Drug Dogs at Airports

Written by james stuart
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Drug Dogs at Airports
Drug dogs can be seen at many airports. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Drug dogs, or sniffer dogs, are still the most effective tool officials have in fighting the drug trade at airports. These dogs are trained to detect and seek out narcotics that human beings would normally miss. Without sniffer dogs, there is a good chance that illegal drugs will slip through airport customs.

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How it Works

Sniffer dogs are paired with customs officers, and the two must have a good rapport with each other. Although the dog is trained to alert people when it detects drugs, the official must be able to understand his dog. The dog and the officer patrol the airport, and when the dog detects something, it will freeze up. It will put its nose where the drugs are and keep it there. The dog may also alert the officer by barking or scratching the area where drugs are concealed. After a successful seizure, the dog gets a treat as a reward.


Dogs must go through eight weeks of training before they are able to start work in the field. This training helps the dog learn how to detect drugs and function as part of a team. However, the testing doesn't stop after the dog has been seleccted. Dogs must be tested regularly to ensure that they can successfully detect drugs. As sniffer dogs get older, they lose their sense of smell. Handlers stage mock situations in which drugs are planted at a location. If the dog finds the drugs, they pass the test and continue to work, but if they fail, they are retired.


Sniffer dogs are trained to identify a number of different drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Their sense of smell is roughly 1,000 times more powerful than a human's, and they are able to detect even a small amount of drugs. Trained drug dogs can even detect the smell of drugs when the smell has been camouflaged by the smuggler. The dogs' mobility allows them to explore several different areas in the airport that humans cannot readily access.

The Dogs

Some of the most common breeds used as drug dogs include Belgian Malinois, German Shepards and Labradors. Most drug dogs are bred specifically for the job -- and only the very best are selected. A drug dog must be intelligent, healthy and of course, have a strong sense of smell. The dogs also must be obedient and function as part of a narcotics team.

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