Drug Dogs False Alerts A Comprehensive Study Of Police Dogs By K-9 Expert, Barry Cooper

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In 2006, former narcotics officer and current criminal defense expert witness, Barry Cooper, was the first to blow the whistle on drug dog false alerts.  Enjoy this comprehensive study of drug dogs which includes videos of false and true alerts.

Police K9 false alert

If this cop can get his dog to alert, he can search the auto.

Police K9 true alert

See the difference?

Another true alert

Notice how the handler allows the dog to work and does not manipulate the movements or alert of the K-9?

Exactly how does a police officer make his dog false alert?  How do police dogs detect contraband?  Watch this short video taken from NeverGetBusted Volume 1:  Traffic Stops


True or False? Analyzing a K9 alert


By:  Barry Cooper

1) The ability to detect a narcotics odor is not specific to police dogs only. All dogs have the ability to smell narcotic odors. A properly trained police K-9 is distinguished from an ordinary dog because the police dog is trained to communicate the presents of the narcotic odor. This communication is called an “alert.” An alert includes noticeable behavior changes triggered by odor interest followed by a scratch near the odor source. Behavior changes include but are not limited to: a sudden “head jerk” in the direction of the odor source, slowing or speeding of a wagging tail, body posture changes and changes in breathing patterns. If the K-9 detects the odor of a narcotic during a search, the dog communicates this to the handler by scratching near the source. Behavior changes without a scratch is not enough to announce an alert just as scratching without behavior changes is not an alert either. Both must be witnessed by the handler to announce the K-9 is detecting the odor of contraband.

A police dog goes through these behavioral changes, less the scratch, when curious about other odors such as urine or food so it’s an error for the handler to call an “alert” after witnessing behavioral changes only. It’s also an error to call an “alert” after witnessing only a scratch because the scratch was not preceded by the necessary behavior changes that are always produced when a dog is interested in any odor.

2) Unlike humans, a dog has the ability to separate odors mixed together. When presented with a bowl of stew, a human sees all the different ingredients but smells one odor. A K-9 however can smell, distinguish and separate each ingredient contained in the stew. S/he smells numerous odors and not just one. This explains why masking odors often used by smugglers do not work. If a smuggler wrapped a pound of marijuana in sheets of fabric softener, followed by a good wrap of foil and finally placed in a can of coffee, a dog smells the fabric softener, the foil the coffee and the marijuana. This “odor separation process” takes time! A K-9 cannot properly separate odors if s/he is rushed or hurried through this process. Because K-9′s can detect and separate odors, it is important to conduct exercises teaching the dog what odors provide the reward. For instance, during training, a dog is rewarded for alerting to a baggie of marijuana. Empty and uncontaminated baggies must then be presented to the dog for an alert. When the K-9 alerts, he is discouraged by giving a command of dissatisfaction and the pulled away from the baggies. This step is repeated until the dog stops alerting on plastic baggies. If this step is skipped, the handler is soon left with a “trashy” dog that alerts on every odor that surrounded drug odors during training. A K-9 must also have room to work through invisible scent cones created by a multitude of odors surrounding the vehicle. K-9′s must have this space to track the odor’s source. K-9 handlers should allow the dog to work freely by grasping the very end of the leash as not to restrict or manipulate the dog’s movements. In the video, the handler can be seen pulling and pushing the K-9′s head instead of allowing the dog to work freely. While teaching K-9 narcotic detector classes, I would often tell the students who made the same error “Don’t work the dog, let the dog work.” After correcting this poor habit many times with students, I learned the reason for this phenomena is the handler’s fear of his or her dog not performing by showing disinterest in the vehicle. A K-9 lacking proper motivation to search a car is very embarrassing when the handler’s peers watch the dog stare at traffic instead of searching for drugs.

3) After a K-9 has alerted, the handler encourages the dog by repeating statements such as “get it, get it, get it out of there.” These verbal commands excite the dog into scratching harder and faster and should never be used on actual street searches until the presence of a drug is confirmed by an officer. If the dog is encouraged to scratch, and no drugs are found, the dog is left with the impression that a scratch on a door for legal odors or no reason at all is what the handler desires causing the K-9 to be considered “dirty.” This term means the K-9 will scratch on anything to get his reward. If drugs are located, the K-9 should then be brought back to the previous alert area and encouraged to scratch. When the desired scratch is achieved, the handler “pays” or rewards the dog by throwing him/her a toy. The repeated process of verbally encouraging an alert and then rewarding the dog for compliance makes it possible to manipulate ANY AND ALL POLICE DOGS into scratching WITHOUT A NARCOTIC ODOR BEING PRESENT! This is referred to as a “false or forced alert.”

I have a tip regarding police K-9′s and it works. I have had dozens of citizens report this method worked and it has worked for me on one occasion.

Anytime a K-9 is deployed to search your auto, announce loudly and boldly that you are aware police can make their K-9 false alert and you know what a true alert looks like. This scares the officer and after hearing your stance, he will usually walk his dog around the auto and then leave.


University study produces over 200 K-9 false alerts


The accuracy of drug- and explosives-sniffing dogs is affected by human handlers’ beliefs, possibly in response to subtle, unintentional cues, UC Davis researchers have found.

The study, published in the January issue of the journal Animal Cognition, found that detection-dog teams erroneously “alerted,” or identified a scent, when there was no scent present more than 200 times — particularly when the handler believed that there was scent present.

“It isn’t just about how sensitive a dog’s nose is or how well-trained a dog is,” says Lisa Lit, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neurology and the study’s lead author. “There are cognitive factors affecting the interaction between a dog and a handler that can impact the dog’s performance.”

And it turns out, these factors can be even more important than the sensitivity of a dog’s sniffer.

“Dogs are exceptionally keen at interpreting subtle cues, so handlers need to be cognizant of that to optimize the overall team performance,” adds Anita M. Oberbauer, UC Davis chair of the Department of Animal Science and the study’s senior author.

To evaluate the effects of handler beliefs and expectations on detection-dog performance, the researchers recruited 18 handler-detection dog teams from law-enforcement agencies. All of the teams were certified by an agency for either drug detection, explosives detection or both.

The dogs all were trained to either alert passively at the location of a scent by sitting or laying down, alert actively by barking or by doing both. The teams included 14 male dogs and four female dogs, including Labrador retrievers, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd dogs and Dutch Shepherd dogs. The dogs’ level of experience ranged from two to seven years and their human partners had as many as 18 years of dog-handling experience.

A church was selected as the location for the study, since it was unlikely to have contained either explosives or drugs in the past. It was also a place where neither the dogs nor the handlers had been before. The researchers created four separate rooms for the dogs to examine or “clear.”

The handlers were told that there might be up to three of their target scents in each room, and that there would be a piece of red construction paper in two of the rooms that identified the location of the target scent. However, there were no target scents — explosives or drugs — placed in any of the rooms.

Each room represented a different experimental condition or scenario:

  • In room #1 the experimenter did nothing.
  • In room #2 she taped a piece of red construction paper to a cabinet.
  • In room #3 she placed decoy scents, two sausages and two tennis balls hidden together out of view.
  • In room #4 she placed a piece of red construction paper at the location of hidden decoy scents, two sausages and two tennis balls.

The dog-handler teams conducted two separate, five-minute searches of each room. When handlers believed their dogs had indicated a target scent, an observer recorded the location indicated by handlers. All of the teams searched the rooms in a different order.

Although there should have been no alerts in any of the rooms, there were alerts in all of them. And more alerts occurred at the target locations indicated by human suggestion (red construction paper) than at locations of increased dog interest (sausages and tennis balls).

In the early 20th century in Germany, a horse named Clever Hans was believed to be capable of counting and other tasks. It was later determined that Clever Hans was actually responding to the minute, postural and facial cues of his trainer and other observers. Similarly, detection dogs may be alerted to subtle and unintentional human cues that direct dog responses, including pointing, nodding head-turning and gazing.

Although Lit is careful to note that her findings do not mitigate the abilities of handlers and their dog teams to perform successfully, she believes they are significant. It is her hope that the study can be replicated and expanded to further assess hidden cues handlers may be giving their dogs. “It might be the case that everyone is doing the same types of things so that [they could be addressed] directly,” she says.  END

Barry Continues:

K-9’s cannot smell through material. Odors permeate out and create a scent cone that the dog detects. Almost everything has pores for odors to
permeate. Even plastic baggies have tiny, microscopic pores. To prove this to yourself, place tuna inside a plastic baggie and sniff the outside of the bag. You will notice you cannot smell the fish. Wait a few hours and you will notice you can smell the permeated fish odor on the outside of
the baggie. Lead is a heavy metal and non-porous but if you hide your stash in a lead box, the K-9 handler will become suspicious.

Temperatures affect permeation. Colder temperatures slow permeation so freezing your stash in a block of ice slows the permeation to almost
nothing but blocks of ice could make a smart K-9 handler suspicious. The trick is to secret your stash in materials that have a slow permeation rate without contaminating the outside of the packaging. You must then hurry and transport your stash before the pot odors have time to permeate and develop a scent cone on the outside of the packaging.

Foil and glass and oils and cold temperatures are all good to use because they all slow permeation.

Trying to mask odors does not work. K-9’s smell like humans see. When presented with a bowl of stew, humans see all the ingredients but only
smell one odor…stew. Dogs can separate odors with their supernatural snouts. When a K-9 sniffs the same bowl, she smells onions, pepper,
tomatoes, beef, beans, etc. So if you place your herb in a plastic baggie, spray it with perfume, then seal it in plastic tubing and drop it in your auto’s fuel tank, a scent cone will develop on the outside of the fuel tank. The K-9 will enter this scent cone and smell the plastic baggie, the gasoline, the perfume, the plastic tubing and the marijuana. This explains how my K-9 detected hundreds of pounds of marijuana hidden in gasoline tanks.

K-9’s are trained to detect marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. They are not trained to detect mushrooms or LSD.

I hope this information keeps you out of a human cage that is far worse than the cages kops keep their dogs.


Click To Hire Barry As Your K-9 Expert Witness 

Two fantastic articles covering K-9 False Alerts:



"You may have seen him on the pages of Maxim, or during one of his many appearances on CNN, Fox News and Spike TV. He’s the cop who turned against the drug war. In American pop culture right now, there’s nobody quite like him. As one of the former top drug cops working the Texas highways, he was ferocious, bringing down hundreds of people for possessing even tiny amounts of an illegal substance.In his new life as an anti-prohibition crusader and activist filmmaker, he’s just as ferocious, but now it’s his former colleagues in law enforcement who are sweating his intimidating gaze…Cooper is on a mission to free America’s pot prisoners and take down the abusive cops he once sought to emulate. In the terminology of war, Barry is an insurgent, lobbing bombs into the fourth estate as his form of penance for all the people he put behind bars on drug offenses.” —True/Slant

Barry Cooper has received global attention by being reported in over 700 newspapers and magazines including Rolling Stones, High Times, a feature in Maxim Magazine and a front cover feature in Cannabis Culture Magazine and the Texas Observer. He has been a guest on numerous radio shows and every cable news channel including MSNBC Tucker Carlson, FOX Geraldo At Large, ABC I Caught, NBC Mike and Juliet Morning Show and NPR’s, This American Life. He has also appeared as drug and legal expert in five episodes of SPIKE TV’s reality show, MANSWERS. Barry recently starred with Woody Harrelson, 50 Cent, Eminem and Susan Sarandon in the anti drug war documentary, “How To Make Money Selling Drugs.” The movie features Barry freeing prisoners.

“Barry was even better than he says he was. He had a knack for finding drugs and made more arrests and more seizures than all of the other agents combined. He was probably the best narcotics officer in the state and maybe the country during his time with the task force.” –Tom Finley, Commander Permian Basin Drug Task Force

  1. danolred 3 years ago

    The police state continues to trample on human rights!

  2. SARm6 3 years ago

    The title should be “False Handler Alerts.” This is about handler errors not the dog errors. This is the lack of training of the handler and “retraining” of the dog. The dog, if trained properly, will alert; passively or aggressively, as trained. It is up to the handler to let the dog work and pay the dog properly. A dog will always take the easiest path to the reward. So if the handler is leading the dog, forcing the dog, then the dog will “alert” for the toy, not for the narcotics or explosives.
    NEVER are you to set the dog up for failure! This confuses the dog. If you have a blank room, and the dog shows no alert, you move on. If the handler believes there is something in the room, then it is a “forced alert” caused by the handler. You have now trained the dog to “alert” for the toy and not the narcotics or explosive. It’s called “Trust Your Dog!”

  3. Yeti 3 years ago

    This has been true for more than twenty years. Cops just simply cannot train dogs generally speaking, and the sliding scale has destroyed police dogs credibility.

    There are so many things wrong with the mindset of police “trainers” who buy dogs already trained, watching the handler more than the area they are searching.

    Then, as an added bonus, they show huge amounts of smelly pot as proof their dogs work. Everyone of us without a cold would find those amounts as well.

  4. duncan 3 years ago

    SARm6 has it right….Yeti, not so much.

  5. itsme 2 years ago

    if your pulled over and the cop wants a k9 to search your car, how much time do they have to get a k9 there?

  6. Portland_Oreogn 2 years ago

    I am so mad right now. Portland, Oregon is so corrupt. We have the worst police here. A stranger pulled a gun on me. I called the police niavely thinking they would want to get the person with the gun. Turns out , not so much. He was military and the police really like military. I did not know he was military or even know the guy. The police are rude to me. Ask me to serch my car about 5 times. I repeatedly say no. So they bring the k-nine unit over. The dog looked like a stupid dog. I am kind of a dog person too. It kind of playfully and not too interestedly rubbed his nose and snout/mought along the side of my car with his head tilted to one side like maybe a human in love might do to a person but not something a dog would do ever. Then the car went about a foot or two away from my car and I swear to god didn’t make any kind of signal or move. I thought they would sit, point, growl or glare or something that would indicate a signal. The dog also had something that looked like a single bundle of dark sage in his mouth and was slobbering the entire time. I don’t know what exactly he had in his mouth. It was dark and looked like a bundle of dark grass. I thought that he would drop the bundle as a sign that he smelled something. He never dropped the bundle. But after the dog stood not exactly still but not exactly moving a foot or two away from my car, one of the four cops I was surrounded by said that the dog had just made a signal that he smelled something in my car. The police open the back door and then the passenger door of my car and the dog kind of gleefully jumped in each side of my car and kind of sniffed or looked around. There was nothing in my car to be found or smelled. It was a rental car that I had had for almost four weeks so there is a possiblity that there could have been drugs in the vehicle four weeks prior, but I am sure the car company had cleaned the car prior to my renting so it seems that would have got rid of the smell. The police did effectively throw and scramble and screw everything up in my car, but they suprisingly missed a few things such as $ 30 dollars, a piece of paper showing that I actually did have a totally unrelated misdmeanor arrest ( not drug or gun related) in another state, and despite all their tearing and searching a bottle of mineral water with a couple of ounces of wine in it which would have been considered an open container of alcohol, I believe. I was worried about the mineral water bottle with wine in it. I had a six pack of mini bottles of water which they opened and dumped a small amount out of each for some reason. Anyway, I am mad. That dog did not signal but obviously I don’t know the dog singaling gestures. I want to sue the police for unlawful search without a probable cause. They confiscated my cell phones and $225 in cash as ” evidence”. They were trying to get a search warrant in order to search my phone. I called to see if they could get one. You can call the court in Washington County, Oregon to see if there is one issued to you. The friendly female clerk who answered told me that there had only been one search awarrant given in the last three weeks. In Oregon the police have to ask a judge or magistrate for warrants via a a sworn affadavit they write. In California I think the DA or an attorney can either ask for a warrant or issue a search warrant. Anyway forcing the police to write the affadavit and ask a judge versus an attorney must really cut down on seach warrants. My fingers are crossed that they still don’t have one, though it is still unclear to me whether that would implicate me. I think I have a good case and of course a better case without a search warrant.

    • Clever_Plover 2 years ago

      Portland, if you are pulled over and threatened with a dog search, Illinois v. Cabbelles is the case law you want to be familiar with. It states if they want to bring a dog in they can take no longer than the amount of time a reasonable and normal traffic stop would have taken. They can NOT hold you there longer and make you wait for a dog. What they can do though is continue to talk with you and chat with you, in a seemingly friendly fashion, while a dog is on the way. This is why it’s important to ask “Am I being detained or am I free to go?” or after you’ve signed your traffic ticket ask “Am I free to go now?” If a cop says you are free to go, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.
      If a dog is already on site when they pull you over the dog can do a free air sniff around your vehicle, and if it hits they have probably cause to search. You best defense in either of these situations is to calmly state your non-consent to the search, and videotape/audiotape the encounter, which is legal in most states but not all, as long as one party is aware of the recording and/or not interfering with the police’s actions, and then shut up until you speak to a lawyer. Be calm, rational, and polite while asserting your rights. Hope that helps!

  7. Jenny 2 years ago

    To not leave readers hanging I felt the need to give an update on the falsely claimed alerted dog that led to an arrest without cause because someone pulled a gun on me. You would never beleive what happened. You think that all the states are trying to get down on gun use and of course, you would assume, people who attempt to use guns on people in a threatening manner, but not so in Oregon. The guy who pulled a gun on me admitted to attempting to menace, threaten or teach me a lesson and that is the reason he pulled a gun on me. He admitted it in the police report. He did play down what actually did happen somewhat but did admit for the reason he had the gun. Since we were both arrested I was transported to jail and had to sit in the county waiting area of the jail with him for several hours. I screamed at him a few times but the officers made me quiet down. You are supposed to talk to a medical person before or during your booking. I was sitting outsdie the medical office when he was called in to talk to the nurse. I overheard him also openly admitting to having mental problems of some sort. He is an admitting type of guy if nothing else. With all this admitting going on, one would think this would lead to some charges. I called the jail and court house a few times to check on my case and to see what was going on with his. I knew he had to pay bail to realease. And a week and half after my arrest I found out my charges were dropped. I had talked to a few attorney’s prior to this and one had told me he believed that the charges would probably be dropped. He also advised me not to claim myself as a victim in the ” gun guy’s ” case. He felt the police were doing something and they didn’t want me involved with the gun guy’s case. As it turns out the District Attorney decided to drop all charges against the gun guy. That’s right. No charges at all, not even one. So technically it is possible to pull a gun threaten someone and who knows what else and have the DA drop all charges. He or she can decide not to press any charges at all. He or she is the one to decide who is charged and for what even if they have evidence ( the gun) and the defendant, amazingly admits to the crime. I think that the one gun guy was military so that might have been at least in part of the rationale by the DA office, other than being low life worthless ******* ********. I feel much less safe in Oregon now knowing this. The county that this took place in was Hillsoboro. However, the police who arrested me were the Beaverton Police. They have one awards for their outstanding work with the K-nine unit. This maybe so, but the DA of Hillsoboro is working hard to keep gun pulling mentally unstable men with plans of retribution and menacing safely out of prison.

  8. William Maher 2 years ago

    Dogs can smell through WAX too? I’d like to know if you might (please) clarify this particular question please. As far as I understand it -it is not possible for odors to permeate through WAX IE candle wax?

    How about Dutch bred Bouvier Les Flandres dogs they are Dutch police dogs my brother owns one and he is an ass kicking dog real good all the way around.

  9. William Maher 2 years ago

    With a Bouvier Des Flandres it is necessary to select one who’s back legs stand like a cow’s legs stand as they have some that are with slanted back legs and it is a problem. I know this comment is awaiting moderation I just wanted to run the info by you and the reason for the numerous entries in the last comment is due the internet not immediately responding. Thank you.

  10. Donpo5 2 years ago

    Coming out of California towards Reno on 80- Friend got stopped and it seemed like they already knew what they were after. Pulled out the guy driving instintaly and had k9 all over the infected area. The dog did not hit AT ALL!!!!! But the cop thought the driver was nervouse( cold as Alaska standing outside) and then said the dog hit. That dog was calm as hell and never sat down or clawed at anything. Anyways the cops found the Pot very well 6 layer vacuum seal with dryer sheets on vicks rub plus plastic wrap. No WAY EVER the dog smelled that. Needless to say the guy got arrested as they continued searching. As the 2 men was about to head to jail the cops was talking about keeping some of the pot for them self to sell off. WTF?!?!?!?!? Is this right? It is Legal in many states. The guy was a card holder and care giver for cancer patients and what not. How can they treat this like a horrible thing. High bond and everything. Both of the guys had no arrest record one being 68Years old! Come on now. There has to be something that can be done.

  11. Jim 11 months ago

    In reviewing my covert recording of a seemingly clearly unconstitutional set of LEO actions, I noted that the K-9 sniff took about 5 minutes. I remember how at the time the handler kept running the dog around and around my vehicle. I also had the sense the handler was trying to manufacture an alert. Anyway, how long does a legitimate/admissible K-9 vehicle sniff take? Is something like 5 minutes prima facie that the LEOs are up to (their seemingly usual) no good?

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