What Can Drug Dogs Smell?

By Lee Parker

Drug dogs, also known as narcotic dogs, or drug detection dogs, are used by some organizations to aid in the detection of certain types of drugs and drug paraphernalia.

Who Uses Drug Dogs?

The National Narcotic Detector Dog Association is a nonprofit organization that certifies narcotic detection dogs for police units, cadaver searches, explosive detection and standard narcotic searches. To obtain certification the dog and trainer must both be a part of the Federal Armed Forces or Armed Force reserves, a private security firm with a Drug Enforcement Administration license or a commissioned law enforcement officer.

To achieve standard certification, drug dogs only have to be able to identify marijuana and cocaine, with the option to learn and add certification for other drugs.

Recently, private organizations have been training drug dogs for parents, private businesses and halfway houses. These dogs are not certified through the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association, but do go through the same rigorous training procedures.

"Experts have reported incredible true stories about the acuteness of dogs' sense of smell. There's the drug-sniffing dog that 'found' a plastic container packed with 35 pounds of marijuana submerged in gasoline within a gas tank."

  • Peter Tyson for PBS

So What Drugs Can They Smell?

  • Marijuana.
  • Cocaine.
  • Methamphetamine.
  • Heroin.
  • Opiates.
  • Ecstasy.
  • LSD.

How far away each dog can smell drugs is dependent upon the breed; different breeds have differing amounts of scent receptors. James Walker from the Sensory Research Center at Florida State University, says:

"If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well."

Bloodhounds top the list at 300 million scent receptors, while German shepherds and beagles each have 225 million. These scent receptors are located within the bony ridge of the nose. Compare this to humans, with our measly 5 million scent receptors, and you can see why these canines nail the job.