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Victoria Martin TYOK Border Force dog handler
Rob Greig

Things you only know if you’re a Border Force dog handler

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…according to Victoria Martin, 31. 

Some dogs have serious jobs

‘At our kennels at Gatwick we have labradors, a pointer and a poodle-pointer, but we use springer spaniels mainly, because their noses are so good. Each dog is trained on different commodities: drugs, cigarettes, cash… My spaniel Teddy is a firearms dog, so when he detects a weapon, I make sure there’s no ammunition in it and that it can be looked after safely.’

Not every pooch is cut out for it

‘Once you’ve both been through training, you have to be licensed by a chief instructor, who will watch you work to make sure you and the dog are good together. When I was being inspected with my previous dog, Sidney, we had to do a baggage belt search. I could see that Sid wasn’t acting right, and then he decided to do a massive poo on the belt while the bags were going round. It became apparent afterwards that he was petrified of crowds of people.’

When the handlers go on holiday, so do the dogs

‘Nobody else can work your dog, because only you’re licensed to him or her. So we have kennels at Gatwick, and when we’re not working,  the kennel assistants look after our dogs for us. They get walked and fed twice a day; we’ve even got paddocks where they can go and play with the other dogs. A day off for us is a day off for them.’

Retired dogs are in high demand

‘Dogs are normally retired aged seven or eight, depending on their health, and the handler gets first refusal. If they or their friends or family are not interested, there are always people within Border Force who are after our dogs, because they’ve worked alongside them and they’re so well trained. We have waiting lists – everybody wants them!’

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