Are sniffer dogs effective?

The current wave of bureaucrats, accountants, senior management, ill-informed rights activists and general ignoramuses spouting off about the credibility of search dogs is becoming annoying at best.
This article rings bells of a management team not too far from my heart who wanted to cull 50% of the explosives sniffer dogs because they hadn’t found any bombs and were therefore a waste of time. What these people fail to realise is that if there are no bombs to find, you cannot find them. The searches have to be carried out though none the less for obvious safety reasons and if not by dogs then by people. Lots of people. On the last occasion that our force did have a bomb it was found. Not by people but by a dog. On almost every occasion you undertake such a search you could adopt the attitude that the risk is small so there is no point even bothering. If that is the case then fine. Don’t search. There will be great savings to be had by not searching but clearly the risk is increased. However, if you are going to search then not only are the dogs a cheaper option than using a search team (we sweep with the dogs and then finger tip with search teams. Without the dogs, protocol states two sweeps with the teams) but they can identify devices in places search teams can’t get to or wouldn’t bother to dismantle.
The same can be said of drugs warrants. The warrant is going to be executed with or without the dog. The difference is again that the dog can search quicker and more effectively than a search team. You really have to see a search team in action, doing a thorough search to realise just how painfully slow and labour intensive it is.
When it comes to screening dogs whether they be trained to identify drugs weapons or anything else, I fail to see how this can amount to a breach of anyones human rights. The dogs are non invasive, do not make contact and merely scent the air. It’s no different to a police officer smelling cannabis on someone or in a car.I don’t see how this is any different to being looked at but perhaps this is part of the point. Perhaps some factions object to being policed at all.
The fact that a lot of searches have a negative result is not a massive surprise. Given that most substances will leave a residual scent, the fact that nothing was found does not equate to an unlawful or unwarranted search. Stop and search powers generally do not provide very high results as it is far to easy to conceal or discard contraband and such like.
The final allegation that handlers deliberately induce false positives in order to give them grounds to search stinks of conspiracy theory to me. It amuses me how ready the media and other such fantasists are so keen to look for such elaborate plots when the reality is that most police are just trying to do their job in sometimes quite difficult circumstances.
This is not to say that handlers don’t produce false positives. My experience is that this happens more in training when the handler is more confident that there is something to be found. It is a lot less likely to happen in an operational environment because the handler just doesn’t know and is therefore less likely to give those encouraging signs.
It comes down to training and ensuring that the false cues coming from the handler are trained out early on and that training is both realistic and not set up too much by the handler.
This latest story is from Australia but it seems to be a similar story everywhere around the globe. Perhaps when the financial climate improves there will be at least one faction who lose interest. The Australians it would appear have been questioning the use of search dogs for some time though as this report from the NSW ombudsman into the drugs detection dog act 2001 shows.  You get a sense from the recommendations made that despite the aim being to target the supply of drugs, it is desirable to do this without causing any inconvenience to drug users. Heaven forbid that they should feel they had to change their using habits to avoid detection. Perhaps they should give consideration to legalising drug use thereby avoiding the issue of inconveniencing anyone in their efforts to detect and deter. A saying about omelets and eggs springs to mind.


3 Responses to “Are sniffer dogs effective?”

  1. Loving the second picture, but more to the point sniffer dogs provide the most effective measures of explosive detection.

    • I’ve just spent the evening with a bunch of guys from the military and if I needed any convincing of this, these guys are the ones to speak to. They cannot speak highly enough of the dogs they use and the role they fulfill in protecting the front line troops.

  2. Does the Australian community think that we need dogs trained and deployed to find missing people?

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