Drug dogs help authorities detect and locate illegal drugs at borders, airports and crime scenes, and have become invaluable tools to law enforcement. These talented canines can detect even small amounts of scent given off by drugs, even when drugs are cleverly disguised in layers of other, scented materials.
One drug-detecting dog, a Springer spaniel with an exceptionally sensitive nose, discovered cocaine worth nearly $40 million (485 pounds of it) at Gatwick airport, just before her retirement. She had been 7 years on the job and the record drug find was her 100th instance of drugs located in her distinguished career. Quite the achievement!
Drug detecting dogs need to learn basic on and off-leash obedience, control, and be able to focus on their task in distracting environments.Training this ability takes weeks to months of practice, to establish strong responses to obedience commands and the ability to tune out distractions that are often present in public environments where a drug dog needs to work, like bus terminals, airports and border crossings. Drug dogs are also taught a signal or alert to perform and indicate they have located drugs. This behavior is often taught separately at first, and then associated later with detecting the drug scent. The signal to the dog's handler that the drug scent has been located may be a ‘sit and look’ at the handler, or another behavior that has been taught. Drug-detecting dogs are allowed to investigate an area, usually on-leash, but sometimes off-leash, such as a storage or luggage facility or hub. When the dog locates a drug scent they immediately signal their handler by performing the target behavior, such as sitting and looking at their handler, and are immediately rewarded with a toy and play time. Drug dogs are usually taught to be completely obsessed with their toy and playing with their handler, so they will work hard to detect drug scent for the opportunity to play.
Dogs that are going to be used for drug detection need to be taught basic obedience commands that can be used in public places.
To train a dog to detect drug scents, trainers need to use samples of the drugs. This will require licensing and certification by law enforcement agencies to have access to samples, or trainers can use commercially available substitutes that mimic the smell of various drugs.
Most drug detection dogs are taught to detect with the use of a toy that they get to frequently play with. A toy that will stand up, like a Kong, or can be easily replaced, like a white towel, is appropriate.