- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. Natz worked several cars, trucks and buses at the checkpoint here without success for about an hour, when he suddenly alerted his handler, Border Patrol Agent D.W. Collier, he had found something.

The German shepherd sat still, staring into the vehicle's front seat. Agent Collier motioned the two occupants out of the car. Other agents stood by and a search began. Within minutes, the agent found a single marijuana seed not enough for an arrest, but certainly enough to show his dog's training and ability to locate drugs.

"Good boy," Agent Collier said as Natz pulled at a chew toy.

Border Patrol Deputy Director Ricky Radasa, who helps coordinate the agency's K-9 training facility at Fort Bliss, Texas, said Natz is a perfect example of the type of dog the Border Patrol wants to augment its search for people and contraband.

"We want a dog, no matter the distractions, who will use his nose to find those odors we have taught him to discover, and to do so without being aggressive to the thousands of people with whom we deal daily," he said. "We try to make it a game: If he finds the odor, he gets a toy."

The Border Patrol dogs are used to find illegal aliens, search for people lost in the desert, and locate bombs and drugs. The dogs, usually Belgium malinois and German shepherds, all have passed strict evaluations to determine their soundness in temperament and their ability to work under stress.

Mr. Radasa said they are taught to find different scents through the use of a chew toy, which becomes their reward when they locate their quarry.

The dogs are not aggressive. When they locate drugs, people or other search objects, they sit alerting their handlers to the find.

"A dog's sense of smell is many times that of a human's," said Border Patrol Supervisor Onesimo "Oggie" Gonzalez, who directs the agency's K-9 unit in El Paso. "You just can't beat the nose of a dog, and we have the best-trained dogs in the world.

"No matter how hard you might try to hide something, they will find it," he said. "They want to work. You teach them the job, and they want to do it all the time. They are so smart that really the only reason they need us is to drive them to the checkpoints."

The dogs are trained with the hollow chew toys so that different scents can be introduced. The animals believe the smell comes from the toy, and that they get to play if they find it.

Mr. Radasa said all of the Border Patrol dogs come from Europe, where the gene pool for the animals has remained intact.

The other important part of the K-9 program is the handler, Mr. Radasa said, adding that the Border Patrol is looking for agents who have patience, common sense, reliability and can remain calm under stressful situations. The K-9 program applicants must have spent at least a year in the field before they will be considered for the agency's six-week training academy.

About 300 K-9 handlers are in the Border Patrol. The dogs average seven to 10 years on the job, making replacements an ongoing proposition.

"You've got to get to know your dog very well because you are going to be spending 10 to 12 hours a day with him," he said. "It develops into a very personal relationship."

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