German Shepherds are large-sized dogs, often characterized by a mask-like pattern on their face coupled with ears that regularly stand erect. Shepherds are known for their intelligence, in addition to their keen sense of smell, with studies indicating that they are the third most intelligent canine breed in existence! It's their intelligence coupled with their superior smelling abilities that allow them to detect a wide range of scents, including marijuana.
Signs a German Shepherd is Smelling Marijuana
They often sweep the floors of rooms with their noses, followed by scanning furniture and objects. The first thing you will notice when your Shepherd has caught a scent of marijuana is that they become alert, and engage with the location they are interested in by orienting their body in that direction, while concurrently displaying the signs indicated below.
- Tense jaw
- Paw raised
- Ears up
- Depending on their training, the dog may attack
- Muscles tightening in the face and body
- Approaching object or person concealing marijuana
- Sitting near the find
The History of German Shepherds Smelling Marijuana
Known as a relatively new breed of dog, origins of the German Shepherd date back to 1899 Germany. German Shepherds are most definitely not a small addition to any family, with an average Shepherd weighing in at 55-90 pounds, depending on gender, with an average height of 55-60 cm. These beloved canines evolved during a time when breeding was becoming standardized.
Originally bred for the purpose of herding sheep, German Shepherds are characterized by their intelligence, speed, strength, and, of course, their keen sense of smell. Now one of the most commonly recognized canines, German Shepherds are a curious, obedient, eager, and energetic breed of dog, making them a perfect candidate for guarding, among their many other talents and skills.
It's no wonder German Shepherds have been used in a variety of work roles to assist in our every need. As previously mentioned, in the past (and even still today), German Shepherds were utilized for herding sheep and other farm animals. Until their not so distant brothers, the Golden Retriever and Labradors, stepped, or should we say pawed, their way in, German Shepherds were the primary dog selected to guide the visually impaired.
Of course, they're also known for their superb olfactory abilities. You may be wondering what it is that these Shepherds have the ability to smell out, aside from the obvious - being narcotics (and more specifically marijuana) as that's what this article is about. Well, they've been used to sniff out explosives, such as mine detection, and even people for search-and-rescue missions. Their ability to refrain from distraction, coupled with their innate olfactory superiority, which you will come to learn more about in the science section, allows them to find almost anything after merely being exposed to the scent. This is why, historically, they have become so useful to law enforcement agencies worldwide.
Today, German Shepherds are highly acclaimed members of many task force units around the world and specifically in North America. Canine units have become an almost standard element of policing in large municipalities and regions. Their police responsibilities range from tracking and holding criminals, to patrolling the streets and participating in what is known as scent-work.
Scent-work can involve, you guessed it, the smelling out and detecting of narcotics in a multitude of situations. From street work to airport patrol, they've done it all, but exactly how they do it is where science comes in!
The Science of German Shepherds Smelling Marijuana
German Shepherds can be trained in all sorts of scent-work, including the detection of marijuana, due to their superb ability to smell. This ability manifests itself in the biology of the German Shepherd.
For starters, the region of the brain that is responsible for olfaction is proportionally 40 times larger in canines compared to that of humans. The fact that the region of their brain dedicated to detecting scents is so large indicates that their ability to do this is effortless, to say the least.
Not only is their brain region associated with olfaction larger, but an average dog, including a German Shepherd, has approximately 300 million olfactory receptors constantly on patrol inside of their nose, compared to the measly 6 million found in humans. These receptors are continuously communicating between the nose and brain, taking messages received by the receptors once they are activated by airborne molecules landing on them and sending them first to the olfactory region of the brain, then to the appropriate other regions that allow the dog to interpret what the smell is.
This isn't the only biological advantage German Shepherds have that gives them a heightened sense of smell. In addition to a larger brain region dedicated to olfaction, all dogs, including German Shepherds, have what is known as the vomeronasal organ (also called Jacobson's organ).
This organ can be found in the bottom area of your German Shepherds nasal cavity and its function is to detect pheromones, which are chemicals unique to and produced by all species to indicate things such as emotion and mating information. These little guys are partially responsible for your pooch's ability to read your emotions so well, but that's a whole other topic!
One interesting finding regarding scent detection is that male Shepherds have a better ability to discriminate scents compared to females. Behavioural scientists have shed some light on the topic by determining this tendency for male accuracy is rooted in their interest and focus in completing scent tasks, as opposed to the idea that they have superior sensing capabilities.
Training Your Dog to Smell Marijuana
It is certainly possible to encourage and reinforce a German Shepherd's ability to smell marijuana through routine scent-training. This, however, is not an overnight endeavor. As you will come to learn, scent-training, like all conditioning, requires dedication, effort, and patience. To start, its good to know that a few dog treats coupled with positive reinforcement will get you a long way.
It is positive reinforcement that will be useful in scent-training your German Shepherd to sniff out marijuana. Positive reinforcement entails giving your pooch a motivational stimulus after they have completed the desired behavior, that is, once they have found what they were looking for.
This motivational stimulus can be as simple as praising them orally (e.g., saying "Good Boy/Girl" in a positive tone), giving them physical attention (e.g., petting them), or rewarding them with a psychical treat (e.g., either a toy or food reward). As a result of the stimulus, the behavior is much more likely to occur in the future because your dog is associating it with the positive feelings they experience from being rewarded.
Therefore, using positive reinforcement when scent-training is essential, especially using some form of treat of toy. Although all German Shepherds differ, consistency with your training should lead to your dog's success in only a few months. Also, if you live in a state where marijuana is not yet legal, speak to your local authorities before proceeding with training, and learn the resources available to begin teaching your keen pooch.
How to React When Your GSD Smells Marijuana:
Acknowledge them immediately.
Reward them with praise or treats right away to encourage the behavior.
Remove the marijuana promptly from access to avoid accidental consumption.