How canine sniffer dogs are trained to detect drugs

A drug sniffer dog or drug detection dog is a dog that is trained to and works at using its senses, mainly their sense of smell, to detect a variety of substances including drugs. Their sense of smell is two thousand times much stronger, and fifty times more sensitive than that of a human’s which is why a sniffer dog is used for a number of security operations.

Sniffer dogs have totally no interest in the drugs themselves. What they're actually searching for is their favourite toy. Their training programme has led them to associate that toy with the smell of drugs. The sniffer dogs' strong desire to hunt drives them to seek out what they've been trained to find, so they do not falsely signal in order to get a reward, in their minds, finding traces of a drug is the reward.

So they do not make a fuss, drug detection dogs are taught to learn two kinds of alerting: the passive and the aggressive. Drug dogs use an aggressive alert, where they dig and paw at the spot where they smell the drugs without causing damage to personal or business property. When they smell the drugs without causing damage to personal or business property. When sniffing for explosives they will use a passive approach as scratching the service could be dangerous.

During the early stages of training the sniffer dog will receive a reward when it displays any form of recognition of the target scent. As the dog’s skills progress the reward will only be given when the dog responds with the correct reaction (e.g. sit, stand, stare, down, bark, etc…). 

Canine Sniffer dogs and their handlers undergo extensive training for months in order to be certified and are successful because of their ability to work as a team. They will carry out testing and retraining throughout their entire careers to ensure their skills are reliable and up to standard. (Dogs typically stay assigned to the handler they were trained with and the team get re-tested together) 

Drug detection dogs can be used for a range of operations and assignments including but not limited to; Airports, Marine applications, Media solutions, Hospitals and mental health facilities together with schools, colleges and universities, events, prisons, businesses and homes, who all see the benefits of using sniffer dogs for tighter security measures. They can be used to detect drugs on individuals, within buildings, open areas and vehicles.

Many Search Dog Handlers will be trained from a Police or Military background and should be trained Security Officers. It is also important for Canine Service providers to be BS8517 Part 2 compliant and a NASDU Inspected Company.


For more information about our Canine Services and drug sniffer dogs please contact Jed Marshall, our Canine specialist on 0207 874 7576 or email