Helsinki airport – 13.8 million travellers per year pass through, with 342 international flights per day. Finnish Customs (Tulli) already has eight custom’s dogs working, with either drug or money detection. However, they have deemed it necessary to train a new dog for Helsinki Airport, which will be the first of its kind.
Heila, the six-month-old Labrador retriever, will be working at the airport and around the country, and will be the first dog specialised in arms and explosives detection. Due to changes in the international security situation, customs have it necessary to intensify the supervision of arms, ammunition and explosives. In the few years prior, Finnish Customs have discovered approximately 300 discoveries related to arms, arms components, ammunition, and explosives amongst online purchases, luggage, and air freight.
Lassi Suntion, the trainer paired with Heila, will be trained as an explosives expert at Customs, in conjunction with the Military Engineer School of the Finnish Defence Forces in Lappeenranta. Speaking with Lassi, it became evident why he was selected for the programme. “In my civil life, I have been working with dogs for 25 years. I used to work as a security officer and had a German Shephard working with me, trained as a personal protection dog. The last two dogs I had, I competed with weight pulling.” Lassi has a long history of training dogs of various breeds and started working at Finnish Customs sixteen years ago. “This is the first working dog from the government for me…I work exclusively with Heila and we are partners. She’s with me 24/7, as she lives with us. When we have free time, it’s free time – we’re not working, we’re having fun, just like any normal pet at home.”
When asked about the bond between the trainer and dog, Lassi replies confidently. “We are still developing our relationship, but she came to me early in June. For the first two weeks, I had a holiday, which allowed for the early formation of our bond.” Finnish Customs has its own dog school, from which they select puppies for training. For the most part, they train Labradors. Other breeds include English Spaniels, Border Collies, and more recently, Nova Scotian Retrievers.
Heila’s training is coordinated by the Customs Dog Training Centre. The training began in June, mostly concerning socialisation exercises, which then progressed to identifying arms and cartridges. The formal beginning of arms and explosives detection will begin in January 2017 at the Police Dog Training Centre.