Are Drug Sniffing Dogs Trained By Sniffing Drugs?


Sniffer dogs are a key tool in the arsenal
of law enforcement to do their jobs- trained to sniff out everything from drugs to fruit
and boasting a reasonably good success rate (with one caveat that we’ll get too shortly). As it turns out, though, how these crime-fighting
pooches are typically trained is a very simple process anyone can do with a bit of persistence
and patience. Obviously the first thing you need to train
a sniffer dog is, well, a dog. While any dog can be trained to sniff for
drugs or illegal material, some have a better sense of smell than others. Popular breeds used by law enforcement include
members of the retriever family, German shepherds and beagles, all of whom have an impressive
sense of smell even by dog standards thanks to generations of selective breeding. Once a suitable dog is selected, training
it to sniff out the desired substance is a simple matter of getting the dog to associate
a favourite toy with its smell. One popular toy chosen by sniffer dog trainers
is a small white towel, which is easily recognised by the dog, can be cleaned to ensure the towel’s
scent is minimized, and in the general case dogs love a good game of tug of war with said
towels. After the dog learns to associate the toy
with getting to have fun, the trainers begin to introduce the smell of the desired illicit
substance they’d like the dog to eventually seek out, be it drugs, chemicals used to make
bombs, money, or really whatever. In fact, there are even so-called “porn
sniffing” dogs that are in reality trained to sniff out hidden memory cards, hard drives,
and other such devices. These dogs are used when investigating hackers
or those suspected of being in possession of underage pornography or the like. One such dog, named Bear, was used to help
convict Subway’s former spokesman Jared Fogle, when the dog found just such a hidden
flash drive at Fogle’s residence that human searchers had missed. In a nutshell, if the item has a scent, the
dogs can be trained to sniff it out. As you might have gathered from this, over
time, the dog will learn to seek out whatever smell, not for the smell’s sake (as has
been often erroneously suggested by those insinuating the dogs are addicted to the drugs),
but rather because they associate finding the source of the smell with their favorite
toy and play time. And if you’re wondering here, yes, the drug
sniffing dogs are technically trained via using actual drugs, though the amount needed
here for the dogs to pick up the scent is incredibly low thanks to their exceptional
sense of smell. This ensures no risk to the dog themselves,
at least in training. The same cannot always be said to be the case
when the dog is on duty. While rare owing to the fact that the dogs
are being used to find hidden drugs (thus likely barriers between the drug and the dog),
it does sometimes happen where the dog may be exposed to something so toxic that even
trace amounts pose a risk to them, such as relatively recently happened in Broward County,
Florida where sniffer dogs were exposed to the extremely potent opioid fentanyl. To get around this problem, the dog’s handler
will keep a vigilant watch and particularly not deploy sniffing dogs at all if there are
any loose drugs present. For the unseen drugs that nonetheless may
be particularly potent, the handler also might carry things like naloxone with them, which
rapidly reverses/blocks the effects of opioids, just in case. Back to training- once the dog has learned
to successfully seek out the smell when commanded, the trainer then moves on to only giving the
play reward when the dog does the appropriate action when it finds the source. For example, some drug sniffer dogs are trained
to paw at the spot where the illegal substance is located, but this, obviously, isn’t ideal
if the dog is searching for something like a bomb. As a result, sniffer dogs are trained to have
“passive” and “aggressive” responses based on the situation. The passive response can, again, be whatever
you like, though most sniffer dogs are trained to simply sit down and/or point with their
nose and freeze in these cases. As one security company who trains sniffer
dogs summarizes: During the early stages of training, the sniffer
dog will receive a reward when it displays any form of recognition of the target scent. As the dog’s skills progress, the reward
will only be given when the dog responds with the correct reaction (e.g. sit, stand, stare,
down, bark, etc…). With these quite simple training methods,
the resulting sniffer dogs are very accurate in finding concealed illegal items and generally
are trained well enough to be immune from being fooled by strategic placement of treats
or other masking scents like meats. This all said, in real world use, there does
seem to be a major issue given dogs have also long been bred to please their masters and
are exceptionally good at picking up body language from said masters. This is essentially another example of the
Clever Hans Effect. If you’re unfamiliar, this was a phenomenon
famously observed in a horse named Hans who genuinely seemed to be able to do math, including
fractions, multiplication, and even square roots, as well as eventually learned to spell
out names, among other remarkable skills. In the beginning this was widely assumed to
be a hoax, but after an independent commission confirmed the horse really could do these
things, it seemed as if mankind had been massively underestimating the intelligence of horses. That is, until psychologist Oskar Pfungst
ran a series of experiments that uncovered the fact that if the horse couldn’t see
the questioner or if the questioner didn’t know the answer, the horse universally got
the answer wrong. When the horse could see the questioner and
the questioner knew the answer, however, the horse had remarkable accuracy in the 80%-90%
range in many tests. Thus, what was actually happening was the
horse was simply reading very subtle body language of the person conducting the experiments
(none of whom were aware they were exhibiting any such cues) and so was able to pick the
correct answer to whatever question based on this. (You can read more on this here: The Horse
That Could Do Math) As you might imagine, sniffer dogs suffer
from this same phenomenon. In support of this notion is a double-blind
2011 study published in the journal Animal Cognition in which the dogs were tested in
a scenario where there were no drugs, but the dog handlers and those observing the handlers
were told there were drugs. To further attempt to trick the dogs themselves,
certain food/play items were also placed about to entice them. The results? The dogs performed well with regards to ignoring
the treats, but were nonetheless uncharacteristically wildly inaccurate anyway, particularly around
areas where the humans were led to believe drugs were located. As there were no drugs, the result was simply
a whopping 225 false positives by the dogs and the 18 handlers. In fact, in only 15% of the total 144 runs
did a dog and its handler successfully go through the course without indicating they’d
found drugs. Given the number of studies showing both that
drug sniffing dogs are very difficult to fool in controlled tests and other studies like
this one showing they nonetheless become quite inaccurate when the handlers are fooled, it’s
generally thought it’s really the humans that are the problem here, not the dogs. On this note, there have been lawsuits in
the United States alleging that some handlers are actually training the dogs to respond
to intentional subtle cues they give so that the police can then conduct an otherwise illegal
search any time they please. In support of this notion, despite in testing
the dogs being extremely accurate, one report from the Chicago Tribune noted that over a
three year period the dogs used during traffic stops in the suburbs around Chicago reported
false positives a whopping 56% of the time. More disturbingly, that false positive rate
rose to 73% when the police had pulled over someone of Hispanic descent. (Although it should also be noted that despite
a three year span, the sample-set the Tribune was working with of actual traffic stops where
sniffer dogs were deployed was quite small and the data they used was also incomplete.) That said, during the previously mentioned
study published in Animal Cognition, the experimenter “was informed that three handlers admitted
to overtly cuing their dogs to alert” where the handler thought there was drugs, implying
that this is something at least some handlers have trained their dogs to do when the handler
thinks drugs are present. Nevertheless, while some handlers seem to
be doing this, it’s generally thought that in many such false positive cases what’s
actually happening is either trace amounts of drugs from past drug presence (potentially
even from years previous) or, perhaps even more likely, simply another instance of the
aforementioned Clever Hans Effect, in that the handlers are unintentionally signaling
the dogs that they think there may be drugs or the like in, say, a vehicle. The dogs then pick up on this, and so even
though the dogs may not yet be smelling drugs, they react as if they do, resulting in a disproportionate
number of false positives in these cases, and potentially a bit of racial profiling
thanks to the humans’ biases, rather than the dogs not being good at their job. It should be noted here that it wouldn’t
be that difficult to train the dogs to ignore handler body language when searching. The dogs can also be mostly trained to ignore
ultra-low thresholds of detection from drugs present in the distant past. Despite this, to date, this doesn’t appear
to be something implemented in any sniffer dog training program we could find. But in the end, the important thing to note
in all of this is that sniffer dogs generally see their work as a game and usually work
hand in hand with their best friend, sometimes for years with the same handler. And regardless of how accurate they are in
any given scenario, each and every one of them is a very, very good dog. ognoscente of
the profiling problem and potential for rights infringing searches where no such search is
warranted by what the dogs are actually smelling, a
new tack has been investigated by some agencies in the form of switching to using mice. While less fun to have around than man’s
best friend, mice have the potential to be more accurate than drug or bomb sniffing dogs
for sniffing things out. Another advantage of the mice, according to
one security company that trains mice for such, is that they don’t need to continually
be motivated when not finding anything. In contrast, sniffing dogs must be periodically
sent on dummy missions so they don’t become bored with the game. For example, in airports, sniffer dog handlers
sometimes have to ask employees to carry dummy packages loaded with drugs or some other illegal
substance through security so that the dog can “find” them and be rewarded.The dogs
must also periodically re-trained to keep their skills sharp. Mice, on the other hand, are good for about
four hour shifts at a time with a useful lifespan of about 18 months, all supposedly without
need to re-train or re-motivate. Further, the mice are significantly cheaper
and easier to maintain. They also can be trained much faster and cheaper
than dogs, and in extremely high numbers for mass and quick deployment. As an example of how the mice might be deployed,
the aforementioned security company notes small containers with the hidden mice can
be strategically placed at airports in locations where passengers walk by or are made to pause
for a moment. When the hidden mice (possibly large groups
of them) smell whatever they’ve been trained to alert for, they press a button alerting
the authorities, all in a much less visible fashion than dogs, and not prone to reacting
to handler bias or, in this case, even have a handler visible to the mice at all. You may have heard a story about sniffer dogs
in the UK getting into trouble for finding sausages instead of contraband, which while
true, isn’t the whole story. You see, the dogs in question were specifically
trained to search for meat that could pose a health hazard or was sourced illegally. The dogs, to their credit, did find a lot
of meat, it’s just that it was mostly sausages.

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100 Responses

  1. ian long says:

    The Hispanic bias might not have been racist cops (it very well could be), but instead maybe there is something that Chicago Hispanics frequently use that can confuse the dogs

  2. Free Wheels says:

    Short answer:

    YES

  3. Adil Ahmad says:

    police dogs sniff cocain to learn their smell. police dog is a cocain addict who catches criminal for their dope

  4. sandramorrison99 says:

    Awe- come on ! I thot they injested the substance- Crap-

  5. Chaznia Marquardt says:

    Yas! They are good boys! XD (or girls)

  6. Bruce Wayne says:

    Today i learned they only trained male dogs. 8:30

  7. Zwenk Wiel says:

    So I shouldn't be laying out lines of cocaine to train my dog to find drugs? Does explain why he's so jumpy

  8. Pete Bruzgis says:

    Theses so called drug dogs fail OVER 50 percent of the time in the field and cops lie and say dog triggered for theses two reasons should not be aloud at all

  9. crackhea d says:

    I should train my dog so I can find my lost drugs

  10. Torture Killah2 says:

    I associate drugs with playtime also,but don't eat poops

  11. Nathan L says:

    My dog sniffs out sticks, he can find any stick in the yard every time

  12. Nicholas Westlund says:

    You are such a TOOL! lol. I love your random Sincere advertising. Way to go TOOL!

  13. wades623 says:

    cops are corrupt and use the dog as an excuse to do a search.

  14. Steve W says:

    Could just have a 30 second video saying yes or no

  15. James Bond J.R. says:

    Hi Simon, I'm a fan of yours and I very much enjoy your intellegent and informative videos on various topics. But you left me scratching my head when you said that these trained dogs can actually sniff out pornography. How is that possible? You also got a laugh from me when you said that mice can be used more effectively than dogs. Not that I dispute this idea but what I immediately thought was, WHAT if the mice escape from their cage while on the job at the local airport? It would be a wild and terrifying scene with people jumping all over eachother to just get away from the mice. In other words it would cause a stampede. GREAT Movie material. HAHAHA. And for those of you who detected creases and wrinkles on his brand new pullover, you all are GREAT forensic detectives. HAHAHA

  16. Nostrodumbass 8 says:

    The exact way they train cop dogs is by putting yes REAL drugs in tennis balls and hiding them. So to the dog it's a game.

  17. Kalon says:

    This video needs a de-esser applied, his sibilance is distracting.

  18. Dennis Jones says:

    There is a case where a smuggler was hiding drug in packages of steaks, the dog would alert correctly but the handler would assume the dog was alerting on the meat and just wave the smuggler thru and schedule the dog for refresher retraining

  19. daniel finley-pesti says:

    6:36 hello I'm Simon WHISTLER and…

  20. Whole Food Plant-Based Man says:

    It’s 1:10 am. Why the fuck am I watching a video about drug dogs?

  21. Zac Tolan says:

    He refers to a shirt he has, but it does not mean he's talking about the exact one he's wearing in the shot…

  22. CitizenSnips says:

    Seems to me like the horse outsmarted the man.

  23. galesx95 says:

    do you hide cocaine under that suit?

  24. Dallas Mann says:

    Well, I'm just glad to hear that sniffer dogs are trained with positive and not negative methods..

  25. Nate one says:

    Of course they have them sniff actual drugs hey have high level training although when used in the field they manipulate the dogs to react and the dogs get bored and tired and then perform much lesser.. it's a clusterfluck although they can smell certain drugs easily if trained right

  26. Nate one says:

    Fentanyl will drop you breathing it

  27. Dan says:

    I want that beagle.

  28. Dan says:

    Ah so horses are not for math, but Texas hold 'em.

  29. Aodhan Hughes says:

    Babish? Is that you?

  30. lornaduwn says:

    Sooo….you wear that shirt often but it has creases from obviously being folded for a long period of time…just like a brand new shirt. Hmmm…today I found out that you tubers sometimes will put money before truth.

  31. Big A 2297 says:

    yeah I had a dog supposedly hint on my car for drugs one day. I can tell you without a doubt, there was never any drugs in that car , I believe that because the cop wanted to find or thought I had drugs the dog acted like there was drugs . The dog was walked around the car once , and I didnt see him do anything, on the 2nd time around he kinda made a move towards my back door. so they searched my car and didn't find a thing .

  32. morgengabe1 says:

    How could The horse answer by selection when it wore a blindfold?

  33. Papa Joe says:

    How could a dog sniff porn ? That’s fucked

  34. Hughes Enterprises says:

    Dogs know the difference in smell between a flash drive full of porn and a flash drive full of memes?

  35. F R says:

    Dorgas mano!

  36. Paul Sutherland says:

    Dude. Your max Weldon spot is exquisite and seems so honest. When I start sponsoring videos, I want this level of care. You're outstanding.

  37. bastiiteam9 says:

    Answer of the Question: Yes, they Sniff drugs. But its very low, so there is no Risk while Training.

  38. Neurofied Yamato says:

    the sausages made me hungry…

  39. SK dslr19 says:

    If the police dogs aren't being paid then there slaves so most police dogs are slaves working for the police

  40. Awesome Duff says:

    Liberals must hate drug sniffing dogs

  41. Mr Reverse says:

    I knew he was saving the foot reveal for that juicy brand deal.

  42. Camden Daley says:

    Imma be honest that ad was so fake…. "I've had this shirt for months" *Creases in the shirt

  43. Antonio Caforio says:

    Why do you look like vsauce

  44. James Zetterman says:

    I noticed that you're talking about drugs. I, Giorno Giovanna, have a dream that I know is just. I'm going to become a Gang-Star and rid this country of drugs!

  45. Ezekiel is a Pig says:

    Do the dogs get high?

  46. annoythedonkey says:

    I bet the porn sniffing dogs are really smelling sperm

  47. Miss Chief says:

    WTF do USB drives smell like and how is it different to the motherboard of a computer/tv etc? Also seems to me like there is an easy way around it , just put some essential oils on said item, dogs seems to hate that stuff (can't say I blame them).

  48. Miss Chief says:

    About the counting horse thing, it is still a pretty clever horse though, everyone tells that story as if it was all the man's doing but that horse was still doing something unusual even if that thing wasn't counting. Also regarding the mice thing… will there also be mice sniffing cats to catch all the escapes (ideally without killing them) you know how many food places there are in airports? Plus while the mouse is hopefully much cheaper to feed, it only works for 18 months, I'm guessing the company who trains them charge a little more than the local pet shop… also why mice and not rats, they're bigger (bigger brains and easier to bloody find), they live longer and they are very trainable. I seem to recall somewhere is using rats (not mice) to find landmines and it's working really well, although I have no idea what a mass manufactured bomb/landmine smells like… I would assume it smells much like electronics do… do the porn dogs double up as the paedo dogs? 😉

  49. mystery8guy says:

    Want to know everything about Drug dogs? Google 'Barry Cooper'.

  50. Sebastian Phillips says:

    That shirt still has creases from the factory fool. I cant trust you.

  51. Metalalbumreviewers says:

    "Selective breeding". I think you mean "inbreeding".

  52. G C says:

    I got a crazy innovative idea let’s train bears to sniff out drugs!

  53. terry hollands says:

    The nose, knows.

  54. Nick Henman says:

    My dad was picked up in an airport as a dog had indicated that he illegal fruit and veg in his bag. What the dog had actually smelled was some lemon flavoured cough drops in the bottom of his bag.

  55. Greg Schachte says:

    Broward County!!!

  56. YinYangAngel55 says:

    In school there was a dog brought in for a routine drug sniff during first period. The dog came in and sniffed the bags then the kids. The dog stopped at my friend and sniffed his pocket. He said "let me explain" as he pulled out a wrapped half eaten burrito from the the cafeteria. He didn't get in trouble.

  57. Low ranking loooser Mustard says:

    I wonder if you can train a dog to sniff out weed with sage leaves

    Edit because I accidentally put leaves instead of weed

  58. Nicholas Rose says:

    People claiming that dogs are solely going based off people cues how do they explain detecting hidden bombs or drugs the handler doesn't know

  59. Kevin Marsh says:

    That are also known to alert to food when there hunting for drugs.

  60. anne welch says:

    I read in a book written in the 60s of a case where a woman tried to hide drugs in her bra, she had just gotten off a plane. The dog jumped on her, at first the handler thought the dog had made a mistake. They had to have someone go into the ladies room with her. They found the drugs. Another dog and handler worked in an office for a security company, the dog alerted to a machine being left on.

  61. CrippledMerc says:

    I bought the synthetics and trained my service dog to alert on drugs just for fun. She likes to learn new stuff and I thought it’d be something fun to train her to do, so I did. I’m not a police officer or a drug user so it’s something that never gets used, but it makes for a fun game for her where I hide the synthetic and she finds it for a treat. Maybe one day it’ll actually get put to proper use.

  62. computerssuck93 says:

    I talked to a policeman once who told me basically how they train their K9 dogs. He said they train them to sniff for "a human scent", thus when they bring them out and are looking for something like a weapon or drugs that a criminal may have attempted to hide or discard they can focus in on the scent the person left on the item when handling it. This was a while ago so i'm sure there are more efficient means of how they train them now.

  63. LezChap says:

    Drug sniffing dogs are court-sanctioned justification to violate civil rights.

  64. TRISTAN CERNOSEK says:

    I feel like this should be in fact fiend

  65. Adrian G Eyre says:

    You mist out sniffer bees lol

  66. Mihir patel says:

    Good bois doing good work

  67. Mohd Fayyadh says:

    Dog can smelled your google history… Great, more spies on already not secure browser

  68. wealthy black man says:

    False! K9 are trained but not to sniff drugs! Mostly the police k9 are used as a laundering money tool to overpay trainers and rob taxpayers!!! They claim each dog cost 40,000 or more to train, but often times ( to the common criminal) it is "the threat of the dog" that exposes them to devuldge "the truth"… most k9 are trained to bark upon a policeman signal….

  69. Calum Carlyle says:

    It's quite incredible that you say Clever Hans was "simply" reading body language that humans didn't even know they were exhibiting, with 80 to 90 percent accuracy as well. Sounds to me like horses are potentially more intelligent than they'd need to be to just solve simple maths tests.

  70. superwatler says:

    Ok so you've proven that you have a lower half but what about a back 🤔 bet you don't have one of those.

  71. Han Lockhart says:

    7:10 But what if there really was that many people handling drugs and
    they`re of a particular race? What if it`s not a false positive?

  72. peace and love says:

    Great but what books you recommend for a person who wants to be a scent dog trainer ?

  73. cody collins says:

    I wonder if I could teach my dog to tell if my poker buddies are bluffing

  74. Justin Bobby says:

    The false positive thing….now while being subject to an illegal search is shitty, all that means is that 56% of people had drugs present in their vehicle at one point, and that Hispanics are simply that much more likely to have been in possession of drugs at some point, which would make sense considering with the sole exception of marijuana the majority of these drugs are originating in spanish speaking countries and are being smuggled and dristributed by at least presumeably hispanic individuals. The idea that false positives are a result of the hands effect just sounds silly and the more likely cause is as you said either trace amounts of drugs or just the residual scent of previously possessed drugs.

  75. Legandâry says:

    Good doggos!!

  76. Tom Abuhl says:

    The fuck is a Mack Weldon? I came here for the basics on how I can train a damn 🐕 to sniff out the neighborhood drug dealers stashes with precision accuracy do unless a M.W. is a new 🐕 breed I suggest you and the other penis elbows hosting videos stop promoting gay butt shit. Mic drop and I'm out

  77. James Ritter says:

    I was a military dog handler/trainer for 12 years and my dog (which was an aggressive responder) popped a bag of cocaine. Fortunately, there was an ambulance on scene that had narcan which saved her life. They even had to dose me because I inhaled it as I reached in and grabbed her. I can honestly see why they call cocaine a hell of a drug lol.

  78. Calsefire says:

    K9 units are garbage and just abuse of power.

  79. Adrian D says:

    Well duh. They're not letting dogs sniff or snort (actually ingest) the substance lol.. was that what was meant by the original question?? That's hilarious.

  80. Russ Towne says:

    Not to be cheeky, the shirt you are advertising looks like you pulled right out of the box!creases and wrinkles. Good on ya mate!

  81. K. N9ne says:

    Niiiice keep it going!

  82. 45LXUD MOUTH says:

    So I have a good chance of crossing a fish scale key.

  83. Mark Zink says:

    In order to be a snitch, it helps to be a bitch.

  84. Michael Keller says:

    Poor good Doggos being turned into snitches.

  85. Marky Mark says:

    A dog's scent is so very strong they don't need to sniff drugs.. whomever said this is on drugs for sure..they practice with real drug scents and get rewards. Or trainers use confiscated drugs to practice

  86. Keith Schultz says:

    It is the "HUMANS* That are the problem….. Leading the animal also to alert based on subtle, subconscious cases and a when the OFFICER feels there ate drugs. Ahem. So. What we have are dogs alerting based on the officers, more then likely, FALSE assumption that a drug. Or any drug, or whatever substance is there. Like the ate could be sterile . To please the handler, they give a false alert allowing the official, law enforcement officers, the ability to, improperly and falsely, search the vehicle or house or whatnot. SO…, Random thugs, under color of law, under color of doing whatever they want, have animals which alert almost on que to their handlers, THEREBY, allowing for the false detention, as wall as probably FALSE whatever contraband. Tools the thugs use for their own bias, predjuces, and probable in order to protect their own illegal endeavors. Forget all the percentages, but so maybe 15% true and accurate contraband alerts. With the thugs still doing what the do. As always.

  87. TheElusiveReality says:

    I love the idea of hordes of trained drug-sniffing mice

  88. Skylie says:

    Having Simon call me a very very good boy is dreamworthy

  89. Bjarte Larsen says:

    Another great thing with using mice to sniff out things is when using them to find landmines, they are so small that there is no chance that they set off the mines. 🙂

  90. Krafty Kreator says:

    Uh, anyone else notice Simon must have taken that first grey shirt for the sponsor right out of the package? The creases on it are the exact creases on a shop/ factory folded shirt (when I was a teen I had to fold a lot of shirts at Macy's).

  91. Luis Frau says:

    They get them hooked on drugs and then they go about searching for drugs desperately like a crackhead at dawn

  92. YOW Gyrl says:

    Excuse me! 8:31 There are female sniffer dogs. Sheesh!

  93. MrVercettti89 says:

    Family Guy did a great episode about Brian becoming addicted to drugs

  94. Andreea Dobre says:

    Now make a video on how the companies training sniffing dogs acquire the drugs they need for training 🤔

  95. Frankie B says:

    i will never understand why they dont use bloodhounds for this?
    its always some german sheppard or labrador…what gives?

  96. David Tutankhamen says:

    A couple of times a drug sniffing dog “indicated” that they smelled drugs in my car. I let the officers search my car, and they found none, because there were no drugs in the car. Congratulations, dogs can be wrong.

  97. Mandeep Kalsi says:

    r u that geeza from that sciency yt channel that explains shit

  98. Isabel bueno says:

    Can drug sniffing dogs smell a taser?

  99. chalaco choro says:

    Seven years ago, a researcher named Lisa Lit published a study that she now calls "a real career-ender."

    On the surface, the study tested the abilities of fourteen certified sniffer dogs to find hidden "targets." In reality, the dogs' human handlers were also under the magnifying glass. They were led to believe there were hidden target scents present, when in fact there were none. Nevertheless, the dogs "alerted" to the scents multiple times — especially in locations where researchers had indicated a scent was likely.

    "I think the findings were a little surprising," Lit says. "I don't think the number of incorrect responses was what anybody was really anticipating out of this study."

    NATIONAL
    Videos Reveal A Close, Gory View Of Police Dog Bites

    Police dogs searching for drugs sometimes "alert" for them when they're not there. That raises questions about the influence of the dogs' handlers. As NPR learned, there is now an effort by some in the training community to eliminate the influence of their handlers' suspicions to make dog searches more fair.

    Lit's study made headlines in the U.S. and abroad, as it seemed to question the impartiality of police K9 teams. In most states, an alert by a certified drug-sniffing dog gives police the right to search your car; some cops jokingly refer to the dogs as "probable cause on four legs." With this study, that probable cause looked shakier.

    Dog trainers and handlers denounced the study and its methods, and Lit couldn't get their cooperation for further research. Dr. Cynthia Otto, another researcher who runs the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania, recalls the backlash.

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