Drug Dogs: K-9 False Alerts: A Comprehensive Study Of Police Dogs
By: K-9 Expert, Barry Cooper
In 2006, criminal defense expert witness, Barry Cooper, was the first to blow the whistle on drug dog false alerts. This is a comprehensive study of drug dog mechanics that includes videos of false and true alerts.
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
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.
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.
The following principles must be understood before analyzing a K-9 alert:
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.”
K9 False Alerts–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.
ACTUAL POLICE K-9 FALSE ALERT:
If this Kop can get his dog to alert, he can search the auto.
ACTUAL POLICE K-9 TRUE ALERT:
See the difference?
ANOTHER ACTUAL POLICE K-9 TRUE ALERT:
Notice how the handler allows the dog to work and does not manipulate the movements or alert of the K-9?
This is another fantastic article written on K-9 False Alerts: