Health & Fitness

How Narcotics Detection Dogs Are Trained

Dogs are man’s best friend—but they can also help us stay safe. We can use trained dogs, such as a narcotics detection dog, to sniff out dangerous drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines.

We’ve all seen detection dogs working with police or at airports, but have you ever thought about how the dogs are actually trained? What makes them want to sniff out drugs?

To learn more, keep reading to find out just how the best narcotics detection dogs are trained.

Scent Is Key to Training a Detection Dog

The secret to training dogs is scent detection. This works because dogs have an unbelievable sense of smell—experts think it’s 10,000 to 100,000 more powerful than that of humans.

Because dogs can smell so much more than we can, they are well-suited for sniffing out anything we train them to find, such as drugs.

The dogs aren’t excited by the drugs themselves—they do the work because they are rewarded after a successful find, usually with their favorite toy or a treat.

Scent dogs often love to play tug-of-war with a towel. Their trainer will place drugs in the towel, then hide it—they learn the smell of the drugs and associate it with the fun of playing with their handler.

Dogs can be trained to find anything from drugs, fruits, hard drives, or other contraband.


Once the dog has learned the smell of the drugs, the key to their success is repetition. Like humans, dogs learn through repetitive actions.

Over time, their training becomes more focused, with the dogs only receiving their reward when doing exactly what they’re taught. Dog training should be positive, so a dog is never penalized if they fail, rather, they are rewarded when they get it right.

Patience is required in the training phase, as it can take years before a new puppy is fully trained to work as a narcotics dog. Sometimes, a pup just doesn’t have the right personality for the job—in this case, they are usually given up for adoption.


The last step in training is teaching the dog to alert its handler once they locate the drugs. This is often done by sitting down near the drugs, barking, or standing still.

It’s important that the dogs pinpoint the exact location of the drugs, as it then allows the police to search the right person or vehicle.

Once trained, dogs can be used by police, airport security, customs, and for private use. If you’ve been thinking about whether you should bring in a narcotics dog to your facility, know that it’s a great way to protect your staff and employees.

Learn More About Narcotics Detection Dogs

Are you ready to learn more about working with a detection dog? If your workplace can benefit from a dog, contact local breeders of training dogs, such as German Shepherd, or look for training organizations near you.

Humans are lucky to have such skilled, dedicated animals that we can depend on to keep us safe.

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