Drug dogs here in the US are mainly one-trick ponies, to clumsily mix a metaphor. Domesticated canines aim to please. Training of drug dogs involves giving them treats or toys upon alerting. You don't have to be Pavlov to see how this plays out in the real world. Dogs will alert in hopes of a reward or be nudged in that direction by conscious or unconscious "nudges" by their handlers. Hence, we have drug dogs in use with horrendous track records. (But, notably, not horrendous enough to result in judicial smackdowns, for the most part.)
The UK deploys its own drug dogs as well. Turns out they have the same problems… sort of. For one, they're not all that great at detecting drugs or other contraband, according to a report by the UK's Independent Inspector of Borders and Immigration. (via Mashable)
The report finds the human staff at the Manchester Airport to be mostly capable. The dogs, however, not so much.
The deterrent effect of the detection dogs was difficult to measure, but seizures alone represented a low return on investment, given £1.25m spent on new kennels and the costs of operating the unit.
Apparently, one of the key forms of contraband the drug dogs were supposed to detect went completely undetected during an eight-month period.
Heroin and cocaine were assessed as 'very high' priority within both air passengers and freight. Yet, according to the data provided by Border Force, the dogs had made no Class A drugs detections in the period November 2014 to June 2015.
It's not that the dogs weren't detecting anything at all. There were "alerts," but they weren't for illegal drugs, cash, etc. and they weren't false alerts triggered by handlers. Instead, the dogs appeared to be operating on empty stomachs.
When deployed, the POAO dog made multiple accurate detections, but most were of small amounts of cheese or sausages, wrongly brought back by returning British holidaymakers and posing minimal risk to UK public health.
The only motivation more powerful than the innate desire to please: the desire to consume sausage and cheese.
To be fair, the dogs did
detect some illegal drugs…
In our own sample from 1 November to 30 April (Figure 16), the six detections were three small amounts of Class B drugs and three lots of tablets – Human Growth Hormone, Viagra and Bromazepam.
Which is why the Inspector is understandably unimpressed that six dogs have cost the agency £1.25m plus whatever yearly maintenance costs. The report cuts the underperforming dogs a lot of slack by suggesting "routine" use has altered drug smugglers' strategies to route around the drug sniffers. On the other hand, the multiple "detections" of foodstuffs dogs naturally find delicious suggests £1.25m isn't enough money to feed the dogs properly.
The agency agrees with the Inspector, leading to this very weird sentence.
A senior manager agreed that there was a lack of innovation in the use of the dogs.
Perhaps we've reached peak drug dog. There may be no further innovation possible. The reality is that, while the animals enjoy the use of heightened senses, they're still just animals and will default to instinctual behavior faster than (most) humans will. It really wouldn't be a problem if law enforcement and security officials recognized this inherent drawback, but they rarely do. Instead, trained dogs are presented to citizens and courts as miracles of nature
and instrumental contributors to various Wars on Things -- even as evidence continues to mount indicating they're no better at detecting contraband than their handlers, who don't possess heightened olfactory capabilities.