Beagles move over. Four labradors have graduated from a Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) programme to work sniffing out New Zealand's biosecurity threats.

Enya, Eden, Ella, and Egypt are from a litter of 11 puppies born last October under the breeding programme.

MPI Minister David Carter said the dogs were a crucial part of New Zealand's biosecurity defence system.

"To see those dogs sniffing around a large amount of either luggage or mail and detecting a very small piece of organic matter gives you a lot of confidence in the biosecurity system," he said today.


"The dogs' visual presence at the airport is a big factor, they are great at detecting seeds and plants that X-rays may miss."

It is the first time labradors have been to be used, the job used to be the exclusive domain of beagles.

Beagles will still be used in airports but labradors have the advantage of being larger and physically stronger, enabling them to be used at airports and on mail pathways.

The dogs will be used to find items carried by air passengers and inside mail which may pose a biosecurity risk to New Zealand and are trained to sniff out more than 35 base odours.

Detector dog team manager Alan Willox said the dogs would be able to find up to 300 biosecurity items including seeds, nuts and leaves.

They will focus solely on biosecurity threats as Customs have their own Australian-trained dogs for drug detection.

Mr Willox said it took 10 weeks to train dog detection handlers, who usually came from other quarantine inspector roles.

Simone Cowan, who has been a handler for just over a year, said working with the dogs was fun, "even on a bad day".