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How Accurate Are Drug-Sniffing Dogs?

Many law enforcement agencies use bomb-sniffing and drug-sniffing dogs to protect the public, but there is some concern about the accuracy of this method of drug and bomb detection. The Chicago Tribune performed an analysis of cases in which drug-sniffing dogs identified contraband, and it found that the dogs were about 44% accurate. Experts in the training of these dogs, however, have noted that a dog's ability to sniff out a bomb or drugs accurately depends on its training. There is no single established training and certification process for drug-sniffing dogs or their handlers, which contributes to inaccuracies.

More about drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs:

  • The cost of training drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs increased after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

  • There is evidence that dogs can be influenced by their handler's beliefs. If a handler is convinced that a person has drugs on him or her, the dog is more likely to indicate the presence of drugs, even if the person has none.

  • A dog's performance can affect legal proceedings. If a dog has a high error rate, a judge might decide that the law enforcement officials using the dog could not use the dog's indication of drugs or bombs as probable cause to perform a search.

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