually sniffing. If they're mostly doing people, we want a dog that's a little bit higher on its legs. If a dog's searching cargo or land border crossing, well, you might have a more compact dog like Emily's dog, and a dog that has fantastic agility to go into tight spots and tight areas underneath the beds of tractor trailers, cargo, smaller vehicles. So that's also something that we look at when we pair the dog to the Handler at his working environment.
Tamara Lopez: So, Jean, after their initial health check, as you mentioned, when does their actual training start?
Jean Brochu: Their actual training starts from the moment we go assess them and bring them to our centre. Everything that we do from that moment on, even bringing them to the vet, making them go inside a vehicle and outside a vehicle, for some dogs it's "inhabituel", they've never gotten in a vehicle. So from that moment on, the training starts and everything is based around positive reinforcement. When a dog does an action that we want, or we want that behaviour to repeat itself, well, then there's light praises and so on and so forth.
The main thing that we focus on is to develop and enhance their detection ability. Of course parallel to that there's agility. And as Emily and Ryan mentioned before, the socialisation is a big aspect of it, especially if the dog comes from a field trial breeder where the dog up to the age that it came to our training facility, only saw woods, brooks, woods and grass, and for the first time in their lives, they actually see a massive amount of people around a carousel all at once. And it's yeah, to just to make their focus on the game, regardless if somebody comes to pet them, regardless of the noise that's of their surrounding.
So all of that is done progressively. All of that is done on a Lego Block System. So when they learn something, it's embedded and they do it four out of five, five out of five, then we go to the next step and we incorporate another distraction. We incorporate another level of detection and we bring him up to when candidates like Ryan and Emily arrived at the college, and that's where the show actually happens to really pair them up with their right partner for them to last the duration of their career.
Tamara Lopez: So, Jean, a question for you in terms of training, when the dog is actually indicating on something, say an illegal firearm or a narcotic, what do they do? Do they bark? Do they jump up and down? How do they indicate?
Jean Brochu: From the early 90s, prior to the 90s, our dog reacted actively. They would actually dig and scratch. From the early 90s, we've trained our dogs to indicate passively. So once they've source the odours that they're trained on to the actual location, they will go into a sit reflex. So basically change of behaviour, source the odour, indicate where the strongest odour is coming from, and they will follow into a sit reflex.
Tamara Lopez: Okay, so they're sitting down, it's not aggressive, moving barking, jumping, it's more passive?
Jean Brochu: Passive and very friendly looking and very discrete.
Tamara Lopez: So you mentioned that you're up there training the dogs to be having more expertise in one area instead of a jack of all trades. How long does it actually take to fully train a Detector Dog?
Jean Brochu: The pre-training aspect varies anywhere from two to four months, five months. When the pre-training is done and they're ready to be put on a basic course, basic course is being a new Handler, starting their career. And there's also a replacement Handler, a Handler that's coming back for a dog when a dog is being retired out, or met for medical or performance issue. A replacement course is five weeks, and a basic course is 10 weeks.
But that being said that, it doesn't stop there. Emily works hard day and night, 24/7, 365 days a year. We see them yearly and we look and observe where they should be at, and we give them recommendation for the following year. So it's an ongoing training, it never stops. There's always something that you work on. There's always something that you need to work on for it not to fall back, and yeah.
Ryan Gamble: Yeah, I'll just add to that quickly. We get passengers that ask us all the time, "Oh are you in training?" And my answers are “I'm always training.” Career as a Dog Handler, you're in perpetual training. If you don't maintain it, it's a perishable skill and you'll lose it. So, like Jean said, that we're always training, even Handlers that have been in the field for six-seven years, you're still training.
Tamara Lopez: I see. So it's all about the qualities needed to become a Dog Handler. So Jean tell me what qualities you look for when pairing someone up to become a Dog Handler?
Jean Brochu: We actually would look for somebody that has patience, definitely somebody that has passion. And perseverance, like Ryan just mentioned, it's an ongoing training so you have to ethically impose that on yourself. Am I gonna be capable to training this partner for six, seven, eight years constantly day after day?
Even when the dog is off duty, there's things to be kept in mind, that the dog cannot play with family members, the dog cannot play with other dogs. Their focus gotta remain around work. That being said mind you, there's always that little acquaintance there every now and then with other dogs for them to be sociable around other animals and people, but they can't go on playing half a day without any observation of their Handlers being there.
So somebody that's, how can I say, wants that challenge, wants that style of living, 'cause it is a style of living. You're bringing somebody into your household, your family life, if you're married, if your partner that you have kids, there's certain guidelines that they must respect and implement at all times and keep in mind at all times.
Tamara Lopez: Ah, very interesting. So an entire lifestyle change. So, Emily, question for you. What exactly has your perspective been on becoming a Dog Handler? Did you know what it was? Did you know what to expect? Did it meet your expectations?
Emily Rowe: I came into the job with three other Dog Handlers who were in my region at the time, or at my port at the time, and I would watch them on, on almost everyday basis when I was on shift. And I thought it was magic, I thought when the dog sat, it was just perfect. And when I went to the college, I realised that no matter how hard you work, it's not always going to be perfect. And then I also realised how much effort and time the other handlers had put into that position. So it became almost immediately apparent how big of a responsibility the job of a Dog Handler was and how much effort you have to put into it day in and day out.
Tamara Lopez: So, Emily, you realise that this job is a big responsibility, detecting illegal goods coming into the country, plus taking care of a dog 24/7. So what has that adjustment been like with your family?
Emily Rowe: It was a complete change in routine at first. You're looking after the dog, morning, noon and night. If there's any medical, potential medical issues, looking after her safety, maintaining her kennel, maintaining all of those things, even after hours when you're not on shift. So it was a bit of a routine change, as well as the considerations of my children. Sort of keeping that life separate was a bit of an adjustment.
Tamara Lopez: Right, because the dog isn't considered a family pet, seeing as how it's a working dog. So you have to actually keep the two separate, correct?
Emily Rowe: That is correct. On her days off she is on days of rest and she's resting in her kennel separate from the family.
Tamara Lopez: Okay, great. So I'm gonna ask Jean a follow up, because you mentioned earlier about the socialisation of the animals, but they're not living around other animals or children in the household, for example. So why exactly is that?
Jean Brochu: The main reason why we do that is to keep their focus around the job. If something else occurs in their life that becomes more important than their detection work, then we'll see a definite decline in their performance at work. So that's generally their main reason, but that being said, they take him out for walks, they take him out for runs in the park, on when they have two, three, four days off. They let him interact with other dogs the odd time, but they gotta be pretty on the ball to notice any changes in their detection abilities, so they remain focused on their jobs.
Tamara Lopez: Okay, so they still get the same things you had mentioned like love and affection from their handlers when they're at work, but to ensure that we keep them focused on the job, we wanna keep them separate from other family members and pets, correct?
Jean Brochu: That's correct. Labrador, Retriever breeds, some of them just want love and affection, and their Handlers like Ryan and Emily must remain and be their sole source of partnership, relationship. It's a relationship like, there's a relationship in between Ryan and Indy and their relationship cannot be broken. So therefore Ryan must remain the most important thing in Indy's head.
Tamara Lopez: And that's really sweet to hear that there's a relationship or partnership or bonding that happens between the dog and their Handler.
So this question is for Ryan, what has the lifestyle change been like for you, as you had mentioned earlier that you were a bit of a perfectionist?
Ryan Gamble: Yeah, it's mostly a day to day thing that I have to remind myself of. Like I said, I'm competitive in spirit and I want to be the best and I wanna perform every time I come out, but we're trying to do a perfect job, but with an imperfect tool.
A dog is, it's a living, breathing, being that has emotions and a mind of its own. And the other hard thing about that is too, there's no way to communicate with the dog. It's not like a coworker or family member you can ask them, hey, you know, how is your day? You know, what's wrong? Why did you do this, why did you do that? With the dog it's all up to interpretation. So I think that having patience in that sense, just to know that, you gotta take things slow and to not get frustrated because the dogs, just like Jean has mentioned, you know, Indy and I have a relationship, she knows when I'm upset at her and it shows in her work, so I really need to keep that in check.
You know, whether it be at home or at work, at all times, I need to be mindful of how I'm feeling and how it can affect her.
Tamara Lopez: Right, they say dogs are really keen on picking up on people's emotions, so this is a good example of when it's important for us to be good so that the dog is good.
But I wanna learn more about the dogs, the breed, the name. So, Emily, tell me about your dog and what it's been like.
Emily Rowe: Paige is a almost five year old Labrador Retriever. She is extremely keen to do the job. She has an enormous amount of energy, which is challenging to hone that into searches and to find a balance between too much energy exertion, maybe on days off or on days of work, et cetera. She loves the ball, it's her paycheck, and that's her primary focus every day is to get that ball.
Tamara Lopez: Okay, then for yourself, Ryan, tell me a bit about your dog.
Ryan Gamble: Yeah Indy is a, she's gonna be seven in March, she's a female Yellow Lab. I've been working with her since November of 2017. Much like Emily said, Indy is a ball fanatic. When I first started, I would just have a KONG as her main reward. And I wouldn't have a rope on it, but over time, getting fingers bit, a little aggressive on the ball, I decided to go to a rope. It just saves you from little, from bruises and whatnot.
But even though she's biting me, like, she's just so possessed for that ball, that she doesn't even know that she's getting my hands. So it's nothing bad, but that's another thing that Handlers, we have to be prepared for that. Yeah, there's gonna be bumps, bruises, blood, sweat, tears, the whole nine yards.
Yeah, Indy, she's an excellent family dog. She's a few years in so she kind of knows her role. The beginning days off we're a little bit of trouble because she's always, she thinks that she's
always going to work, but now she kind of knows her routine days of work and days off, so she's a little more chill her days off.
Tamara Lopez: So just as Emily had mentioned, when the dogs are on days of rest, they're actually resting, as again this is a lifestyle change that requires a new routine.
So talk to me about some challenges or successes with being a Dog Handler, Emily?
Emily Rowe: As you mentioned, just right there in the challenge department. When I mentioned about Paige's energy, one of the considerations that I have is her safety, because she'll go into any situation with all four paws, she'll jump right in. And so I have to be very careful as to what I allow her to do so that she doesn't get hurt on the job. So that's one of the main considerations that I have for her when I'm working with her.
Tamara Lopez: Of course, and for us, it's exactly the same. We put our eyes somewhere before we put our hands. So we have to take into consideration, not just the safety of ourselves, but of course the safety of the dog as well. Very important.
Ryan, talk to me about any challenges experienced as a Dog Handler.
Ryan Gamble: I think one of the biggest challenges is that when we leave the college they do a good job of kind of building us up, knocking us down, and building us up again, so that when we leave that we're full of confidence and we have the belief that we can go out and do it. But when we get back into, I guess you would call it like a live environment, it's not always the case. So a challenge would be, I guess, is like, I'll bring it back to patience, that I have none of it. It's something I've had to learn on the job on how to do, on how to get. We all wanna go super fast, but I've heard this phrase a bunch of times that, your career as a Dog Handler is a marathon and it's not a sprint. You know, don't try to do everything all at once, 'cause you're just gonna crash. So take your time, make sure you have the proper foundation on skills that you wanna work on and just take it slow and enjoy it.
Tamara Lopez: Very well said. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and just like any career, we don't become proficient overnight. We have to constantly learn and train to become better at our jobs.
So, Jean, a question for you, where are the names coming from for the dogs that are selected?
Jean Brochu: The names we take them with the names they got. So whatever names they have when we get 'em at six months, nine months, a year and a half, two year and a half, we take that name. Occasionally, we might change the names depending on the names that were given to them for specific reasons, but generally speaking, like the 90% of the time, the name remains as is.
Tamara Lopez: And you mentioned their age. So around what time do you actually get the dogs into the Program? How old are they?
Jean Brochu: We can get them as young as six months, seven months. It all depends on the maturity. Like humans, dogs don't all mature the same way and develop the same way, learn the same way, so some mature very quickly and some are two and a half, three years old and they're not mature at all. So like it all depends of the dog we have.
Tamara Lopez: Okay, so then also explain to me the duration of the Detector Dog's career. How long are we talking? Is it four years, is it five years?
Jean Brochu: The life of a dog, if there's no mishaps health wise and performance wise, the dog will work all the way up to the time that he's retired 10, 11, and that specific moment, the Handler will have the first choice of keeping the dog as a family dog that's now retired. Yeah and even if there's a medical or performance issue for retirement, we always let the first choice to the Handler deciding if he wants to keep it as a pet or place it in a family of his choice. Generally speaking, a family member or a very close friend.
Tamara Lopez: And that's great that you give them that option, the possibility of the dog becoming a part of the family once he retires from service. And again, the dog sees their job as fun with the dogs being well taken care of by their Handlers and the CBSA.
So, Emily, tell me one of your greatest successes with your dog.
Emily Rowe: I believe it was 2008, nope, 2019. Paige was able to find 11 guns in a rental car coming through. They were hidden in a centre console and yeah, so that was our biggest find so far.
Tamara Lopez: And that's awesome that we got all those off the streets. Paige was able to sniff that out and maybe you and I would not have been able to see it with our own eyes.
So, Ryan, talk to me about one of your successes with Indy.
Ryan Gamble: I mean the airports, it's super challenging environment, so sometimes there's a few and far between successes. But one of the ones that I had was, I think it was about, I say it's not a huge quantity, but just the method of concealing was pretty interesting. When I walked in with Indy and there was, as soon as I walked in, there was no doubt that she knew something was up and she did her thing as she was trained to do.
It's a great feeling to know that all the hard work that you've done actually pays off and you can have a nice find like that.
Tamara Lopez: And again, that's fantastic getting that off the street, something that our own eyes and noses would not have been able to sniff out. So thank you again.
And any final thoughts from you, Jean, on the Detector Dog Program and its benefits?
Jean Brochu: I think the benefits are it's the most non-intrusive tool out there amongst the other detection tools that we have, and Ryan and Emily are part of this big family coast to coast. We're out there tirelessly, and we try to give 24/7 assistance to all the officers at the Port of Entry. And I think like the Handlers put in the effort and the time and they train hard, the results are there and they make the Program shine.
Tamara Lopez: Thank you very much for that final comment, Jean. And I wanna thank all my guests for being here today, Emily, Jean and Ryan, for being on this episode of @CanBorder on the Detector Dog Program. So everyone be aware and declare.