A drug sniffer dog or drug detection dog is trained to leverage its senses, particularly its sense of smell to detect different types of substances, including drugs, explained ICTS (International Consultants on Targeted Security), one of the largest subsidiaries that serve over 120 private and public sector organizations all over the UK and Ireland. Their sense of smell is 2,000 times much stronger and 50 times more sensitive than our sense of smell, which is why sniffer dogs are used for a number of security operations.
You can also see sniffer dogs in airports, national borders, or even US public schools that sniff for illegal drugs, banned produce, and invasive insects, said Jane J. Lee of National Geographic, an American television network.
The Efficacy of Drug Detection By Fully-Trained Police Dogs (2014)
Tadeusz Jezierski and colleagues of journal portal Research Gate wrote that experimental drug detection tests were done using 68 purebred Labrador retrievers, 61 German shepherds, 25 Terriers, and 10 English Cocker Spaniels, all breeds consist of males and females. Drugs used for the training and testing were not pharmaceutical grade but street materials.
The researchers aimed to assess how effective dogs trained by the Polish police were at illicit substance detection depending on the type of drug, breed, dog experience with the searching site, and drug odor residuals. The authors found that marijuana was the easiest to find (91.8% correct indications), followed by hashish (82.4%), amphetamine (78.3%), cocaine (74% versus), and heroin (70.3%).
German shepherds reigned supreme (86.8%) as they had the highest percentage of correct indications than other breeds. English Cocker Spaniels only had 82% of correct indications, followed by Labrador retrievers with 78.8%) and Terries with 67%. Terriers had the most percentage of false alerts (24.6%) compared to Labrador retrievers (13%), English Cocker Spaniels (6%), and German Shepherds (8.2%). English Cocker Spaniels had the highest percentage of misses (12%) unlike Terriers (8.4%), Labrador retrievers (8.2%), and German shepherds (5%).
When it came to searching sites, the outdoors had the highest percentage of correct indications, amounting 86.5%, followed by lineup of luggage (83.6%), rooms known and unknown to dogs (83.2%), outside cars (63.5%), and inside cars (57.9%). The percentage of misses was higher for outside cars (14.6%) than outdoors (7.7%), rooms known to dogs (7.3%), inside cars (6.2%), rooms unknown to dogs (4.3%), and lineup of luggage (1.6%).
Detection inside cars had the most false alerts (35.9%) versus outside cars (21.9%). These were followed by lineup of luggage (15.1%), rooms unknown to dogs (12.5%), rooms known to dogs (9.5%), and outdoors (5.8%). Regarding dogs’ experience stage, 86.6% of correct indications were reported for dogs in the final training stage (before examination) (versus 84.6% during annual attestation and 74.7% during examination).
The authors emphasized that their research supports the usefulness of drug detection dogs even if they are not 100% effective. They also noted that breed, drug type, and searching site may influence a canine’s detection performance.
Early Stages of Training
Detection dogs have to learn two kinds of alerting: passive and aggressive. Aggressive alerting involves digging and pawing at the spot where they smell the drugs without damaging one’s personal or business property. When sniffing for explosives, dogs resort to passive alerting as scratching could be potentially dangerous.
Early on, the sniffer dog will receive a reward after it “displays any form of recognition of the target scent.” As the dog improves, it will only be rewarded when it responds with the correct reaction such as sitting, standing, or barking. Sniffer dogs and their handlers are required to undergo months of extensive training to be certified and be successful.
Throughout their entire careers, the pair will conduct testing and retraining to ensure their skills are top-notch and reliable. Dogs usually stay assigned to the handler they were trained with and both of them will get re-tested.
Sniffer Dogs Are Now Being Trained to Detect Coronavirus
Charity Medical Detection Dogs has trained dogs to spot the scent of cancer, malaria, and Parkinson’s, reported BBC, a British news channel. It also plans to undertake trials to detect the scent of coronavirus along with Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
In a statement by the charity, detection dogs searching for COVID-19 would be trained the same way as those dogs that were trained to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, and bacterial infections, cited Matt Mathers of Independent, the UK’s largest quality digital news brand. The detection dogs would train by sniffing samples from the Medical Detection Dogs’ training room and “indicating when they have found it.”
Charity boss Dr. Claire Guest noted that the dogs need to find out how to safely detect the odor of the virus from patients. She added, “In principle, we're sure that dogs could detect COVID-19." If successful, the sniffer dogs could be used to screen people, including those who show no symptoms of the virus. Dr. Guest stated, “This would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed.”
Research showed that dogs could smell malaria infection with a level of accuracy that transcends the World Health Organization’s standards for a diagnostic, asserted Professor James Logan, the LSHTM’s head of disease.
Medical Detection Dogs noted that each disease had its own unique scent. Sniffer dogs could be ready within six weeks to provide a “rapid, non-invasive diagnosis,” it said. The canines could also be trained to tell if a person had a fever since dogs can detect subtle changes in skin temperature. Professor Steve Lindsay of Durham University’s Department of Biosciences stated that detection dogs could be deployed at airports to rapidly identify individuals that carry the virus. He noted, “This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control.”
Professor Logan conjectured that sniffer dogs— a new diagnostic tool— could revolutionize and create a profound impact on people’s response to the coronavirus in the short run, particularly in the months to come. He added, “We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19, change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it.”
Sniffer dogs are commonly used to detect drugs in airports and other public spaces. They also have the potential to detect the scent of the coronavirus, as these canines have been shown to smell the odor of malaria and cancer. For now, everyone will have to wait until the trial becomes successful.