4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Opiate Pills?



4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Opiate Pills?


Dogs have been used throughout history to sniff out bombs, guns, weapons, cancer, and other illnesses, and it's probably no surprise to you that dogs are used frequently by government agencies to help sniff out drugs. There seems to be no limit to what your dog can sniff out, right? But did you know that they're able to sniff out some of the most dangerous drugs, like opioids, even if they're manufactured in pill form?

Dogs' noses are so incredible that they're able to sniff out wide varieties of drugs - even opioid pills.

Are you interested in more information about how dogs sniff out these pills? Want to know what kind of signs trained dog will give their owners if they've found opioid pills? How about training your dog to sniff out opioid pills? We've got all the information here! 


Signs Dogs Give When Detecting Opiate Pills

Have you ever seen a drug dog in action? Professional drug-sniffing dogs have been trained for months, maybe even years, to work specifically with their partner to help them find exactly the drugs they're looking for, and often, they do this by giving a specific signal. Trained drug dogs have often been trained to search out drug scents and then alert owners to the smell by sitting directly in front of the object the scent is coming from. Some dogs have been trained to bark, paw, or stand quietly by the object until their trainers get the idea.

Untrained dogs can still sniff out drugs, and often, they'll alert you to what they've found, even if they don't understand what they've found or weren't specifically looking for it. If your dog finds opioid pills, he or she might react by sniffing or licking intensely (this is incredibly dangerous, as opioids can kill your dog quickly). Other dogs might jump around, howl, bark, paw, scratch, or jump on you to alert you to what they've found.

Body Language

Signs your dog has found opiates are:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Howling
  • Sniffing
  • Licking

Other Signs

Other signs your dog might be giving you to let you know that they've found opioid pills include:

  • Trained Behavior
  • Nose Touching
  • Sitting Or Standing In Front Of An Object
  • Scratching
  • Pawing

History of Drug-Sniffing Dogs


People have been employing dogs for their sniffing abilities for centuries. The first bomb-sniffing dogs were employed in the 1940s to help detect German mines in  North Africa. They were even used by the London police force to help sniff out, track down, and catch the famous Jack the Ripper. 

But dogs have also been helping law enforcement sniff out and detect controlled substances for a long time, too. By the 1970s, dogs were being used to detect illegal substances like marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and more. Now, dogs are employed by almost every police force and used specifically to help government agencies hunt down controlled substances. There's no doubt that we'd be severely lacking in our drug finding abilities if we didn't have dogs and their wonderful noses. 

The Dangers of Opioids for Dogs


Opioids are a broad range of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with opioid receptors in your cells to block pain. Opioids are things like morphine, Kadian, fentanyl, and more. Opioids can be directed for your use by your doctor to help control acute pain after surgery, however opioids are highly addictive and very easy to overdose, making them a tricky and dangerous drug. 

At a lower dose, opioids will make you sleepy and will relieve pain by traveling through your blood to attach to your opioid receptors in your brain cells, which then release signals that will muffle your perception of pain. At high doses though, they slow your heart rate, make breathing difficult, and often may lead to death. 

So what's the problem with opioids and your dog? They're incredibly easy to overdose on, and dogs are far more susceptible to overdose than humans are. Just a small touch or smell, especially in powder form inside pills, could injure or kill your dog.

Training Your Dog to Sniff Out Opioid Pills


For starters, we want to first say that no matter what good intentions you have for training your dog to sniff out opioid pills, it's not something that you should do without the help of a trained professional. Not only are opioids dangerous, but they could be deadly if your dog accidentally inhales or ingests one, and as an amateur trainer, it's hard to guarantee that your dog won't. 

Training drug-sniffing dogs to detect opioid pills is incredibly tricky, especially because it's so dangerous. Because of that, government agencies and police forces who use dogs have come up with a system to train them carefully. 

Instead of allowing dogs to sniff out the insanely deadly powder version of opium, they instead create a liquid version by combining a small amount of the opioid in water. Once it dissolves, they place this mixture into an absorbent pad that is then placed in a container specifically used for training the dogs. 

These pups are trained with play as a reward and throughout the search, they're essentially looking for their favorite toy. They're taught that sniffing out this particular scent will get them love and affection from their trainers - and playtime with their favorite toy (perhaps even a treat now and again). Eventually, the toy will be taken out of the sniffing process and dogs will hunt down the scent specifically as if they're looking for their favorite toy. Your dog must be certified to be an opioid-pill sniffing dog. 

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

Safety Tips for Dogs Smelling Opiod Pills:

  1. Opiates can be dangerous, so train your dog with a professional trainer.
  2. Never let your dog ingest any of the pills they're sniffing out.
  3. Only use the correct form of training liquid with a professional trainer present. Training your dog on your own with opioid pills is dangerous and could lead to overdose.
  4. If there are opioids in the house, never allow your dog near them. Keep them locked away, in a high up place.

By a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus

Published: 05/22/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.