Detector Dog Programme

Detector dogs work at entry points into New Zealand to find products that aren't allowed into New Zealand. Find out what these dogs are looking for and how they work.

Dogs sniff out trouble

New Zealand has strict biosecurity procedures at airports and ports to prevent the introduction of pests and diseases of animals and plants. MPI uses detector dogs to find items that could be a biosecurity risk. The dogs search baggage, cargo, and mail.

The dogs are trained to find:

  • plants and plant products, like assorted fruits, vegetables, bulbs, flowers, leaves, and seeds
  • animals and animal products, like meats, eggs, live birds, and reptiles.

Detector dog teams work at all international ports of entry like:

  • international airports
  • ports
  • the International Mail Centre in Auckland
  • international cargo companies.

Detector dogs are also used to help inspect the luggage of cruise ship passengers arriving from overseas destinations.

National Training Centre

The Detector Dog Programme has a National Training Centre in Auckland for training and testing new and existing detector dog teams. The centre houses up to 44 dogs, with breeding and whelping facilities. Watch the video to see 2 new recruits start their training.

New detector dog puppies video

[Two puppies are seen sniffing around the floor and eating pieces of kibble. A training clicker can be heard.]

[Chief Quarantine Officer Kirsty Ansell addresses the camera directly while she and another quarantine officer each hold a beagle puppy. They are standing in a training facility. In the background is a conveyer belt with cardboard boxes on it. There are other cardboard boxes and suitcases on the floor, under the conveyor belt, and on shelves.]

This is Charleston and Roxy, and they were both purchased last week from breeders in Hastings. And they'll enter our puppy walking program and hopefully be successful in the next 12-14 months as working detector dogs.

Ok, so these guys'll start their training around 12-14 months of age, and they'll initially learn about 15 different odors. Then they'll be assigned to a handler where they'll proceed to continue training, and then they'll be assigned to their work site and continue to work until their retirement.

[The puppies are seen in a suitcase, sniffing around clothes and an apple to find pieces of kibble.]

They work roughly until about 8 years of age. We start doing health checks, 6-monthly health checks on them from the age of 7. And we have had dogs that have worked right up until about 11 years of age.

So they'll be working right across all the work sites - at the airports, mail center, cruise ships containers - basically anywhere that they need to be deployed.

It's important to purchase dogs from outside of our programme because it helps with our own breeding programme and increases our genetic diversity.


MPI's Detector Dog Programme has also helped set up programmes in other countries. It's supplied dogs and trained handlers for Argentina, South Korea, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere.

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