Chang Che-pei (張哲培) casually flings a purple dog toy from its hiding place behind his back, sending Wiki flying to retrieve it. The small action sends dog and trainer on a romping game of keep away, tail wagging under the scorching July sun.
The game, familiar to dog lovers everywhere, is actually a key component of Wiki’s training.
“Tug-of-war is not just a game. It will become the reward for an on-duty detection dog when it finds narcotics,” Chang said.
For the simple game to work as a reward, a dog’s training must start from birth.
Wiki, still a puppy at five months old, must not be allowed to bond with any humans. Such discipline is necessary to cultivate the focus and independence essential for his future career as a detection dog. With the dog’s socialization closely moderated, allowing Wiki a controlled way to blow off some steam naturally becomes a welcome treat.
Yet Chang must also be disciplined with himself. The toy should be tossed at just the right moment, as Wiki cannot be aware it came from a human. He must then wait for the dog to bite down on the toy before making a sound to keep Wiki’s focus on the game.
If the dog learns to love the game itself rather than playing with humans, it can cultivate independence, as well as a desire for the reward, Chang said.
Trainers must also use just the right amount of strength to make the dog believe it won the game, waiting until the dog reaches peak excitement to retrieve the toy. By leaving the dog wanting, it becomes motivation to continue working hard.
Wiki is to begin his formal training in September next year. When the time comes, his toys will be traded for a white towel similar to the one on-duty customs officers use.
If he graduates, Wiki will join the ranks of the nation’s sniffer dogs working to stop illicit narcotics at the border.
Taiwan began investing heavily into its detection dog program in 2007. Aside from an injection of NT$200 million (US$6.69 million), a memorandum of understanding was also signed with Australia on breeding, training and information sharing. Shortly afterward, the Customs Administration set up a 13-hectare training center in Taichung’s Houli District (后里), ready to house Labrador retrievers after Australia’s model.
The Detector Dog Breeding and Training Center is striving to increase its capacity, center official Liu Cheng-chung (劉政忠) said.
As more packages are sent from overseas, the center hopes to train at least 44 officer-dog teams by 2025 to look for narcotics, while also doubling capacity within three years to prepare 100 dogs annually for search-and-rescue, disease detection and more.
The program has already shown results. After beginning training in 2019, sniffer dogs with the Military Police Command found two stashes of marijuana at military training camps. By the end of this year, the command expects to have 18 officer-dog teams on duty.
In the first half of this year alone, more than 146kg of narcotics worth NT$240 million were seized at the nation’s four main ports of entry, 70 percent of the haul from last year in just six months, center data showed.
Formal training for the dogs begins when they are 18 months old. Before then, puppies bred at the center are placed in foster homes from the age of three months until they are about a year old, after which they are returned to Houli to await training.
The dogs undergo three stages of training, trainer Wu Chun-sheng (吳俊昇) said.
During the first preparatory phase, classical and operant conditioning are used to train the dogs to have passive responses toward target objects and the basics of detection.
Dogs and handlers are then paired up for the second course. Over these 13 weeks, the handlers learn to care for the dogs, observe their behavior and learn basic handling skills. Both are evaluated on a weekly basis to determine if they can continue.
Dogs that pass are sent on a six-month rotation to customs inspection zones. After their “internship” is over, they return to the center for two weeks of assessments and additional training to identify new smells.
After all of those stages are complete, only if the handler and dog work well together can they officially join the drug detection team.
Yet the training does not end there, as handlers must continue developing their dogs’ skills and design a new training regime each season, Wu said.
Only about 20 percent of dogs make it through this rigorous course, Liu said, assuring that each canine that joins the team can be considered “the best of the best.”
Police have detained a Taoyuan couple suspected of over the past two months colluding with human trafficking rings and employment scammers in Southeast Asia to send nearly 100 Taiwanese jobseekers to Cambodia. At a media briefing in Taipei yesterday, the Criminal Investigation Bureau presented items seized from the couple, including alleged victims’ passports, forged COVID-19 vaccination records, mobile phones, bank documents, checks and cash. The man, surnamed Tsai (蔡), and his girlfriend, surnamed Tsan (詹), were taken into custody last month, after police at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport stopped four jobseekers from boarding a flight to Phnom Penh, said Dustin Lee (李泱輯),
BILINGUAL PLAN: The 17 educators were recruited under a program that seeks to empower Taiwanese, the envoy to the Philippines said The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines on Thursday hosted a send-off event for the first group of English-language teachers from the country who were recruited for a Ministry of Education-initiated program to advance bilingual education in Taiwan. The 14 teachers and three teaching assistants are part of the Taiwan Foreign English Teacher Program, which aims to help find English-language instructors for Taiwan’s public elementary and junior-high schools, the office said. Seventy-seven teachers and 11 teaching assistants from the Philippines have been hired to teach in Taiwan in the coming school year, office data showed. Among the first group is 57-year-old
TRICKED INTO MOVING: Local governments in China do not offer any help, and Taiwanese there must compete with Chinese in an unfamiliar setting, a researcher said Beijing’s incentives for Taiwanese businesspeople to invest in China are only intended to lure them across the Taiwan Strait, after which they receive no real support, an expert said on Sunday. Over the past few years, Beijing has been offering a number of incentives that “benefit Taiwanese in name, while benefiting China in reality,” a cross-strait affairs expert said on condition of anonymity. Strategies such as the “31 incentives” are intended to lure Taiwanese talent, capital and technology to help address China’s economic issues while also furthering its “united front” efforts, they said. Local governments in China do not offer much practical
‘ORDINARY PEOPLE’: A man watching Taiwanese military drills said that there would be nothing anyone could do if the situation escalates in the Taiwan Strait Many people in Taiwan look upon China’s military exercises over the past week with calm resignation, doubting that war is imminent and if anything, feeling pride in their nation’s determination to defend itself. After a visit to Taiwan last week by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, China has sent ships and aircraft across an unofficial buffer between Taiwan and China’s coast and missiles over Taipei and into waters surrounding the nation since Thursday last week. However, Rosa Chang, proudly watching her son take part in Taiwanese military exercises that included dozens of howitzers firing shells into the Taiwan Strait off