Can Dogs Smell Drugs Inside Your Body?

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Introduction

There are some pretty crazy tactics to get illegal substances across the border. It's not even uncommon for smugglers to attempt their mission by swallowing bags of drugs and trying to hide them in their stomachs! But, can the special drug-detection dogs used at borders and airports smell this very hidden contraband?

The simple answer to this question is yes! Many a criminal has been foiled using drug detection dogs and many don't realize that just because the drugs are ingested doesn't mean the clever pooches can't smell them. But, let's look in more detail at how dogs can smell drugs inside the body as well as what goes into training them.

Signs Dogs Can Smell Drugs Inside your Body

Research has found that dogs often rely on human body language as well as their own sense of smell and sight when it comes to looking for food (i.e. looking for a food in a bowl that is empty that a human has pointed to instead of going to a bowl of food that it can smell and see itself). Dogs are known to be able to interpret human eye contact, head movements, glances and body orientation in combination with their smelling capabilities, so this can all contribute to dogs smelling drugs inside the body. 

Once they have determined the scent, training kicks in and dogs will exhibit trained cues which are normally sitting by the suspected or barking (although this isn’t commonly used in public places like airports.) Natural body language could also include; sniffing, barking, head tilting and staring intently. 

Body Language

If a detection dog has made a find, watch for the following:
  • Staring
  • Barking
  • Head tilting
  • Sniffing

Other Signs

More signs that a drug detection dog will give once they've found the goods include:
  • Trained Cues
  • Sitting

History of Dogs Smelling Drugs Inside Your Body

Dogs were first used in law enforcement agencies back in the 14th century and although not drug-related, in the 1880’s, bloodhounds were used to track down suspects in the Jack the Ripper case.

Once the merit of using dogs became popular and agreed upon, in the 1970’s law enforcement, agencies in the US began to use dogs to uncover various illegal substances such as crack cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. At a later date, methamphetamine and ecstasy were also included as substances for drug dogs to locate.  

More recently, drug dogs have had to undertake new training in order to adapt to new regulations and laws. For instance, in 2012 in Washington, marijuana was legalised for recreational use and therefore drug dogs had to be desensitised to marijuana and training had to be adapted so that it did not incorporate the detection of marijuana. 

The Science Behind Dogs Smelling Drugs

A dog’s acute sense of smell can help to find corpses, bombs, missing bodies and, as we’ve discussed, drugs. For this reason, a dog’s nose has now encouraged the development of better tools in order to detect things such as drugs and explosives.

In actual fact, we know that dogs sniff in a way where air that is scent-filled is pulled into their nostrils as they exhale. This skill was then copied by scientists.

Dogs are able to pick up on scents that are far too faint for us humans, as they have hundreds of millions more olfactory receptors than humans do. What is going on outside of a dog’s nose as it smells is also of importance. Each second, a dog sniffs five times and each time a dog breathes out, small jets of air are sent towards its rear. The jets then send fresh air back to the nose. 

Training Dogs to Smell Drugs Inside the Body

Drug dogs help airport authorities, border patrol and the police to locate illegal substances. As a dog’s sense of smell is highly sensitive, they can usually find drugs that have even been hidden in foil and plastic. Dogs that are perfect for drug-sniffing like to play ball and therefore drug dog training needs to take advantage of this one-track focus (i.e. teaching a dog that finding the drugs means getting a reward - the ball that they want).

  1. Begin with a dog who enjoys playing ball and focusses on the ball and not anything else around them. A rolled towel or a toy would work equally as well - it has to be something that the dog loves to play with.
  2. Teach the dog to play fetch and allow them the opportunity to get the ball and then bring it back. To begin with, the dog will probably need to be on a leash in order to bring the ball back. They will soon get the idea that bringing it back means that there will be more play time.
  3. Place the ball in a bag or a box along with the scent that you would like the dog to locate. Start with only one scent and once the dog knows what to do, you can begin to add new scents. It is worth placing the ball in a bag or a box with some of the actual substance for the best results.
  4. Give the dog a chance to smell the scented ball. Once they show interest, ask them to sit as this will become a sign to say they have found the substance. Once they sit, reward the dog by allowing them to play with his toy. Although sitting is the signal that is most commonly used, in some instances it may be better to teach the dog to scratch at the ball, lie down, or bark if this suits the dog’s personality better.
  5. Eventually, you will need to phase the ball out and replace it with the substance that you want the dog to locate. Begin to use the command ‘search’ every time you want the dog to locate the substance. Once again, once they locate the substance and signals, reward them with a treat.
  6. Up until now, the substance should have been hidden in obvious places. You will now need to make finding the drugs harder and as always, reward the dog with the ball once they locate them. 

Safety Tips for Dogs Smelling Drugs Inside the Body:

  • Although highly unusual, if your dog has natural drug-sniffing capabilities and tries to alert you when someone possesses drugs, do not confront them! Leave this to the authorities.
  • Do not try to out-smart a drug-sniffing dog. Often times, these dogs receive basic guard training as well so as to know how to act around potentially violent humans.