German shepherds are the dogs that most people would assume is the breed of choice to be drug sniffers. Despite their long history of being search and rescue and police dogs, they don't have a monopoly on drug sniffing jobs. It's true that their versatility and resourcefulness are useful for the task, but other breeds also possess natural characteristics that are vital for drug detection.
The Nose Knows
The top dogs used for sniffing out drugs, according to John J. Ensminger's 2012 book "Police and Military Dogs," are English springer spaniels and border collies. Other dog breeds that have shown an aptitude for sniffing out drugs include Weimaraners, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and Belgian malinois. Alternative to traditional purebreeds, it could be that the solution lies in a hybrid breed of dog. In her article "Super Sniffing Dogs" for DogChannel.com, D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D. revealed that Russian scientists claim to have created a breed with superior sniffing capabilities by crossing Russian huskies with jackals.
Mixed Breeds Can Sniff, Too
Purebred dogs aren't the only ones who can do a stellar job of sniffing out drugs. Cross- and mixed-breed dogs can do it, too. They just have to display the right qualities and have the work ethic. Sometimes those characteristics can come from the genes of different breeds the dog has inherited, and sometimes an individual dog just has a talent for it.
Drug Sniffing Qualities
Mixed breed or purebred, the best drug sniffing dogs have a combination of qualities that work together to make them good at what they do. In addition to having an excellent sense of smell and hunting and tracking abilities, drug dogs need to be physically fit, independent, agile, love hard work and have a hunger for praise. They have to really, really want to do the job, too. Dogs of any breed who aren't interested can easily become distracted from the task at hand.
Certifying a Narcotic Dog
A dog's breed won't keep him from becoming a certified narcotic dog, if he has the right stuff to complete the course. The Hornbecks.net standards for narcotic certification don't even include a list of dog breeds who can test for certification. Instead, the requirements are that a dog must know how to alert his handler when he's located stashed drugs, is limited to 10 minutes to find two different stashes and must show proficiency in searching a variety of areas, including indoor areas, outdoors and vehicles.
By Elle Di Jensen
Hornbecks.net: Narcotic Certification Standards
The Welfare of Dogs; Edited by Kevin Stafford
DogChannel.com: Super-Sniffing Dogs
VeterinaryPartner.com: Drug Dogs in Schools
DogChannel.com: History of the German Shepherd
Alabama Cooperative Extension System: The Dog's Sense of Smell
Police and Military Dogs; John J. Ensminger
About the Author
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.