Drug-sniffing K-9s compete at Atlanta’s airport for ‘Top Dog’ honor

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations hosts a 'Top Dog' competition for drug-sniffing dogs-in-training.
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 12:24 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2023 at 8:14 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - K-9 Franky had an audience of several TV cameras Thursday as he searched for prohibited items at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Franky and his handler, Deputy Grant Fraker, are from the Meriwether County Sheriff’s Office. They’re competing against drug-sniffing K-9 units from several other local and state law enforcement agencies as part of an annual training conference hosted by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations.

This is the third year for the conference but the first time it’s ended with a competition to crown a “Top Dog.” The dogs are timed as they sniff 200 pieces of luggage.

“When the handler calls an alert on the training bag, we’ll stop the time,” explained Supervisor Kenneth Hodgkins of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The winning dog is the fastest in finding all three hidden bags containing heroin, cocaine, and meth.

“We have a unique environment that other agencies don’t get to see,” Hodgkins said. “We search thousands of people, thousands of bags, and upwards of 77 international flights every day.”

He said it’s important for dogs and their handlers to train in all types of environments.

“If they say stop a Greyhound bus that has a bunch of bags on it, they’ve already had the training. They know what to look for, and it will help them in their law enforcement career.”

The training goes both ways. Occasionally, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will send its K-9 units to train in other jurisdictions, which helps prevent boredom for the dogs.

“Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Atlanta Motor Speedway, parks. We go to churches,” Hodgkins said. “We just partner up with them because if they can learn something from us, we can learn something from them.”

The winner of the “Top Dog” competition will be announced Thursday afternoon. Check back with Atlanta News First for updates.