A Nose for Narcotics: The Low Down on How Sniffer Dogs Are Trained

A Nose for Narcotics: The Low Down on How Sniffer Dogs Are Trained

Ever been in line at the airport and had a dog walk by sniffing luggage with an office? You’ve encountered a sniffer dog. This might seem like an odd way to find drugs, but drug detection dogs are a great way to find drugs without unnecessary searches or tons of technical equipment.

You might find yourself wondering how that process even starts. A dog can learn to fetch, but sniffing out drugs is another task entirely. The process isn’t as complicated as you might expect, but it still works remarkably well.

The Dogs

Not all dogs make for the best sniffer dogs. There are different sniffer dog breeds that work well, but the list isn’t very long. While dogs, in general, have incredible senses of smell and are often trainable, those breeds that lean toward service and an aptitude for training are usually more likely to be selected.

The breeds selected to be sniffer dogs are often shepherds, German or Czech, boarder collies, labrador retrievers, or german shorthair pointers. There are a few more that do well, but generally athletic and task-oriented breeds work best. 


The training to actually become a drug-sniffing dog is not hard to understand. It doesn’t revolve around treats or an actual interest in drugs. The training begins with and continues to revolve around a toy

Trainers will play with a dog and establish a favorite toy, often a basic towel with no scent to associate with it. Then they will wrap up some cannabis or another substance in the towel so the dog will associate that toy with that scent. Then, when they want to play they will hunt down that towel, or that scent, as a signal that they have their toy. 

This process does take time and involves training for both the dog and the handler. The dog is rewarded with the training of proper procedures on how to behave when detecting that scent, as in some cases they may paw at it, but in the case of explosives detection that would be dangerous so they can’t touch it if they find it.

In the Field

Sniffer dog practice also entails going into different terrains to detect the scent and going to new places. Going into the field to find drugs is different than training, so it is important to make it as similar as possible.

There are companies that train and run narcotic detection programs and can detail how that process looks when called in. It can be different depending on the location and what the dogs are supposed to be looking for.

Super Sniffer Dogs

Using dogs for drug detection may not seem like the most reliable practice, but sniffer dogs do tremendously well and are happy to help. The training is safe and the dogs are not put at risk with exposure to drugs or anything that could harm them when getting the scent down. If you found this information interesting to learn about, keep reading for more animal facts.

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