4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Firearms?



4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Firearms?


When it comes to pet dogs, it’s unlikely that they will be able to sense a firearm that is in a home. However, as there are dogs that can sniff out things such as drugs, bodies, and bombs, a dog can be trained to sniff out firearms. 

Dogs that can sniff out firearms are becoming more and more popular to help police officers keep places such as airports safe. These dogs are trained in a specific way, so that they can sniff out and sense firearms and then alert their handlers to the location or the person who has them.


Signs Dogs Can Smell Firearms

Just like a dog who can smell drugs or a bomb, a firearm-trained dog should be able to signal and alert their handler that they have found something. You have probably seen online or on the television how a dog behaves if they have found something that they are looking for. 

In many cases, we see this depicted by dogs barking persistently once they have found the item in question. However, although some dogs do bark, dogs are not usually trained to bark when an item such as a firearm is found. Instead, the dog is trained to alert their handler in either an aggressive way or in a passive way. 

A dog who has been taught to act in an aggressive way will dig, claw, or paw to make the handler aware that they have located something. The dog is also trained not to harm the object, place, or person where they have found it. A dog that has been trained in a passive way will stare, stand, or sit where they believe the firearm is. These dogs will not whine, bark, or alert in any other manner.

Body Language

Signs a dog has detected a firearm include:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Digging
  • Sniffing

Other Signs

More cues a dog may give when finding a firearm are:

  • Sitting
  • Following
  • Pawing

History Behind Dogs Smelling Firearms


Due to their powerful sense of smell, there is a long history of dogs seeking and sniffing out things that humans can’t.

In the 1940s, dogs that could smell bombs were first trained. This was to help to locate German mines, and from this point onwards, this method of detection began to increase in popularity.

Nowadays, dogs that have been specially trained can sniff out firearms as well as drugs, bombs, electronics, and even human bodies. As issues with firearms continue to rise in America, there has been an increase in dog training to seek out firearms and ammunition. Once a gun has been fired, the odor of the gunpowder remains on the gun. This usually has a distinct smell that a dog is more than capable to detect. Once a dog can recognize this odor, they are able to locate a firearm in most circumstances.

An example of this was seen by an especially trained German Shepherd in America. The dog located a gun under a carpet and was able to alert the handler by nudging its nose on the carpet. From the dog’s reaction, the handler (who was a police officer) was able to locate a firearm. This is just a single example of how dogs can help locate firearms and help to prevent acts related to violence.

When it comes to breeds of dogs, Springer Spaniels are known to be particularly good at locating firearms due to their sense of smell and their enthusiasm. When it comes to retrieval, Labradors excel in this aspect.

science Behind Dogs Smelling Firearms


As dogs have an amazing sense of smell, they can locate things that humans will never be able to. Scientists believe that dogs can smell scent particles at parts per trillion, as a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times stronger than a human. As their noses are so sensitive, they are sometimes the only option for catching criminals and eradicating firearms.

That being said, smell recognition and training plays an important role here too because dogs that are untrained won't often notify their owners of different smells. A firearm scent has to be trained and recognised by your dog. 

Training a Dog to Smell Firearms


It is clear that dogs interpret their world via their noses and their powerful sense of smell. As humans, we are unable to do this. Additionally, dogs have another advantage over us: they can sniff closer to a firearm as they are already on all fours, so they are naturally closer to the ground.

A dog that is trained to sniff out firearms is trained to smell gunpowder and the residue it creates. Even in a situation where there is only one bullet in a firearm and that gun has never been used, a dog is able to identify this scent. 

In a situation where a gun has been fired in the past but no longer has any bullets in it, a dog is still able to pick up the scent of the gunpowder. The scent of the gunpowder is at its strongest two to three hours after shots of a firearm have been fired, so in an ideal situation, firearm-sniffing dogs need to be on the scene of a crime within this time period. That said, the smell of the gunpowder can be two to three days old and a trained dog will still be able to smell it.

Dogs that have been trained to detect firearms are trained to smell a few different odors that are related to firearms. For instance, they are trained to sniff out guns that have not been used or touched for a number of months. Specifically, they are trained to locate firearms such as assault rifles and handguns.

Just like dogs that are trained to sniff out drugs or bombs, firearm-trained dogs are trained in the same way. So they are provided with a scent and then taken to a location where that scent is hidden, and they need to sniff out where that exact location is. 

In the beginning, a dog will be rewarded for simply acknowledging the fact they can sense an object. As training continues, these dogs will eventually only receive rewards if they can detect the item and make their handler aware in the correct manner. This could be by staring at the object, scratching or pawing the object, sitting where the object is, or putting their nose at the object.

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Written by Charlotte Ratcliffe

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 04/20/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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