Home » Drug-sniffing dogs back on full duty now that pandemic is over | The Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis

Drug-sniffing dogs back on full duty now that pandemic is over | The Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis

KOBE–Port authorities here are doggedly sniffing around for illegal drugs now that inbound tourists aboard foreign cruise ships are approaching pre-pandemic levels.

Kobe Customs said drug-sniffing dogs are more efficient than humans at detecting hemp and prohibited chemicals in border inspections, particularly when thousands of passengers arrive en masse.

Those substances are now more likely to be brought into Japan, officials said, compared with the past three years when foreign cruise operators stopped making port calls due to COVID-related travel restrictions.

“Drug-sniffing dogs had fewer opportunities to showcase their ability when the novel coronavirus crisis was raging,” said Hiromi Masuhira, director-general of Kobe Customs. “We will be using them more often from now on to help them achieve their full potential now that inbound travelers are returning.”

Carrying 700 passengers, an international cruise vessel arrived in Kobe Port Terminal in the city’s Chuo Ward on Nov. 2.

Two sniffer dogs were deployed by Kobe Customs as passengers passed through the section for customs, immigration and quarantine.

Together with their handlers, a female Labrador Retriever named Elle and her male partner, Shaun, from the same species roamed among the passengers.

The dogs did not detect anything suspicious.


In 2019, according to statistics kept by Kobe city, 134 cruise ships called at Kobe Port. The figure dropped dramatically to 34 in 2020 as the COVID-19 began to spread across the globe.

Kobe Port only threw out the welcome mat to foreign cruise liners this past March after a three-year hiatus. By October, 75 vessels had visited, a figure reportedly on pace to top the previous years mark.

Sniffer dogs have a definite edge when it comes to accurately and efficiently detecting contraband from large numbers of incoming passengers.

A large liner is capable of disgorging up to 5,000 passengers, according to Kobe Customs.

Checking the bags of each individual would take too long and also place a heavy burden on border control officers.

For that reason, dogs are sent out to sniff passengers as well as their baggage. Only individuals deemed to be suspect by the animals are examined closely.

Detection dogs have played a crucial role at customs offices across Japan since 1979 with the aim of cracking down on illicit chemicals at ports and airports. Sniffer dogs made their debut at Kobe Customs in 1992.

Currently, 130 drug-sniffing dogs are on duty at customs offices across Japan.

Canine variants such as the German shepherd and the Labrador Retriever are typically utilized because of their exceptional sense of smell. Dogs that are not shy and apt to show an interest in moving objects are said to be suited for tracing drug odors.

Animal examiners are required to undergo a four-month course at the drug detection dog training center in Narita, Chiba Prefecture.

They are first trained to play with towels rolled into rod shapes that are known as “dummies.” The odors of prohibited chemicals are then applied to the dummies. Toying with the towels, dogs are gradually motivated to memorize and search for the dummies’ aromas deriving from illicit substances.

Sniffer dogs are assigned to customs offices after passing a certification test.

At Kobe Port in December 2015, a dog pinpointed a Dutch national with hemp resin concealed in his socks after the man arrived on an international ferry from China.

The man was charged with violating the Customs Law.