Drug dogs help police, border patrol and airport authorities find illegal substances. Since a dog’s sense of smell is acute, he can often find hidden drugs even when they are buried in layers of plastic and foil. The best drug-sniffing dogs want to play ball more than anything in the world. Drug dog training takes advantage of this single-minded focus, teaching the dogs that finding the drugs means getting the ball.
Start with a dog who loves to play ball and will focus on the ball to the exclusion of everything else around him. A toy or a rolled towel will work as well, as long as the dog is wild about the object.
Teach the dog to play fetch with you, giving him a chance to get the ball and bring it back. Your dog will probably need to be on a leash to learn to bring the ball back to you, but once he gets the idea that bringing it back leads to more play, he is ready for the next step.
Store the ball in a box or bag with the scent you want the dog to find. While eventually you will be able to teach him to find many different scents, choose one to start with, and stick with that until the dog understands what to do. Place the ball in the box or bag with a small amount of the actual substance for best results.
Allow the dog to smell the scented ball. When he shows interest, have him sit, which will become his signal that he has found drugs. When he sits, reward him by letting him play with the ball. In some cases it may be easier to teach the dog to lie down, scratch at the ball, or bark, depending on the dog’s personality, but sitting is the most commonly used signal.
Phase out the ball over time, and replace it with the drugs you want the dog to find, using the command “Search” each time to signal him to start looking for the ball or the drugs. When he locates the drugs and sits to signal his find, give him the ball to play with as his treat for a successful find.
Move from making the drugs very obvious to making them harder for the dog to find. Always reward him with the ball and praise when he finds drugs, since this is what he works for and it is his only reward.