5 min read


Can Dogs Smell Pain Pills?



5 min read


Can Dogs Smell Pain Pills?


Dogs are very intelligent and highly trainable animals. With special training, dogs can detect pain pills, or opioids, with ease to help stop drug trafficking, catch criminals, and save countless lives! Can you say pawsome? 

Sniffer-dogs have actually been around for quite a while and they got their start all the way back during the first World War. Today, sniffer dogs are trained to detect anything from drugs to guns to pests. 

If you have ever wondered how dogs can detect drugs, how they are trained, and why they are able to smell drugs through walls and other objects, you have come to the right place!


Signs of a Dog Detecting Pain Pills

We see sniffer-dogs on TV shows, in movies, and many of us have even seen them in action at airport security. You likely have some familiarity with how they work, although what we see in the movies and on TV is not always completely accurate. We generally see sniffer-dogs barking like crazy or jumping at objects where they sense the drug or substance they are looking for is, but this is not how they are actually trained for most situations.

When a dog is on a job, their focus is to find the pain pills the police or the military are in search of. The sniffer-dog is given a scent and then released to go and search for the drugs. Sometimes, the dog is kept on a leash as well. It depends upon the safety of each situation and the environment they are in. 

The sniffer-dog uses their sense of smell to detect the pain pills and sniffs all around until something catches their attention. These dogs are trained very precisely to detect the smell of the pain pills. 

Once they smell and detect the pain pills, the dog is generally trained to signal they found something by touching their nose to the area where they have found the pills and then they will just stand there and not move. Many people may believe the dog is stopping because they have found nothing, but in reality, they are staying close to the drugs they were supposed to find. Unlike in the movies, dogs are typically not trained to viciously bark or go crazy when they find the substance.  

On the other hand, some dogs are trained to alert in an "aggressive way." They will dig or paw at the spot and become vocal and expressive when they find the pain pills or other substances they are in search of. However, sniffer-dogs are never trained to harm a person or to destruct any personal property the drugs may be in or around. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you may notice when a dog detects pain pills:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Guarding
  • Pacing
  • Stalking
  • Paw Raised

Other Signs

These are some other signs you may notice if a dog detects pain pills:

  • Touching Their Nose To Something
  • Standing In Front Of Something
  • Pawing, Digging, Or Scratching At Something

History of Dogs Smelling Drugs and Pain Pills


Humans have worked closely with dogs and have taken advantage of their very keen senses for quite a long time. 

Sniffer-dogs first came about in the 1940s and were used to detect German mines in North Africa during the war. By the beginning of the 1970s, dogs were being used to detect other illegal substances like explosives, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. As time has progressed, dogs are now able to detect meth and ecstasy, which have become a massive issue in the last few years. 

Dogs have become an integral part of stopping crime, drugs, and other illegal substances. Police and military rely on sniffer-dogs to help detect pain pills that would otherwise likely go unnoticed and undetected. 

Detection dogs have also been trained to sniff out other, less deadly substances such as pests and agricultural products so that invasive pest species cannot make it into the United States. Sniffer-dogs are also used to help with pest control and management like in people's homes or in places of business. Pests like bumblebees, termites, and beg bugs are examples of the pests dogs have been trained to detect so exterminators know exactly where the source of the issue comes from. 

In the future, it is very likely sniffer-dogs will gain better and more fine-tuned skills so they can even better detect drugs, pain pills, and other substances with more efficiency. 

Science Behind Dogs Smelling Pain Pills


Many sniffer-dogs are not trained to smell opioids because they are very deadly and just smelling or touching them can cause a person or a dog to overdose on the drugs quickly. Since dogs rely on their nose the most, this presents a large issue. Just salt-grain-sized pieces are enough to kill a human, meaning even less is enough to kill a dog. It is too dangerous for dogs to practice sniffing out opioids in powdered form if such a small amount is so deadly. 

Sniffer-dogs have a harder time detecting all kinds of opioids, but pain pills are perhaps the least offensive of the drugs as they are usually in a contained pill form.

Training Dogs to Smell Pain Pills


Sniffer-dogs go through an intense training process before they go out and work in the field. A dog must be ready to detect the drug they are trained to find effectively, and with as much accuracy as possible. 

Sniffer-dogs are not commonly trained to detect pills and medications, however, this does not mean there are not some dogs who can. Plus, any dogs can be trained to sniff and detect just about any substance on the planet. This means a dog could learn to detect a certain brand of cookies if someone trained them properly. Sniffer-dogs will likely be trained for the purposes of detecting pain pills that are often abused within the coming years. 

Many people are fearful that dogs are trained to detect drugs because they are addicted to the drugs, but this is absolutely not the case and dogs are never harmed when learning how to detect drugs and their smells. Sniffer-dogs are never given the substance they are searching for and they never come into direct contact with the drugs under any circumstances. 

Sniffer-dogs are trained in a way to make them feel like they are trying to locate their favorite toy. Their training process is designed to feel like the dog is playing a game! In the first phase of the training process, the dog is heavily rewarded when they show any sign they have smelled or sensed the drug they are in search of. For instance, if the dog is able to locate where the pain pills are hidden in a small room, they are given their favorite treat, like a piece of chicken. 

The sniffer-dog will eventually only get rewarded if they find the exact location of the drug they are searching for and if they have signaled to the drug in the proper manner. 

Training is extensive and takes an average of a few months of practice for both the dogs and the handlers. The dog must become certified and have the ability to work well with a team. 

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Safety Tips for Drug-Sniffing Dogs:

  1. The dogs must be trained properly.
  2. The dogs must never harm a person or object where the drugs are located.

Written by a Samoyed lover Kayla Costanzo

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/23/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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