Can Dogs Sense Guns?

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Introduction

It is unlikely your pet dog will be able to sense a gun if someone has one in their home or are using their concealed carry license. However, just as there are drug and bomb-sniffing dogs, police and military dogs can be trained to sense and sniff out guns and ammunition as well. 

Gun-sniffing dogs are becoming increasingly more popular to help law enforcement keep airports, concerts, and even schools safer. These special dogs are trained to use their noses to sense and sniff guns and alert their handlers they have located a gun on a person, in a bag, or hidden elsewhere.

Signs of a Dog Sensing a Gun

Gun-sniffing dogs are trained to alert and signal to their handler they have sensed a gun, much in the same way a bomb or drug-sniffing dog will let their handler know. You have likely seen on TV or elsewhere how dogs react to finding an item they are asked to search for, which gives you a little bit of an idea how a dog is able to let someone know they have sensed the target object. 

Many times on TV and in movies, we see the dog barking viciously at the intended target. Although some dogs may bark a bit, they are generally not trained to bark when they find the object, like a gun in this case. Rather, a dog is trained in two main ways to alert their handler - a passive way and an aggressive way. 

If a dog alerts to a gun in a passive way, they will search for the scent they are looking for and when they happen upon that scent, they will sit, stand, or stare right at/in front of the person or object where the gun is located. The dog will not bark, whine, or alert to the gun's presence in any other way. 

On the other hand, if a dog alerts to the gun in an aggressive way, they will claw, dig or paw at the box or location where the object is hiding to let their handler know to look there. The dog is trained to never physically harm a person or an object where the target object it located.

Body Language

Here are some signs you may notice when a dog detects a gun:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Guarding
  • Pacing

Other Signs

These are some other signs you may notice if a dog detects a gun:
  • Standing and Staring
  • Touching Nose to Location
  • Pawing, Digging, or Scratching

History of Dogs Sensing Guns

Dogs have a long history of helping man find things they could otherwise not because of their mighty and powerful sniffers and senses. Bomb-sniffing dogs were first trained and used officially in the 1940's to help detect German mines and the popularity of this detection style only began to increase as years went on. 

Today, specially trained police and military dogs can sniff out bombs, drugs, electronics, people's scents, and even guns. With gun issues on the rise in the United States, we have seen an increase in training various K9 units to sniff out guns and ammunition. Guns and ammunition have a distinct order when they are fired and the remnants of the odors remain on the gun. When dogs are trained to recognize that scent they will be able to locate a gun in most circumstances. 

For example, a trained K9 police dog in California, an 18-month old German Shepherd, was able to alert her handler of a gun hidden under a carpet by poking and nudging her nose at the floor. The police officer, the dog's handler, saw the dog's actions and indeed found a small handgun hidden under the carpet where the dog pointed. This is only one of many examples of dogs being able to correctly locate guns and help prevent acts of future violence.  

Science Behind Dogs Sensing Guns

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell and are able to find things humans may never be able to locate if it were not for trained sniffing dogs. A dog's sense of smell is around 10,000x better than that of a human's. 

In fact, scientists believe dogs are able to smell scent particles at the parts per trillion level. With noses this powerful, sometimes the only way for law enforcement to catch criminals, get illegal guns off the street, and bring killers to justice is to use the strength of a dog's nose to help them do something we would never be able to do.

Training Dogs to Sense a Gun

Gun-sniffing dogs are trained to smell ammunition and gunpowder/gunpowder residue. Even if there is only a single bullet in a gun that has never been shot, the dog will pick up on the scent. It is also likely the dog will pick up on the scent of gunpowder even if there is no bullet in the gun if the gun was fired at any point in time beforehand. It is best for these dogs to arrive at the scene of the crime, if possible, within two to three hours after shots were fired because the scent will still be strong. However, a dog can still smell gunpowder residue up to two to three days after.  

Gun-sniffing dogs are trained to smell and find a few different types of gun-related odors. They are often tried with guns that have not been fired for many months and have not even been touch by someone for the same period of time. They also train these dogs to sniff out handguns, assault rifles, and more. 

More specifically, gun-sniffing dogs are trained in the same way they would be trained to find bombs or drugs. They are given a scent. They are taken somewhere where that same scent/object is hidden and they must seek out the location where it is. 

In the first phases of training, they will be rewarded for even slightly acknowledging they can sense the object. Training will progress from there and eventually they will only be rewarded if they find and locate the object properly and let their handler know in the proper way - often this means the dog needs to nose the area, stare and sit/stay in front of the kocation where the object it, or even scratch or paw at the object where the gun is located. 

Safety Tips for Dogs Searching for Guns:

  • Let the dog do their job.
  • Never pet a dog who is at work.
  • Never interfere with an investigation.