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How the Cops Train Dogs to Find Drugs

Updated on January 12, 2018
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

How the cops use dogs to sniff out drugs.
How the cops use dogs to sniff out drugs. | Source

Not all dogs are willing to become “sniffers”, but the poice go through a lot to find the right candidate, and if you want one and learn how to train them right, most dogs are able. Dog breeds with brachycephalic faces (smushed-in noses) are not great because they are prone to breathing problems and upper respiratory infections. A dog with a stuffed up nose will probably not be the best drug sniffer.

Dogs that are used to sniffing can be trained to find anything. Some police departments use dogs to sniff out corpses, customs uses dogs to sniff out illegal plants at the airport, and regular cops use dogs all the time to sniff out drugs.

Some dogs are able but not willing, or even interested. If you have the right dog, how do you go about training a sniffing dog?

Kong toys are great for training since they are durable.
Kong toys are great for training since they are durable. | Source

How they go about training the dog

1. Even before he becomes part of the drug seaching service, most dogs are taught basic obedience commands. Like when training your dog to be a guard for your property or to provide personal protection, basic obedience commands like sit, stay, and down need to become second nature. If the dog does not respond all of the time, he will probably be removed from the service right away.

2. Later the dog is provided with a rugged toy that you will use as a reward every time he sniffs correctly (A lot of cops suggest the Kong since it is hard rubber and you can hide things inside it). When they play with the dog they use the toy every time; the toy should be the means to communicate with the dog. They usually play fetch several times throughout the day with this toy.

3. Later still they start putting the toy in a box, stepping back and then telling the dog to fetch it for. When he brings the toy they praise him lavishly and give him the toy back to play with.

4. They will hide the toy and tell him “Find it” as his order to fetch it. They do not make it too hard to start with. When using a toy like a Kong, it is filled with peanut butter (or something the dog really likes) before it is hid.

5. When the dog understands the concept of “Find it” and is using the command to find his hidden toy, and can do so flawlessly, the cops transfer his searching abilities to another object. If you want to train your own dod you can do this using drugs, plants, or maybe just your keys or remote control (if you are the kind of person that loses them all of the time and wants to train your dog to find them for you). I am going to use the example of marijuana, as a joint smells strongly and dogs are trained fairly easily. Put the joint inside the Kong toy and put it in the box you used in step 3.

6. Tell the dog “Find it”. When he looks in and sees his Kong, and smells the joint, he will begin to associate the two.

7. Hide the toy (with a joint inside it) somewhere less obvious, not in the box, and tell him to “find it”. As in step 4, this should be easy at first and more difficult as your dog´s training progresses.

8. Always praise him and let him play with the toy as soon as he performs “find it”. Dogs will vary but if you practice with him a few times a day he should have this technique mastered in a few weeks.

9. Substitute any other products you want your dog to search for. Some police services will use products for sale that help you train your dog for bomb detection—but drug sniffing dogs will not need that capability, obviously.

This is a great toy that is used to train drug sniffing dogs since things can be hidden inside it.


Is it possible to hide drugs from a drug sniffing dog?

This subject originally came up when a person asked me about hiding drugs. Yes, it is physically possible since a dog is only able to detect drugs because of the release of the drug molecule in the air. He is not able to detect drugs hidden inside a human body; he is not able to detect drugs through a solid object.

No, it is not practicable. If the drug smuggler leaves any holes for the molecules to escape, the dog will pick it up. Several smugglers on the border of Brazil and Bolivia have been caught smuggling even when the cocaine was hidden in the bed of a truck and welded shut.

How? If the weld is not perfect, and any air is able to escape, the dog´s nose will detect the drugs hidden underneath the metal. (Also, if any of the drug was spilled on the bed of the truck before welding the dog would be able to detect those molecules. It does not take much!)

Training a dog to sniff and find objects around the house can be a lot of fun.



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    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      He sounds like a real natural! He does it even without receiving a special treat? Most dogs would expect something for the job; it is usually play time, sometimes a special treat. Maybe he was trained and is expecting something from you?

    • hisandhers profile image


      5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Great hub! I almost wish I could un-train my Jack Russell to do this. He can sit, lie down, and give us his paw, and he also came with the ability to sniff out pot. There are a couple of people in our building complex who occasionally indulge outside our window and he just goes crazy whenever he can smell it. Do you think his previous owners might have trained him to do this?

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi ktrapp it sounds like your Beagle was trained to detect Mrs Butterworths! Those dogs are so amazing. I read an article about customs police not wanting to work with them (since they are not big macho dogs like GSDs) until they were told that they were undercover. Beagles never look like they would hurt anyone so they are great undercover dogs.

      Leave a comment when you get her trained for something around the house. Thanks for stopping by.

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      6 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Thanks for the heads-up on that word. I really didn't like that sentence so I just deleted the whole thing.

      Yes, one reason I have read about brachycephalics not being good at this is because of the reduced number of receptors. The stuffy nose is a factor too, of course. Good thing English Bulldogs don't have to talk!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      That was really interesting, Doc! I was curious as to how working scent dogs were trained.

      Would it be true that another reason brachycephalics aren't good scent dogs is that they lack the volume of receptors that long muzzled dogs have?

      Stoners should read this hub...they'll never have to buy another stash. All they'll have to do is bring their dogs over to their dealer's house while he's out engaging in commerce. I'm not an English major, but I think you might want to correct a word in your last sentence. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      This is really interesting. My beagle is an excellent sniffer! I've always wondered, though, how to get her to sniff for certain objects that weren't food. We used to always play "find it" by just hiding the tiniest piece of a treat. It was amazing to watch her even as a little puppy sniff around the room until she found it. This fall when people piled huge piles of leaves at the curb she was insistent on dragging me down the street a little bit to one particular pile. She proceeded to dig all the way down and up she came with a piece of a waffle! Her nose never ceases to amaze me and now she seems to be having fun sniffing and digging through snow with her nose. She would have been an excellent drug-sniffing dog, but I think I'll give your steps a try to train her to find some other object. Thanks for the help.


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