The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) National Detector Dog Training Center (NDDTC) in Newnan, GA trains canines to perform a vital task for our country—safeguarding America’s agricultural and natural resources from harmful invasive pests and diseases.
Bradley, who arrived at NDDTC in June 2021 from McKamey Animal Center, has been learning how to detect invasive pests that could harm our nation’s agricultural resources. Bradley will remain paired with the handler with whom he now trains, Josh Moose. Moose is a Plant Protection Quarantine Officer/K-9 Handler and Associate Wildlife Biologist with APHIS. Bradley will deploy with Josh Moose around the country to support the USDA’s safeguarding mission when his training program is completed later this year.
USDA’s National Detector Dog Training Center selects dogs and pairs them with a human handler, most often a handler from the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, to be trained to find prohibited materials, invasive plant pests and plant and animal diseases in passenger baggage, mailed packages and in vehicles entering the United States. With this knowledge, Federal, State and local governments can keep invasive species from entering the country, find those already here quicker and target resources more effectively. Invasive plant pests and diseases cost the US $40 billion annually, so this work is critically important.
Bradley’s training is a little different, though. He is being trained to work domestically, to help detect pests already here before they can spread and do more harm. Through positive reinforcement, the NDDTC is training Bradley to detect and respond if he alerts on an item that may harbor a pest that the USDA is concerned about in the environment. He is learning to associate a reward with the specific odor he is expected to find. The training is simple in the beginning, so it is easy for Bradley to be successful. Then Moose will gradually increase the difficulty and complexity of the training in keeping with Bradley’s progress. Ultimately, Bradley will work in the environment and communities around the nation detecting invasive pests.
The USDA’s NDDTC is consistently reaching out to resources like shelters to find dogs that would be a good fit for the job of safeguarding American agriculture. Bradley was found at MAC after Josh Moose called local shelters to see if there could be any potential program candidates he could see. When his foster family fell through, Bradley became a part of the program when he passed the temperament tests with flying colors.
Successful canine candidates also must receive and pass a physical exam from a veterinarian. The NDDTC visits shelters and breeders looking for good candidates for their program. Good candidates, like Bradley, have the right temperament and are healthy enough to participate in the program. Not all dogs will pass the tests required to enter the program. They only accept the canines that have the best attitude and drive to become protectors of our nation’s agricultural resources, like Bradley! They have had great success with shelter dogs in the past and are sure that will continue. The USDA is interested in dogs that are friendly and bold, have a high food drive, and are healthy. At the NDDTC they test recruited dogs in real inspection environments to expose them to the sights, sounds, smells, surfaces and equipment they will encounter in the field. Bradley began training to safeguard American agriculture this summer, and they expect him to complete his training later this fall.
The USDA is happy with the progress that Bradley has made so far, and they are eager for him to finish his training and start on his important work. This is what they had to say about Bradley and MAC:
“McKamey Animal Center is a friendly and welcoming facility, receptive to the fact that some of their dogs could be of great help to the USDA’s mission. If they are accepted into the program, these dogs will grow and develop in a stable, stimulating and loving environment as they assist in a special and important mission.
We appreciate McKamey for sharing Bradley with us and urge them to alert us when other dogs that might fit our profile come through the doors so we can evaluate them for a new role safeguarding agriculture. Bradley will continue in training and we will keep you posted on his progress.
Bradley is an awesome dog -- happy, smart, eager-- and we are so happy that the USDA has him on our team helping to stop the spread of invasive pests. We foresee a bright future for Bradley as he continues to grow confident in his new role. When his training is complete he can be found searching residential areas, commercial areas, groves, farms, forests, train yards, golf courses, and other areas as that last line of defense to help keep invasive pests from spreading.”