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A sniffer dog is used by law enforcement and authorities to locate illegal drugs, blood, explosives, and other substances. These dogs may be employed at crime scenes, public places or gatherings, or at national borders or security checkpoints, to aid authorities in locating hazards and criminal activity. Sniffer dogs locate substances with their powerful noses, which are hundreds of times more sensitive than our own, and able to detect even small amounts of substances they are trained to target for. The sniffer dog then gives a signal to handlers, to indicate they have detected the substance. Signals can either be aggressive, such as pawing, or passive, such as sitting. Which signal is appropriate to teach a sniffer dog depends on what and where they are detecting.
Beagles are especially adept at being sniffer dogs, due to their very strong sense of smell and their motivation to use and work with their nose. However, because a dog that has a strong sense of smell can also easily be distracted by the same sense that makes them good at their job, training a Beagle to be a sniffer dog also involves teaching them discipline and direction so that they will be a useful tool to their handlers.
Sniffer dogs are usually motivated and rewarded for their sniffing behaviors by play. Successful sniffer dog aren't just good with their noses, they love to play ball, or tug of war. Beagles are both great sniffers and great players! This makes them ideal for learning this task. Toys are predominantly used to reinforce successful targeting of a scent and signaling to indicate location.
In addition, Beagle sniffer dogs also need to be trained to behave appropriately in public; they need to be calm around distractions, such as in crowded airports or at crime scenes, where lots of different people and activity is present, and focused on their job, sniffing and locating a target substance, such as blood, drugs, or banned substances such as illegal agricultural products and explosives. A mature Beagle with experience and good obedience and recall is required in these complex work situations. Also, sniffer dogs are trained to signal the location of their targeted substances. Signals may be aggressive such as pawing or passive such as sitting. A Beagle trained to detect explosives will usually indicate a location with a passive signal, as an aggressive sign could set off explosives. Sniffer Beagles used in public settings such as airports may be trained to use more passive signals so as not to damage private property or create alarm in a public situation.
Beagle sniffer dogs are usually motivated by play, so a favorite toy such as a ball or towel they can play tug of war with is employed. Play with the toy frequently to establish a strong motivation and desire for the toy so it becomes an incentive prior to sniffer training. Strong obedience should also be established in a sniffer Beagle that will be taken into a variety of public situations and will need to respond well to handlers. Exposing your Beagle to different situations is also useful, so your dog will be calm when working, and not excited by varying sights and sounds.
The Find the Toy Method
Introduce a towel with no scent and start playing fetch and tug of war with the towel so the Beagle becomes fixated on the toy.
Combine toy with scent
Combine a scent such as a sample of an illegal drug with the towel. Continue to play so the dog associates that scent with his toy.
Hide the towel with the scent and make a game out of your Beagle locating the towel and the scent. Allow your dog to look for the towel. Start with fairly simple hiding places, even let your dog see you hide the toy at first.
When your Beagle successfully locates the towel, ask him to sit, which will eventually become his signal, and then reward him with play.
Gradually make hiding places more complex. Do not allow the dog to see where you hide the toy. Hide the toy with scent under and in furniture or other objects, etc. Allow your Beagle to locate the towel toy. Continue asking him to sit when he indicates correct location. When your dog is proficient at this, he is ready to start locating the substance on its own and be rewarded with play after locating the substance.
The Pair with Food Method
Hide smelly food objects
Hide several smelly food samples in a room or area. Hot dogs, chicken or peanut butter work great. Put object in porous containers that allow scent out or on objects that can be hidden like cloths.
Allow your Beagle to find
Allow your Beagle into the area to locate the food objects by smell. At first you may need to provide guidance and direction.
Pair food with target scent
When your Beagle is reliably finding the food objects, pair them with the target substance such as a drug or explosive smell.
Allow to find and add signal
Allow your Beagle to find the targeted substances paired with the food, using his nose. When your dog locates the paired items, command him to sit or paw the item, depending on what signal you will be employing.
Remove food pairing
Remove the food and just hide the target substance. Let your dog find the target smell, which is not located with food. When your dog locates the scent, give the command for his signal to establish that he should perform that behavior when he locates the scent. Reward with food or play.
The Find It Method
Present hands with treat
Hold a scented food item in one hand and have the other hand empty. Hold your hands in front of your Beagle and say “find it”.
Reward locating the treat
When your dog licks or nudges the hand with food, provide the treat and praise. Practice until well-established.
Start using other scented objects with strong scents, essential oils works well. Marijuana has a strong smell, let your dog learn to pick the smell from your hand or from a series of sample containers on the ground with openings to allow the smell out. Reward your Beagle for locating scents with food or play.
Reinforce specific target
Start teaching your dog to target a specific scent like a drug or explosive. Put the scent in a container and introduce other containers and scents. Command your dog to find it and reward him only for indicating the desired target scent.
Teach your Beagle a signal when he finds the target scent such as 'sit' or 'paw'. Associate the common and behavior with location of the target scent.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 01/04/2018, edited: 01/08/2021