06 December 2023

Not all public servants are human.

Here we introduce you to New Zealand's dedicated dogs and other animals, who patrol, search, detect, track and just generally help out in a range of incredible ways.

You’ll see them working at airports, ports, on boats, in the bush, and in emergencies. If you encounter a working dog, it’s good to know why they are working, what they’re looking for, and how they’re doing their bit to protect us, our biosecurity, and our borders.

So say hello to these furry friends who work hard to provide support and services for the benefit of people right across the country.

Corrections detector dogs

Detector dog teams work to keep our prisons free of contraband and our communities safer.

The detector dogs, of various breeds, are carefully selected and highly trained to sniff out illicit drugs, cellphone components and tobacco products.

When they’re not on duty, the dog teams help promote Corrections’ work to the wider public. You’ll often see detector dog teams at community events or helping NZ Police colleagues with search operations.

Meet the whole team of dogs on the Corrections website.

Sasha, Corrections detector dog.

Explosive-detector dogs

There are more than 30 Explosive-Detector Dog teams located at our four main airports: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown.

They are part of the Aviation Security Service, which is governed by the Civil Aviation Authority.

These remarkable dogs search for explosives in car parks, navigation facilities, unattended cars and bags, cargo, and aircraft. They also conduct random searches around the airport environment, at check in counters, screening points, and gate lounges.

You can meet all the ‘detectives’ on the CAA website.

Conor, Civil Aviation Authority explosives dog.

Conservation dogs

These clever dogs are used all over New Zealand. Along with their handlers, they are trained to sniff out protected species (mainly birds) for survey, to be monitored and/or moved to another place. They also track and find pest species like rodents, mustelids, Argentine ants, and weeds that would destroy our native wildlife in pest-free areas.

Certain breeds are more suited for this work – indicator dogs (setters and pointers) are often used to find protected species, while terriers are usually used to find pests.

Learn more about the programme on the Department of Conservation’s website.

Rosie and Pru (with their humans Rochelle and Adeline) undertaking island surveillance on Hauraki Gulf Islands for DOC.

Customs detector dogs

These specially bred Labradors are trained to find drugs and large sums of cash. Clever eh? The Detector Dog Unit has teams based in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, which screen people, goods and craft. They work across a range of areas including airports, the International Mail Centre, air and sea cargo, small craft and cruise ships.

Discover more about these clever canines on the Customs website.

Kale, Customs detector dog. Photograph by Greenstone TV.

Police dogs

Police dogs respond to more than 30,000 incidents each year. All patrol dogs are German shepherds and are supplied by the police dog breeding programme that is based at the Dog Training Centre near Wellington. 

Patrol dogs are mainly used to track and search for people.  Many of them are also trained for search and rescue work, victim recovery, and deployment with the Armed Offender Squad.

Detector dogs include a variety of breeds including German shepherds, labradors, springer spaniels and cross breeds. Detector dog teams are trained to detect narcotics, firearms, currency and explosives.

Find out more about the dog section on the Police website.

Police dog. Photograph by Jane Dunn Photography.

Biosecurity detector dogs

MPI's detector dogs are trained to detect and stop biosecurity risk items coming into New Zealand. These canine public servants –beagles and labradors– search baggage, cargo, vessels, and mail.

They sniff out plants and plant products, like assorted fruits, vegetables, bulbs, flowers, leaves, and seeds. They also find animals and animal products, like meats, eggs, live birds, and reptiles.

Read about a typical detector dog's day on the MPI website.

And check out this handy tool for finding out what you can and can’t bring into the country.

Neon, Ministry for Primary Industries detector dog.

Military working dogs

These dedicated dogs have a number of roles, from providing security at Ohakea military air base, to getting opportunities to be deployed on exercises and missions overseas.

There are also Explosive Detector Dogs such as Rita, a Labrador cross who gets deployed during security operations.

Read Rita’s story and learn more about their working dogs on the Defence Force website.

Border sector


The Public Service border sector organisations work together to protect our people, economy and environment by preventing harmful pests, diseases and illicit goods such as drugs from entering Aotearoa New Zealand.

Find out more