How Reliable are Those Sniff Alerts?

It is no secret that I have a great love for dogs.  I think they are animals with amazing insight and compassion.  I have had the pleasure of observing first-hand the important role that dogs play in law enforcement and the special relationship that occurs between officer and canine.  I even had the incredible opportunity to train my own dog in scent detection and tracking.  I admire that dynamic so much that I featured it in one of my novels, Silent Partner.  It was interesting to read a different take on the role of K-9 units in a recent blog post.  Are our police dogs as well-trained and accurate as we would like to believe?

On the blog Grits for Breakfast, which features articles about current events in the Texas justice system, there is a post which details the frequent false alarms that dogs offer when sniffing for contraband material.  Some argue that an insistent bark from a trained dog can lead to a thorough search of a car or a home when it’s quite possible that nothing may be found.  The dog may be drawn to residue of a drug that was there a long time ago, or simply be attracted to one of many other items that often get a dog’s attention.  The use of dogs to initiate searches, when the training is so unregulated, is controversial enough that a case out of Florida is being heard before the Supreme Court this fall.

The post also focuses on the desire of dogs to please their handlers, which it mentions is as old as the relationship between dog and man itself.  If a dog is rewarded or praised for alerting its human partner, won’t it be motivated to do so whenever possible?  Can a dog that is trained to play a role on a squad put that duty before his personal loyalty to the officer by its side?

First hand, I’ve observed and trained with police K-9 officers and from my perspective, the alerts are only as good as the training, continued training, and experience of the dog handler.  A dog doesn’t have to bark to alert the handler to a specific scent.  There are many subtle gestures such as a head snap and a change in the dog’s demeanor that let the handler know that they’ve acknowledged the specific scent before the actual alert.

I stand by the idea that dogs bring essential benefits to our police officers, for relationship, protection, and detective work.  I will be looking to read the opinion of the high court later this year, though, when it determines whether or not a certified dog actually has enough training to allow a probable cause search within constitutional guidelines.


One Cop, One Serial Killer, One Witness
Who Will Survive?

Northern California’s elite Police K-9 Units arrive at an abandoned warehouse after a high-speed chase and apprehend two killers after they have fled a grisly murder scene. This barely scratches the surface of a bloody trail from a prolific serial killer that leads to unlocking the insidious secrets of one family’s history, while tearing a police department apart.

Jack Davis, a top K-9 cop with an unprecedented integrity, finds himself falling for a beautiful murder suspect and struggling with departmental codes.

Megan O’Connell, suffering from agoraphobia, is the prime murder suspect in her sister’s brutal murder.

Darrell Brooks, a psychopath who loves to kill, is on a quest to drive Megan insane for profit.

Everyone is a suspect. Everyone has a secret. Someone else must die to keep the truth buried forever. Silent Partner is a suspense ride along that will keep you guessing until the bitter end.

2011 AWARD WINNER for SUSPENSE at Readers Favorite
2011 FINALIST for THRILLER at Readers Favorite

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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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3 Responses to How Reliable are Those Sniff Alerts?

  1. I don’t know about all dogs. But when my wife was high school principal, she would have the K-9 until come out every so often to check lockers for drugs. And the German Shepherd never missed. He would even targets assorted cars in the parking lots on his way into the school.


  2. A friend of mine’s dog helped save some of the last survivors of 9/11. The stories always blow my mind.


  3. I’ve heard the stories about the dogs in 9/11. It’s amazing

    Interesting article!. Thanks for sharing.


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