BORDER STORIES; Border Patrol canines in action

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BORDER STORIES; Border Patrol canines in action

Christina Macone-Greene

9/30/2005 6:35:21 PM

A working dog in action can be attention-grabbing, because many wonder how these animals are trained to do this work and remain curious about how a canine unit operates.

“The canine unit is a support function for the other agents in the field. We’d miss a lot more without the dogs,� said Border Patrol Agent J. Pederson.

Pederson has been with the Border Patrol Canine Division for seven years and an instructor for three. When he started with the Border Patrol, he thought this career path would be for a few years, but when he got into the canine unit everything changed. “I got hooked.�

Pederson’s working partner is his 1½-year-old Belgian Malinois, Bo. Pederson admits he does not do the job for the glory, but when his dog does a spectacular job, such as discovering narcotics or illegal crossings, it gives him a great feeling. A dog’s sense of smell is so heightened it can discover things that humans can so easily miss.

Pederson and Bo work at the Temecula/San Diego Border Patrol checkpoint. Currently, there are 10 canines and four instructors there. This duo performs their work not only there but also in other areas, such as ports of entry, illegal crossings, various other checkpoints and, always, the search for narcotics.

The dogs are typically trained between the ages of 1 and 2, said Pederson. The top two popular breeds for the Border Patrol are the Belgian Malinois and German shepherd, though other breeds, such as the Dutch shepherd and Tervuren, are also used. “The Malinois, typically, is the dog with a higher drive.� The “drive� is the natural instinct and energy in the dog that make them quick learners and more intense in their work.

Border Patrol canine training school is a ten-week course. The first five weeks is focused on training the animal and the last five is the handler/dog training. The biggest challenge in training is not the dog, it is the handlers, said Pederson. “It’s getting people to recognize the dog’s behavior.�

The dog training is very simple. “It’s easier than people think,� said Pederson. He explained that the narcotic scent work is introduced within the first three to five days. From there, they move onto concealed human training. That segment takes an additional three to five days. “The dogs actually learn very quickly.� The instructors utilize a building block type of training. They start with a foundation, and from there they take another step. “When the dog gets it, you move on to the next phase.�

When the dogs graduate and begin to work, they normally clock a 40- to 50-hour work week. At the end of a workday, the dog goes home with the handler. “The reason why they are kept at home is because they work hard during the day and they need a lot of sleep. They need to unwind. They can’t do that at a commercial kennel.� Keeping the dogs home with the handlers also provides a better bond between the two partners. Surprisingly, the dogs know when it is a workday. “When the dogs see their handlers in uniform, they know it’s time to go to work.� In some dogs, you can see an attitude change, said Pederson. The dogs become very protective of their handler and their vehicle.

Pederson cannot imagine doing any other job than the one he is doing now. Working in the canine unit with his dog, Bo, is special to him. “Bo is a loyal companion… a loyal partner.�