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25 June 2023

How are Sniffer Dogs trained?

Dogs can be deployed at events, high-security areas, and commercial premises.

Sniffer dogs are professionally trained to detect substances and prohibited or illegal items. They are deployed at events, high-security areas, and commercial premises to prevent anybody from entering the site without being screened. While we often see sniffer dogs around airports, train stations and government buildings, they are also used at festivals, restricted-access buildings.

Sniffer dogs are professionally trained to detect substances and prohibited or illegal items. They are deployed at events, high-security areas, and commercial premises to prevent anybody from entering the site without being screened.

While we often see sniffer dogs around airports, train stations and government buildings, they are also used at festivals, restricted-access buildings and commercial sites that require increased security.

The basis of a sniffer dog’s training is that they approach their job as a fun, interesting game! If a sniffer dog sits down by a suspicious package or abandoned item of luggage or wags its tail furiously, it has likely picked up on a positive scent – and is waiting for a reward.

Training Protocols for Detection Dogs

K9s are trained security dogs that can be instructed to search for specific substances or a range of items. The training process can save several months and continues until the dog has a 100% success rate when tested under real-world circumstances.

Most training programmes follow a routine similar to this:

Initially, the trainer will replicate the search or detection environment with a toy. The selected toy is normally something basic and unscented, such as a small piece of fabric, rather than an actual dog toy that could distract a trainee.
Every time the dog finds the toy, they receive a high-value reward and look forward to the next search, anticipating a treat if they are successful.
As the K9 progresses, searches may be timed, or the dog might be trained to detect and retrieve the item, depending on the detection duties they are being prepared for.
In time, the trainer will begin to hide the same toy but with a scent of gunpowder, drugs, or illicit substances, while the K9 continues the same game but associates a new smell with their target item.
Trainers use diverse methods to challenge the dog to actively search, starting in a small area and expanding to wider areas, hiding the toy in small, discrete spaces as might be the case with an illegal item.

Before a K9 detection dog is ready for active duty, it will be able to find the toy amid distractions, thousands of conflicting scents, when the toy is hidden inside a bag or box, and when it is out of its reach and line of sight.

Sniffer dogs are active, happy, and engaged with the game. While they can provide an invaluable service and improve security, they do not associate detection with risk, threat, or danger – those aspects are the responsibility of their human handlers.

Why Do Sniffer Dogs Sit or Bow When They Detect Something?

The objective of a sniffer dog is to detect; no more, no less. Selected breeds have an extraordinary sense of smell, up to 10,000 times stronger than a human, by conservative estimates, and can pick up tiny odours as far as 20 km away if the wind is blowing in the right direction.

These skills are impossible to replicate with equipment or technological surveillance and can even be lifesaving in some scenarios.

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