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A detection dog getting ready to search a car for explosives.
Detection dog at the Canadian/American border

A detection dog is a dog that is trained to and works at using its senses (almost always the sense of smell) to detect substances such as explosives, illegal drugs, or blood. They are often known as sniffer dogs. Hunting dogs that search for game and search dogs that search for missing humans are generally not considered detection dogs. There is some overlap, as in the case of human remains detection dogs (sometimes called cadaver dogs), trained to detect human remains. They are also used for drug raids to find where they are.

In the state of California, dogs are trained to detect the Quagga Mussel on boats at public boat ramps, as it is a invasive species. Sniffer dogs have also been enlisted to find bumblebee nests. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has trained a springer spaniel to detect the colonies, assisting them with the conservation of threatened species. Some prisons have dog trained to detect iliicit cell phones in prison cells[1].

Functions

Detection dogs have been trained to search for many substances, including:

One notable quality of detection dogs is that they are able to discern individual scents even when the scents are combined or masked by other odors. In one case at an Australian prison, a detection dog foiled an attempt to smuggle drugs that had been hidden in a woman's bra and smeared with coffee, pepper and Vicks Vapo-rub.[4] A sniffer dog's sense of smell is 2000 times more sensitive than that of humans. They can even detect things (blood, etc.) that have been left for as long as 10 years. They can detect blood even if it has been scrubbed off surfaces. In one case, a sniffer dog sniffed a drop of blood on the wall that had been attempted to be scrubbed off. It was so small that it couldn't be seen without a microscope.[4] There is a threat that the dogs can be exposed to diseases like canine influenza, henipavirus, and rabies and parasites like fleas or ticks by criminals.

Some of these functions can be carried out by trained pigs, which also have an excellent sense of smell, and have been used to hunt truffles, underground fungi, for centuries.

Their use has been criticized as allowing the police to conduct searches without cause, in a manner that is unregulated[5][6], and for being used to target adults carrying drugs for personal use rather than commercial purposes[7].

Problems exist with detection dogs in that they can be trained to indicate the presence of drugs when none exist and the dog, of course, cannot be called to testify[8]. Officers sometimes attempt to intimidate drivers into consenting to a search by saying that a detection dog is on the way, whether one is really on the way or not[9]

See also

Footnotes

airport security dogs sniffer dogs for airport security

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