Drug sniffer dogs

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The ideal drug sniffer or detection dog is playful and dynamic, medium-sized and supple enough to get everywhere, climbing over obstacles where necessary. It also needs to be tenacious and indefatigable, as it often needs to conduct many searches in a day. The favoured breeds are Belgian Shepherd Dogs (Malinois), German Shepherds and Labradors, although smaller dogs, such as Cocker Spaniels and Yorkshire Terriers are also beginning to make inroads in the field, as they can be carried in the arms of an undercover plain-clothed customs official in a queue.

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Most often, drug sniffer dogs work in closed rooms, at ports of entry for instance. They work quickly and thoroughly, speeding up searches that can otherwise take a long time to complete.

They can also work outside searching cars, boats and aircraft. They are so effective at finding cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and other drugs that it is very difficult, perhaps even impossible to fool them.

Drug sniffer dogs find millions of pounds worth of illegal drugs every year, although only small sums are invested in scientific studies that would help us better understand in detail how the dog’s nose works, which might even provide clues on how it can be improved.

It is important to understand that drug sniffer dogs are not “under the influence” themselves. They would not be able to do their job properly; searches would be random and superficial, and the dog would be in a constant state of aggression, even towards its handler.

Learn more

International Working Dog Breeding Association (IWDBA)

The International Working Dog Breeding Association (IWDBA) was founded in 1999 to promote research in canine related health issues through educational programs, public service programs, and grants. The production of high-quality working dogs in large numbers must draw upon the best current knowledge available from the fields of animal science, canine behaviour, and veterinary medicine. Challenges facing the production of dogs in the numbers required by police and military organizations and by agencies that breed and train service dogs and guide dogs are orders of magnitude more complex than the challenges faced by private dog breeders. Where a large private breeder might whelp six litters per year, large breeding organizations producing working dogs must whelp 100 or more litters per year. Through the bi-annual conferences organized by the IWDBA, managers and technicians working with large breeding programs have an opportunity to meet each other. Through scientific papers presented at each conference, members can share knowledge and results from specific studies designed to learn new knowledge about the science of producing working dogs in large numbers. Papers presented at recent conferences have focused on ways to improve the overall behaviour of working dogs, techniques for raising puppies that will maximize their opportunity to become emotionally sound working adult dogs, ways to genetically control a variety of health issues and techniques for treating dogs affected by specific disorders amenable to treatment. The 2009 conference, attended by about 280 delegates from 26 countries, included a number of papers that looked at the many nuances of canine olfaction. The Association maintains an international presence year-round through their web-site: http://www.iwdba.org. Persons interested in becoming a member may visit the web-site where they can purchase a membership, which includes access to both a printed paper copy of the Association's peer-reviewed journal and on-line access through Elsevier.

Leighton

Eldin A. Leighton
Chairman IWDBA

A brief look at drug sniffer dog training

A dog will have to pass four stages of training before it can be put to work in drug detection. The duration of these stages depends on the individual dog.

Stage one

A target object is placed in a PVC tube with holes in it. Heroin and cocaine are too dangerous to the dog for them to be used directly, so a rag impregnated with the desired odour is used instead.
The dog is given this tube to play with for several days until it becomes attached to it. In the process, it associates the object with the odour of the substance the rag inside the tube is impregnated with.

Stage two

The object is now hidden from the dog, at first in an easily accessible place while it is watching. The dog is then encouraged to find the object. Gradually, the object is hidden in places that are increasingly difficult to access, sometimes under sand, which encourages the dog to scratch the ground to retrieve it. At a certain point the hiding place will be made completely inaccessible.

Stage three

Now the object is hidden in an inaccessible place out of view of the dog. The dog is brought into the room and the trainer encourages it to find the object, although it is not allowed to start until the command is given. The dog then has to use its sense of smell to locate the object. It also has to scratch the ground with its paw before it is given the object.

Stage four

In the final stage, the tube is no longer used, ensuring the dog learns to search for the odour of the drug, which it will continue to associate with the object, rather than the object itself.

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Drug sniffer dogs
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