Customs and Border Patrol Canine Centers: A History

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When the Department of Homeland Security was formed on March 1, 2003, the canine resources of four agencies were united under it. Canine teams from the U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture were now under the DHS which resulted to a more comprehensive canine program that is now currently composed of more than 1,500 canine teams. The two canine centers maintained by U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Border Patrol in Front Royal and El Paso, respectively, were consolidated and renamed as Canine Center- Front Royal and Canine Center- El Paso.

The Canine Center in Front Royal was originally the Canine Enforcement Training Center. It was created in 1970 to help the U.S. Customs Service detect narcotics as it stepped up its drive against drug smuggling. Skilled dog trainers were recruited from the various branches of the military service starting in January of that year and official training began in April. At that time, the dogs were specifically trained to detect marijuana and hashish. Later on, these detection dogs were trained to spot heroin and cocaine and in September of 1970, these trained dogs were able to detect all four substances.

The current training facility located outside the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area was formerly a 300-acre beef cattle research center. It also served as the U.S. Cavalry Remount Station before that. The hay barns, cattle stalls, large pastures, and wooded areas were renovated into offices, classrooms, and kennel buildings for the CBP canine teams. After Congressional approval for more funding in 1991, the center now has upgraded electrical and water utilities, a 100-run kennel building, a laundry facility, a training building, a small arms firing range, vehicle training areas, improved training roads, and a new academic building with better classroom facilities. 

In an effort to further the Border Patrol’s detection capabilities for concealed humans, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, four canine teams were trained in 1986 and put on duty in 1987. They were able to seize more than $150 million in narcotics as well as concealed individuals on their first five months of operation. The impact they had on operations led the U.S. Border Patrol to add 75 more certified canine teams to enhance their capabilities.

The Canine Center in El Paso was established by the U.S. Border Patrol to ensure that training and certification standards for their canine teams were consistent. Their location on the Biggs Army Air Field provided them with the space as well as the ideal climate for outdoor training year-round.

Initially, only two Detection Instructor/Handler Classes were offered in 1993. Eleven instructor students and six handler teams graduated from two classes. Back then, they already had 152 canine teams in the field supported by nine instructors. The facility later grew and became known as one of the best canine training facilities in the world based on the awards and recognition it received from various governments and international law enforcement agencies.