6 min read


Can Dogs Detect Gunpowder?



6 min read


Can Dogs Detect Gunpowder?


The term “gun dog’ was originally used to describe a pooch that helped a hunter find and retrieve game, but now in the 21st century, gun dogs are crucial in tracking firearms often discarded by a crook on the run. Our wise and hard working woofers are respected K-9’s that put their nose to the ground and find a gun that could help lock up the offender for a good amount of time. 

Dogs are detection specialists, capable of sniffing out cash, drugs, bombs, and firearms. How do they do it? Read on and you’ll get to know these amazing mutts that help police keep us safe.


Signs a Dog Can Track the Scent of Gunpowder

The new breed of gun dog is invaluable to police, as finding a weapon used in a robbery or worse is vital evidence that could see the perpetrator brought to justice. Pooches trained to detect firearms are looking for the scent of gunpowder and even if the gun has not been discharged, it is possible for the trained pooch to find it. 

All guns are checked and generally fired at the factories where they are made. This gives a dog a window of about a year to pick up on the scent. They can also detect gun oil, a product used in the making of firearms.

When a detector dog is alerted by their handler, it's all go as they head for the scene of the crime and the dog is instructed to find a scent. Woofers love working and it shows in the way their tail wags as they sniff everything in their path. Watch their heads bob and turn from side to side as 200-300 million scent receptors take in every odor.

Once they find an area close to the scent, the dog will pace around letting the scent take hold. If it’s a positive find, the pooch is likely to sit in a passive mode, the sign they are onto something. Aggressive signaling is another way a dog alerts their handler by digging, scratching or pawing at the area the gun may be hidden. Bomb detector dogs are taught to use passive alerts as, like a firearm, it could go off.

With the tragic shooting in schools, the idea of employing dogs that could detect guns and protect students has become increasingly popular. Meet QT, a black Labrador, and Hoss, a German Spotted Pointer - two highly trained mutts on patrol at Calhoun County schools in Alabama. Police One informs us you might see QT jumping up at the school lockers making sure there are no concealed guns. If there is only a hint of a scent, these pooches will find it as their sense of smell is herculean compared to ours.

Body Language

Signs a dog can detect gun powder include:<br/>

  • Alert
  • Digging
  • Jumping Up
  • Scratching
  • Sniffing
  • Head Bobbing

Other Signs

Other signs a pooch has detected firearms are:<br/>

  • Sitting Near The Gun
  • Exhibiting Another Trained Behavior
  • Excited Behavior

The History of Dogs Detecting Gun Powder


Dogs have been helping out humans since the time they made a shift in evolution and befriended early man. This was quite a feat for a 4-legged, ferocious beast that could just have easily seen people as a tasty entree.

The rest is recorded history as humans were smart enough to see how handy these wolves were in the hunt. Next followed a breeding regime that gave us the hundreds of different dog breeds we cherish today. No other species has been converted in such an extraordinary way as wolves were to dogs.

Mankind's inventiveness saw an opportunity for the wolf's offspring to work for the police and in 1888, the British had Bloodhounds sniffing out the crooks. This beautiful breed is a legendary scent hound, originally bred for hunting deer and wild boar. They have always excelled at tracking people with the best smelling system on earth. This guy could sniff aliens on another planet!

Around 1889, the Belgian police started training dogs and gave us the talented Belgian Malinois pup, similar in looks to the German shepherd but smaller in stature. This popular police recruit is loyal, highly protective of its owner and a serious scent dog

In the early 70’s - the era of retro décor and universal change, the USA searched through the kennels to find their new K-9 recruits. It was time to take on the bad guys running riot in their backyard. From then on dogs were seen in the airports, schools, and borders slowing down the couriers of narcotics while chasing down the fugitives at speeds of up to 40 MPH. Creative canines were taking over cities and towns with a message for the crims: “Our noses will sniff you out!”

The Science of Dogs Smelling Gunpowder


The Washington Post tells us that sniffer dogs like Caliber, a German shepherd, and Lila, a Belgian Malinois mix, were at the forefront of U.S police introducing pooches that could retrieve guns. These super-snoopy pups are trained to find firearms that may have been thrown by a fugitive making an escape. Dogs like Caliber and Lila also sniff weapons in vehicles where drug traffickers use guns for protection.

If you’re wondering what dogs have that we don’t, and why they can find things hidden in obscure places, it's because they can track scents better than us. Dogs are equipped with Sherlock senses handed down by their wolf cousins.

Did you know they can smell in 3D? Your pooch won’t need special glasses to hone in on the scent of firearms as they can smell an odor separately - with each nostril. Their busy brain is like a computer that takes in all the scent data from both sides of their nose and spits out the image of a gun that’s just been fired.

When wolves came to be in the world, they were armed with a gold star sense of smell so they could detect predators, find their food, and a mate. When dogs were born, this asset allowed the humans to sense things that technology struggled to locate.

In Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, dogs are walking around the schools looking for guns. ABC News says the county Sheriff introduced the dogs not long after a student was shot at Cape Fear High School back in 2011. Before the school bell chimes at 9 o’clock, the dogs have zoomed through schools checking for firearms.

Training Dogs to Detect Gunpowder


Gun dogs are trained to smell gunpowder, gun oil, and even the residue left after a gun has gone off. Police One informs us these dogs are targeting the scent of a firearm so if their handler or another police officer accidentally corrupts a crime scene, the dog will hunt for the gun scents only.

Since dogs use their noses so proficiently, it’s not that difficult to train them to sniff a specific smell. Many organizations committed to training detection dogs follow the rules of The Department of Homeland Security. Dog breeds of choice tend to be German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.

These mutts have hunting in their blood and require a keen sense of play as a tennis ball is often their reward. Detector dogs need to be sociable and willing to be trained. Interestingly, male dogs are preferred according to Sound of Signal a K-9 training company as, dare we say it - the female pups can get a little stubborn.

In training, puppies are presented with containers where one holds the smell of gunpowder. If the pup gets it right, they are thrown their tennis ball prize. A top detector dog is highly focused and loves their work.

Positive reinforcement training methods are generally used with no punishment if the dog gets it wrong. There are still those who use levels of force training, but a sergeant with the Seattle Police Department and a background in the military, says negative training tactics can result in dog bites. He aligns with the positive approach as it builds trust between dog and handler.

According to Police Mag, in the 1960's, dogs were trained to attack people involved in riots and the breed of choice was the Doberman Pinscher. These woofers were not trained to receive commands and encouraged to be aggressive.

In Public Safety tells us there has been a shift from K-9 compulsive training to positive reinforcement techniques over the past decades, with food or toys used as rewards. Sniffer dogs are generally trained this way as the scent they are tracking is replaced by a tennis ball or a rolled up white towel.

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Written by a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/13/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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