The nose knows

(NC)-They’re called detector dogs and they have a very important job in Canada’s correctional system. Their objective: to sniff out concealed drugs and other illegal substances and stop them from entering our prisons.

Once only a customs agent’s best friend, detector dogs are now gaining in popularity and becoming a major part of Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) drug detection program. Most prisons now have a full-time detector dog and handler.

Daniel Melanson, who has worked with CSC for 18 years, runs the Detector Dog Program at the Westmorland Institution in Dorchester, New Brunswick. With the invaluable help of the expert nose and trained instincts of his partner, Bella, a chocolate lab, his team helps ensure the security and safety of the institution.

On the job, Bella is expected to search all areas in and around the prison. She must be able to detect drugs anywhere, including in someone’s shoe heel or in their belongings.

According to Dil Pangalia, CSC’s National Detector Dog Program Manager, people will find very creative ways to smuggle drugs in. “They’ll hide them in personal items, correspondence and even in a baby’s diaper. They’ll alsout them in body cavities.”

Officer Melanson says that just the sight of Bella or his van on the grounds is a great deterrent. “We’ve seen visitors drive into the parking lot of the institution only to turn around and go back through the gates after seeing the dogs or the handler vans,” he added. “Families who have someone inside serving a drug sentence don’t want to get their names dragged through the courts and the newspapers, trying to get drugs inside.”

Like all CSC dog handlers, Officer Melanson was trained at the Canada Border Services Agency’s Detector Dog Learning Centre, a fully-accredited facility in Rigaud, Quebec, where he attended the 10-week dog handler training course.

The dogs have a very high detection rate. “We found various types of drugs, soft and hard,” says Melanson. “Drugs like marijuana, hashish and others.” If you can buy it on the streets, they’ve found it inside.

Most of the dogs are medium-sized, such as Labrador retrievers and various other breeds. They are passive when searching, meaning once they find drugs, they don’t go after them, they alert their handler by sitting and/or displaying a behavioural change. Their reward is a play exercise with a rubber toy.

“If it’s got a good nose and a good play drive, the dog has the makings to be trained for detection work.” Melanson says.

– News Canada