Here’s Why You See So Many Beagles at the Airport

It's not just because they're adorable, these pups are secretly superheroes.

Airports during the holiday season—or most seasons, if we’re being honest—can be pretty bleak places. Stick a bunch of aggravated, anxious people together during an already-stressful time of year and sparks will fly. But just as you’re ready to lose it with the extremely slow person in front of you in the security line (who allegedly “didn’t know” about the carry-on liquid rules in place for nearly 15 years) you spot it: an adorable beagle trotting alongside a police officer.

Sure, you expect to see larger dogs like German Shepherds in the airport, and while they’re on-duty too, you may be surprised to see how many beagles are employed there too. So why are you likely to run into some of these cute canines during your holiday travels this year? We spoke to some experts to find out why they make ideal airport dogs. Find out how to adopt dogs that didn’t make the cut for TSA.

Their nose knows

Beagles are renowned for their sense of smell. They are believed to have some of the best noses in the dog world, picking up over 50 distinct odors with their over 220 million scent receptors, Anne French, MVB, head of the department of clinical sciences at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in St. Kitts tells Reader’s Digest. (An impressive sense of smell is one of the superpowers all dogs have.) The breed also has a big appetite, so they are perfect for detecting prohibited food items at the airport, she adds.

According to Daniel J. McBride, a private investigator and former NYPD officer, beagles were originally hunting dogs, and their keen sense of smell is actually superior to current technology—at least for now. With proper training, beagles can also categorize smells to alert their handlers to different areas of violation like produce, drugs or explosives, he explains. “This is all very helpful for the handler to quickly navigate a busy environment such as an airport because the beagle can notify them of different discoveries based on their classification,” McBride tells Reader’s Digest.

Beagles aren’t a recent addition to airports, Jeremiah LaBrash a certified dog trainer tells Reader’s Digest. “In fact, here in Los Angeles, they’ve been employed as part of the ‘Beagle Brigade’ since 1984,” he explains. “The Beagle Brigade was started by the USDA to sniff our foreign fruits and vegetables at LAX International Airport.” Find out 13 ways air travel will change in 2020.

Beagles are friendly and compact

Aside from their smell, beagles are known for being really personable pooches. This is especially helpful in stressful, crowded public places, like airports. “Everyone knows German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and other large dogs are great for law enforcement operations, but we also know they can be quite intimidating and sometimes can be a little too reactive to stimuli,” McBride explains.

Similarly, as Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian in Texas and a veterinary consultant for DogLab notes, beagles are also smart and easy to train. “These dogs are usually very laid back and not aggressive, which is great for large crowds,” she tells Reader’s Digest.

In addition to being friendly, part of what makes beagles less intimidating than other breeds is that they’re pretty small. As Ochoa points out, this also lets them easily navigate places full of people and their luggage.

“Beagles are much smaller, behave more friendly, and just do their job with a happy demeanor, which the public often appreciates, particularly in an international airport setting with travelers from all walks of life,” McBride says. “It’s similar to how any profession chooses the right tool for each job. In a high-stimulant environment with thousands upon thousands of potential ‘suspects’ per day, you need a tool with finesse, which is what the beagle is.”

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Elizabeth Yuko
Elizabeth is a bioethicist and journalist covering politics, public health, pop culture, travel, and the lesser-known histories of holidays and traditions for She's always mentally planning her next trip, which she'll base around visits to medical museums or former hospitals, flea markets, local cuisine, and stays in unusual Airbnbs or historic hotels.