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Man’s Best Friend Protects American Agriculture

Thunder attending a course at the National Detector Dog Training Center.

Thunder attending a course at the National Detector Dog Training Center.

My name is Thunder.  Not too many months ago, I was homeless and waiting for someone to take me home from the Houston Beagle Rescue in Houston, Texas.  Then, a nice lady from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s National Detector Dog Training Center (NDDTC) in Newnan, Georgia came to visit.  From that day on, my life changed.

At the NDDTC, I met my human handler and my fellow classmates.  What a diverse group!  You see, detector dogs come from places all over the country, including humane societies, beagle rescue groups and private owners.  Before we’re adopted, we go through extensive temperament tests and are evaluated by a licensed veterinarian.  And when we retire from service, or if we don’t meet the training requirements, APHIS ensures that we’re adopted and placed in good homes.

My classmates and I trained hard for four whole months and learned how to prevent pests and diseases from coming in on smuggled agricultural products.  I learned the scent of agricultural contraband and how to find it in bags, boxes and parcels.  Beagles and beagle mixes are really good at sniffing out food and agricultural items in luggage and on passengers.  Labs and lab mixes trained hard to patrol international borders, cargo warehouses and postal facilities for smuggled contraband.  Even Jack Russell terriers have a job—they learned to detect invasive brown tree snakes in Guam. Eek!

Thunder attending a course at the National Detector Dog Training Center.

Thunder attending a course at the National Detector Dog Training Center.

My job is extra special—I sniff out the invasive Asian Longhorned Beetle, an invasive insect that’s killing trees in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.  I didn’t know much about the ALB until I started this job, but I did know that my handler kept giving me treats just for sniffing out beetle “frass”, or the sawdust the beetle leaves behind as it chews.  If there is something I am really good at it is sniffing and eating treats.  After all, I am a beagle!

My handler says I am part of an important team dedicated to protecting neighborhood trees and this country’s valuable forest resources. Wow!  That’s a lot for a little beagle from Texas to take in, but I am proud to protect America from these harmful pests and diseases.

You play a vital role in preventing the establishment and spread of invasive pests and diseases, too.  To learn more about what you can do to help, check out the “Attack of the Invasive Species” factsheet at or visit our Hungry Pests wesbite.

To see my classmates and me at work at work, check out this video!

12 Responses to “Man’s Best Friend Protects American Agriculture”

  1. jane harrod says:

    What a great use for all the many hunting beagles that get dumped every year after rabbit season is over.

  2. betsy huggins says:

    We could use a gold spotted oak bore beetle sniffing dog in these parts (Deerhorn Valley, Jamul, CA.) Great Job. Kudos to Thunder.

  3. Barbara Gridley says:

    It’s a great use of these special dogs just waiting in the wings to be put to valuable use.

  4. Holger Jensen says:

    What a great story. I would like information on adopting retired service dogs. And when i retire I would like to get involved in training them.

  5. Patrick H. says:

    This is a great story. I would like to share this story with my friends and family via FaceBook and twitter. Will the USDA blog eventually use social media bookmarking apps?

  6. Rebecca [USDA Moderator] says:

    Hi Patrick,

    We have used social bookmarking in the past for our site but have encountered some problems with its implementation. We are looking to reevaluate in the near future.

    Thanks for your comment and share away!

  7. Mark Tyquiengco says:

    The Beagles are great dogs! I attended the Handler course (USDA BrownTree Snake) in 2007 with Monica Errico. I was one of 4 Handlers (With the JRT’s)from Guam that year. Great class, great Instructor and great bunch of men and women who work there and contribute to a great cause. Hi Monica!

  8. Kristin says:

    Wish it were true what you said about beagles that don’t make the cut in your program! It says “when we retire from service, or if we don’t meet the training requirements, APHIS ensures that we’re adopted and placed in good homes”. I KNOW of at least one beagle you dropped off at a FULL shelter to pray he wasn’t euthanized. Horrible.

  9. Clark Hochstatter says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve been working with dogs most of my life, and it’s always nice to meet other dog lovers.

  10. Donna Niclaus says:

    hi, My son is interested in learning to be a dog handler in this foeld. are there any handler schools for dog sniffing near pennsylvania, and do you have to be in law enfors=cement. I have heard they sniff bedbugs, insects, etc.

  11. Rebecca says:

    How does one get involved as a detector dog handler/trainer?
    I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have been training animals (dogs, marine mammals,etc) for years. I am passionate about handling/training working dogs especially for conservation work – like what the USDA does with detector dogs in airports.
    Please let me know if there are resources I can follow up with, thank you.

  12. B. Truitt says:

    I envy these trainers/handlers here in Newnan,GA NDDTC they’re very dedicated to getting the job done right the first time. I’m just a cleaner at this facility. I see most come in as a regular dog and leave an officer, totally differently demeanor. I’ve met just a few of the handlers just by instructor introductions. All the dogs are not just limited to just here in the U S. I love all animals my mother made sure of that. It seems that the reason I envy this place so much is cause these facillities dang near spend more money on trying to adopt out the dogs that dont meet required temperment test, than what it did to train them (my opion). Which means no more shelter or pound life. All the dogs are top notched, all the trainers & trainees are top of the class in my book.

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