Police dogs can be both impressive and intimidating. All at the same time. Depending on the dog, they can track down a missing person, catch a criminal, find drugs or sniff out explosives.
The increased use of dogs to help in everyday police duties like searching for illegal drugs seems like an efficient solution, but how well is it working and what are some of the risks of using dogs in drug searches?
Here are 3 FAQs on drug detection dogs.
How reliable are they?
It depends on who you ask. The dogs go through rigorous training to help them learn the scents of what they’re looking for. They learn from their handler where to look and what to smell for.
While dogs are very capable at smelling and finding illegal drugs, they are also very good at reading the body language of their handler. Even when it’s subtle. This is why it is important for the dog’s handler to be just as well-trained as their dog.
How are they trained?
Drug sniffing dogs are trained to relate the scent of drugs to their favorite toy. Often a plain towel their handler will use to play tug-of-war with them.
During the training process, the handler will hide drugs or drug scented material in the towel and hide the whole bundle for the dog to find. When the dog comes back with his “toy,” he’s rewarded with a game of tug-of war.
When dogs are sniffing for drugs, they aren’t looking for the drugs, they’re looking for their favorite toy. Even after the training phase is over, the dogs are often still rewarded with a game of tug-of-war for doing what they were supposed to.
What are the risks of using dogs to find drugs?
The biggest risk is a false-positive. Often a dog indicating that there is even a trace of an illegal substance is enough to allow police to do a more extensive search.
This isn’t a big problem if it was simply a false-positive, and there is nothing more to find. The issue comes in when there’s a false-positive that give police permission to search and they find something else. The seemingly harmless search by the dog can lead to something that the police, without the dog’s false signal, would not have found.