Canine Substance Detection
█ JUDYTH SASSOON
Canine substance detection involves the use of specially trained dogs, commonly golden or Labrador retrievers, for the detection of illegal substances. Dogs of this kind are now being used in various different situations, such as
workplaces, airports and schools, to detect weapons, contraband, narcotic drugs, abused medication, alcohol, firearms and explosives. The necessity for this is due, in part, to the increasing incidents of drug abuse and violence among young people and employees, along with a growing need for increased security in schools and workplaces. Many schools and employers in the United States are now engaging "sniffer dogs" to improve safety and assist in the prevention of drug abuse. Supporters of this policy argue that the presence of these dogs, even if they do not immediately turn up illegal substances, provides a powerful deterrent. There are also, however, a number of school principals and employers who are concerned about this method because they anticipate that the seizure of illegal substances would reflect badly on their institutions and companies. Nevertheless, the reality is that today narcotic drugs, alcohol, and weapons are discovered in schools and in addition account for an astonishing 70 percent of injuries at work.
Dogs trained to detect the scent of illegal substances are useful as they can utilize their acute sense of smell to penetrate many hiding places which are inaccessible to other detection methods. A dog has about 200 million sensitive cells in its nose, compared to about five million or so in a human being, and therefore, a dog's olfactory system is around 40 times more sensitive than that of a human. A dog's sense of smell is made even keener by an organ in the roof of the mouth that is not found in the human olfactory system and this enables it to "taste" a smell, amplifying a weak smell into a stronger one. This sensitivity to, for example, the odor of butyric acid emitted in sweat, enables a dog to locate an object, such as a ball, belonging to its owner from several similar objects thrown by a number of different people. It also enables tracking dogs such as bloodhounds to pursue and keep pace with a fugitive for up to 100 miles. Dogs also have the ability to distinguish individual odors when other strong smells are also present. They can be trained to detect the odors of heroin, marijuana and cocaine hidden in suitcases even in the presence of strong smelling perfumes. Drug traffickers are constantly attempting to find more sophisticated ways of smuggling illegal drugs and the scenting abilities of sniffer dogs often provide the only means of locating well-hidden narcotics. Canine drug detectors have proved so successful that they are now employed in many airports and also at bus stations, border crossings, and ports. The dogs are trained both to detect the drugs and then to alert authorities, either by pawing at the surface near the location of the smell or by sitting down next to the source. This behaviour usually provides the authorities with a valid cause to search luggage or vehicles.
Trained detection canines were introduced into American public schools in Texas in the 1980s. The concept soon became popular and widely used as a tool for increased safety and as a drug deterrent on campuses. Thus, drug and narcotic detection are today an important aspect of school security. Also, because of the increasing danger of violence in schools, weapons and contraband detection also plays a role in the promotion of school safety. Depending upon the school or business, a program of regular canine visits is developed to detect illegal substances or weapons. Typically, everyone is informed about the pending visit of a sniffer dog and in most cases, the dogs are allowed to meet the students and employees beforehand. Subsequently, the dogs are brought in with a handler on a random, unannounced basis and perform "spot checks" on designated areas.
Some dogs are specially trained to detect the acidic smell of nitroglycerin and the sulphur in gunpowder for work with explosives detection. Fire investigators use arson dogs to help in criminal investigations. These canines locate minute traces of gas or other flammable liquids in situations where arson is suspected. Arson dogs are trained in such a way that they can accurately detect traces of arson about the size of a thousandth of a drop, which is much more efficient than any commonly used electronic detection device.
In 2002, it was reported that scientists at Russia's DS Likhachev Scientific Research Institute for Cultural Heritage and Environmental Protection successfully bred a new kind of highly efficient sniffer dog. The new breed is a cross between a wild jackal and a Russian husky. The breeding program was started in 1975, and in 2002, the institute successfully produced hybrids that were a quarter jackal and three-quarters husky. These hybrids were bred to combine the very sensitive nose of the wild, scavenging jackal with the more benign temperament of the husky. The jackal has a sense of smell that is even keener than that of its domestic counterpart. It was reported that many dog species are losing their naturally sharp sense of smell through domestication. Huskies are used as the domesticated breed in this program because they have a better developed sense of smell than all other dog breeds. This is because they are adapted to severe conditions of arctic cold where many substances become non-volatile and exist in only a highly diluted form. This crossing of highly sensitive canines has produced a breed that is now being used by authorities at Russian airports. By 2003, some twenty-five of the dogs were employed at Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow and ten more were working at the forensic criminology examination department nearby. Their handlers reported that, aside from their sharp sense of smell, the jackal hybrids were also highly courageous and expert at crawling into the tightest corners, especially during the inspection of aircraft.
█ FURTHER READING:
Tonry, Michael Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment in America. Oxford University Press, 1996.
Charles Mesloh, Ross Wolf and Stephen Holmes. "A Pilot Study of the Confounding Effects of 'Jute' on Law Enforcement Canine Training." Journal of the Academy of Canine Behavioral Theory 1 (2002): 2–9.
United States Department of Agriculture. "The AQI Program at Airports." < http://www.aphis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/detdog1.html > (February 20, 2003).