Can Dogs Smell Hydrocodone?

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Introduction

Dogs are very clever creatures and can be trained to smell out many things such as drugs, contraband, deceased bodies, guns, and ammunition (among others). Dogs are usually trained by law enforcement agencies to be able to do this, so we will take a closer look at if they can also smell hydrocodone.

Hydrocodone is an ingredient that is found in narcotic painkillers, and it is used for someone if they are in moderate to severe pain. Usually, hydrocodone is given orally for situations such as short-term dental pain, as well as pain related to an injury. Hydrocodone is considered to be an opioid and is classified as being similar to other drugs such as codeine, morphine, and oxycodone.

Signs Dogs Can Smell Hydrocodone

At some point in your life, you will have seen a sniffer-dog doing what they are trained to do and you’re probably all too aware of how a sniffer-dog acts when they've found what they have been trained to find. Regardless of whether a sniffer-dog is at work, they are trained to be on alert for whatever drug they have been trained to sniff out, which could be hydrocodone.

They are trained to detect specific scents using signals that their trainer has determined, but it is often different for the personality of the dog. For example, this could be a bark, they may freeze on the spot where they have found the scent, or they may place their nose on the area where the scent is coming from. 

That said, some dogs are trained to be more obvious in their signaling and may, for example, paw or dig at the location of the scent, as well as act very alert. A sniffer-dog has been trained to never act aggressively to anyone or anything, such as the location or the packaging where they have located the scent.

There are some specific signs that you can see a dog display when they have located a scent, including pacing up and down, acting on alert, guarding the area where the scent is, or staring at the area

Body Language

Some cues dogs may show when they have found something include:
  • Alert
  • Sniffing
  • Paw raised
  • Ears up

Other Signs

More signs that a dog may show upon finding something are:
  • Trained behaviors
  • Sitting next to it
  • Barking to their owner
  • Digging

History Behind Dogs Smelling Hydrocodone

There’s a long history between dogs and mankind working together when it comes to using a dog’s nose as a benefit to humans. In the 1940s, dogs were used in Africa to detect mines, and in the 1970s, they were trained to sniff out drugs such as heroin, marijuana, and cocaine. Dogs were then later used to sniff out controlled drugs, such as hydrocodone, among many others.

As time passed, dogs were trained in other areas such as pest control and were used to sniff out pests such as termites and bees. No doubt, these skills that dogs have will continue to be used and in more and more ways.

Prior to this, however, although dogs would have been able to physically smell these substances, there was no need for dogs to smell them because they are man-made and don't naturally occur in the wild.  

Science Behind Dogs and Smelling Hydrocodone

Using the many receptors in their noses, dogs can smell hydrocodone, however, it's not a good idea for dogs to do this because the substance can cause the dog to overdose. With many opioids, a small amount can kill your dog because their systems are unable to handle or process it in the same way humans do (even we can die from an overdose.) 

Therefore, very few dogs are trained to smell hydrocodone and other opioids and those that do, do so in a controlled environment.

Training a Dog to Smell Hydrocodone

As opioids can be deadly for dogs, when it comes to training a dog to sniff out substances such as hydrocodone, it is rather tricky. Canada is among the selected countries that have developed a safe training system for dogs to be able to sniff out opioids. 

Rather than using powdered version of opioids, they use liquid versions and combine a small amount of the opioid with water. Eventually, the opioid is dissolved, and this is then placed into a syringe and the solution is put on a highly-absorbent material. This material is then placed into a well-protected container, and these are used to train the dogs.

To begin with, the dogs are trained to detect the drug-soaked material through suitcases, bags, walls, and many other things. As the scent of the opioid has been watered down, the sniffer dogs are able to be trained to sniff it out, without it having any dangerous consequences.

Dogs who are trained in this manner are not interested in the drugs that they find in any way and are, in fact, trained to find scents in a way that they would try and find a special toy of theirs. When training first starts, a sniffer-dog will receive a treat or a reward for indicating that they have sensed or smelled the scent that they are looking for. 

As the dog works through their training, they will only be rewarded if they can signal to the handler that they have found the exact scent that they were supposed to be detecting. Additionally, the dog will now only be rewarded or given a treat if they act with the signal that they have been trained to give, such as touching with their nose, staring, staying, or sitting.  

It can take a while for a dog to be trained in this manner and it may even take a few months of intensive training. Aside from the fact that a dog has the ability to smell very well, a dog’s personality needs to also be considered when training, and dogs that are able to work as part of a team and remain focused are a preferred choice.

Safety Tips for Dogs Smelling Hydrocodone:

  • It's important not to try and train your dog without an approved trainer with opioid experience. This is because even training amounts can be deadly if not handled correctly.