Sniffer dogs foil DVD pirates

Almost as soon as a roll of film first whirred through a camera, dogs starting playing their part in the movies. Lassie, The Wizard Of Oz, and numerous other movies have made use of our canine friends — both as heroes and villains.

Now two more dogs have been specially trained for a role in one of the biggest war stories the movie studios have ever produced — against DVD pirates. Within a couple of years two young, playful, black Labrador Retrievers named Lucky and Flo have become superstars for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), helping save some of the billions of dollars lost every year to bootlegging and illegal copying.

Like drug dogs and police dogs, Lucky and Flo are highly trained. Their skills are unique though because they’re the only dogs in the world that can smell the resins and polycarbonates used in DVD production. The dogs can’t tell which ones are pirated, of course, but they can find ones that have been hidden.

K-9 Pirate Smackdown

Neil Powell from Newcastle in County Down, Northern Ireland, is the man who trained Lucky and Flo. After returning from Hong Kong where Lucky and Flo demonstrated their talents on the “K-9 Pirate Smackdown” Tour, Powell explained how he ended up working with search dogs. “I’ve been around dogs all my life, but my interest really began 30 years ago, when I spent almost every weekend for a year with a police dog handler. He was one of the best and I learned how to read and respond to different dogs.”

After that Powell started training dogs for Mountain Rescue, and he has a clear memory of the moment he knew when he was going to spend his life working with dogs — at the December 1988 plane crash in Lockerbie, Scotland. “That was my first air crash disaster, and I went there for five days over Christmas with my dogs. We basically were finding human remains, and my life is really defined as before and after Lockerbie. It was that traumatic.”

Several years later he heard through associates that the MPAA wanted DVD sniffer dogs. Powell, who had been a teacher and child abuse counselor for many years, was skeptical at first until he learned that DVD piracy would also include child pornography.

“That really was the main motivator for me, and I went straight to a local kennel. I knew I wanted labradors because they have a good nose and a high search and play drive, and people are comfortable with them.”

Dog Sniffer Success

Training took place over a period of eight weeks. During that time they went from being utterly confused in a room of a hundreds of DVD’s to being able to find a single one that was well hidden. “I followed the same procedure that’s used for explosives and drugs searching, which is known as Passive Indication. It involves rewarding the dogs with a tennis ball, and they will sit and point when they’ve found something.”

Lucky and Flo were first put to work with HM Revenue and Customs and FedEx at Stansted Airport in the U.K., and Powell was delighted that they were immediately successful in rooting out DVD’s in both small packages and in large containers.

The dogs don’t always get it right of course, although there was one search that Powell remembers, “The dogs were going berserk, but when we opened the boxes they were full of dog food. Everyone laughed at me and the dogs, and then we found the one DVD hidden amongst all the dog food.”

Lucky and Flo have been traveling the world demonstrating their skills in the Czech Republic, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Dubai. “I take them out about six times a month. When they’re sniffing days are done, they’ll end up in our house as dogs number eight and nine! It’s been a brilliant adventure.

This article was contributed by James Bartlett