Can Dogs Smell Edible Weed?

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Introduction

Edibles are a new form of marijuana consumption that is sweeping the nation. As a legal substance in a number of states, people use edible marijuana as a recreational drug, a sleep aid, to increase appetite, and a way to reduce chronic pain. 

We all know that dogs are commonly used to detect marijuana in states that have not legalized its usage, especially at our Nation's border. As the ways to digest marijuana get all the more creative, do our scent-detection methods need to do the same to keep up?

Signs Your Dog Can Smell Edible Marijuana

Dogs have about 100,000 times more scent identification than us humans do. Dog handlers, therefore, believe that you can train a pooch to find just about anything as long as you are able to associate a positive stimulus with that specific odor.

While drug-detection effectiveness sometimes depends on the breed of dog, handlers that have worked with a number of sniffer dogs state that dogs generally have noses that are so sensitive that they are able to detect illicit substances at a ratio of five parts per billion! 

Dan Hayter, a former chief of the military drug-detection dog trainer and founder of K9 Global Training Academy strong believes that edibles aren't impossible to trace. He has even stated most dogs can be trained to recognize marijuana and THC substances that are mixed into flour without too much difficulty. While some believe that scent-detection doggos would have no problem sniffing out an edible, others believe, however, that marijuana that has been cooked (and baked into edible substances) goes through chemical changes, making it difficult for canine sniffers to detect these substances if they haven't had additional training.

Scent-detection dogs are mainly utilized by law enforcement personnel at our Nation's border. These dogs are looking for large quantities of drugs crossing into the States, not exactly the brownie that is in someone's back pocket.

Some dogs are trained to alert their handler with barking, while others are not. Common "alerts" are: touching their noses to the area where the drugs are hidden, sitting in front of the location and staying there until their handler comes by, or digging/pawing at the location of the scent.

Body Language

Here are some signs you may notice when a doggo (whether or not your doggo is a professional sniffer) detects a scent from an edible:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Jumping up
  • Sniffing
  • Raise ears
  • Paw raised

Other Signs

There are a couple of other body language cues you may notice if your pup catches a whiff (or whoof) of an edible:
  • Pawing at the edible
  • Digging at the edible
  • Touching their nose to the edible
  • Pacing in front of the edible

The History Behind Dogs Smelling Marijuana

Dogs have been helping humans with their super sniffers for years. The 1970s is when dogs were really being utilized to sniff out contraband, as drug use in the United States was on the rise. Today, dogs are mostly used to detect contraband and illicit drugs rather than medications or other legal drugs, for instance, tobacco. 

However, as states and municipalities are increasingly legalizing marijuana use, some law enforcement agencies and police officers are not training their drug-detection dogs to detect marijuana. Instead, training has become focused on the detection of hard drugs, like heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, or methamphetamine.

The Science Behind Dogs Smelling Marijuana

Dogs have the incredible ability to smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than us humans. Because of this amazing sense, dogs can easily be taught to detect certain smells through intense training methods. 

It is also important to consider that drug-detecting abilities may depend on the breed of dog. 

For example, Bloodhounds have around 300 million scent receptors in their noses, while German Shepherds have about 225 million. However, most dogs, in general, are capable of recognizing illicit compounds at a ratio of five parts per billion. Some other dogs known for their super sniffers are:

  • Beagles
  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Border Collie
  • Coonhound
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever

Trainers have also noticed that the personality of the dog can matter even more than the breed. Hunting and tracking abilities might be obvious strengths to have, but drug-detection dogs also need to be fit, independent, agile, and hardworking  Dogs that tend to be easily distracted or simply uninterested in working are not fit for the job.

Training Your Dog to Smell Edible Marijuana

Doggos are commonly taught to detect:

  • Marijuana.
  • Cocaine.
  • Methamphetamine.
  • Heroin.
  • Opiates.
  • Ecstasy.
  • LSD.

The National Narcotic Detector Dog Association is a nonprofit organization that handles a lot of certifications for drug-detection pups. Certifications can be for a whole range of abilities: body searches, explosive devices searches, and drug searches. However, the dog and trainer must both be a part of the Federal Armed Forces or Armed Force reserves in order to obtain a certification through this organization. A standard certification includes the ability to identify marijuana and cocaine; however, you have the option to certify your dog in the detection of other drugs as well.  

Dogs are first taught basic commands using positive reinforcement, such as rewards like treats or toys. The handler than teaches the dog to sit, walk, dig, bark and find on-command. Once the pup learns these commands, they are exposed to "pseudo-narcotics" that contain smells similar to the controlled substance being detected. The dogs are taught to differentiate the smells and alert a handler to the location by barking or making other physical signals with their bodies. The dog's "alert" simply depends on the handler and his or her preferred method of detection.

Police agencies and associations have standards that these sniffer-dogs must meet in order to be certified. Drugs will be hidden in difficult locations, such as vehicles, containers, luggage or buildings, and the pup must properly identify the smell and alert the handler. The dog is scored on the results, and either passed or failed for certification as a drug-detection dog.

More commonly today, there are also private organizations you can reach out to in order to help train your dog. Although the dogs are not certified through the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association, pups still go through the same vigorous training processes that dogs at the Narcotic Detector Dog Association must go through. If you are interested in training your dog for scent detection, reach out to your local private organization for details. 

Safety Tips for Drug-Detector Dogs:

  • Don't write off your pup - you never know what they might be sniffing.
  • Always ask the handler if you are able to pet a pup on the job.
  • Professional drug-detection dogs must be trained properly.
  • Do everything you can to keep your dog from getting into edible marijuana.
  • If your dog gets into edible marijuana, call your veterinarian immediately.

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