No alternative to a detection dog!

Horst-Dieter Träger is an ambassador for “K9andSports” and was before his retirement of customs dog handler and trainer. He talks about his service with the dog and the requirements for the four-legged friend.

Interview by Dr. Barbara Ullrich-Kornadt,
SV press officer

What is the most impressive story or find,which you have experienced with a service dog at customs?

In more than 40 years in the service dog business, there have of course been many impressive “stories”, both positive and negative. Over the past few years, I have developed a suction device for containers with some colleagues as part of a pilot project. This was very exciting work, which ultimately produced very good results. That was a highlight in my work as a customs dog handler and trainer.

A particularly negative “story” was a discovery of drugs – many small portions – among toys in a dealer’s bedroom. It was always a no-go for dealers to hide drugs in the children's room. Since I was the father of a small child at the time, this really touched me.

What distinguishes the dogs, especially the German Shepherds, that are used at customs? What criteria are they used to select?

The dogs that are suitable for us are characterized by a high level of self-confidence and strong nerves, resilience as well as strong instinctual behavior and health. The prey behavior must be very pronounced, especially with the sniffer dogs. When it comes to German Shepherds, we have the advantage that the population is very large and therefore there are significantly more dogs to choose from. They are also easy to manage, especially for newcomers. With some other breeds this was sometimes a little more difficult. The pronounced instinctual behavior must be available in every situation. We are often offered dogs who perform excellently on the “green lawn” but are then very impressed by smooth and/or mobile surfaces. The breeding associations must take action here and, if necessary, adjust the breeding selection criteria somewhat. Unfortunately, the breeding focus is often placed on the “turf specialists”. As a performance judge, I often see dogs that present themselves excellently in competition mode, but are impressed on the podium at the award ceremony, for example. Unfortunately, this applies to many working dog breeds.

What tasks do dogs perform at customs? What specializations are there?

Customs primarily trains dogs to be protection dogs, drug, tobacco and cash detection dogs. There are also some sniffer dogs to find “products of animal origin”, i.e. parts of protected animal species.

On the website of the “K9andSports” initiative, a police officer is quoted as saying: “A vote against working dogs is always a vote against the authorities that keep service dogs.” Can you describe what exactly he means?

Anyone who is against the breeding of working dogs, which of course also involves selection through tests and licensing, is, in my understanding, also endangering our internal security in the broadest sense. The authorities that keep service dogs need working dogs that are well selected through our breeding. Without these dogs it is not possible to continue operations as before. The protection dog saves some colleagues in many areas and work with the detection dog cannot currently be guaranteed across the board through other alternatives.

You are an ambassador for “K9andSports”. What are your most important concerns?

I would like to ensure that the associations and the authorities that keep service dogs exchange ideas in a meaningful way again. On October 21st of the previous year, a meeting took place in Ennepetal with representatives of the authorities that keep service dogs and representatives of almost all working dog associations. This was an impressive event for me. There was a lively exchange. The representatives of the authorities explained again what type of dog they need for their work, and the associations discussed how this type of dog could or should be selected.

At the moment, the majority of service dogs purchased through dealers are one to two years old. They are often a bit “wild” and more difficult to train. Due to the TierSchG's requirements for species-appropriate training, which the authorities of course also want and implement, the trend is towards younger dogs from reputable breeders. These are much easier to train for the desired areas of application. I mean, it's a win-win situation. The authorities that keep service dogs need the dogs bred by the working dog associations and we need the authorities that keep service dogs in order to present our legitimacy to the breeding and training of working dogs to the public. In my opinion, it has been neglected in recent years to make the public understand the meaning of our breeding and the sport. She needs to know that we also do something for the common good!

Illustration: Horst-Dieter Träger with his customs dog "Morris von den Wannaer Höhen" at a competition organized by the Hanover Finance Directorate
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