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?
True or False? Analyzing a K9 alert
By Barry Cooper
The ability to detect narcotic odors is not specific to just police dogs. All dogs have the ability to smell narcotic odors. A properly trained police K9 is different because it’s trained to communicate the presence of the narcotic odor. This communication is called an “alert.”
Change in Behavior, Then a Scratch
An alert includes noticeable behavior changes triggered by odor interest, followed by a scratch near the odor source. Behavior changes include 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 are not enough to announce an alert, just as scratching without behavior changes is not an alert. Both must be witnessed by the handler in order for contraband to be considered detected.
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.
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 K9, though, can smell, distinguish and separate each ingredient contained in the stew.
This explains why masking odors does 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 it 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 K9 cannot properly separate odors if it is rushed through this process.
Drug dogs are taught which odors provide the reward. 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 K9 alerts, it is discouraged with a command of dissatisfaction and then pulled away from the baggie. 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.
Let the Dog Work
A K9 must also have room to work through invisible scent cones created by a multitude of odors surrounding the vehicle. K9s must have this space to track the odor’s source. K9 handlers should allow the dog to work freely by grasping the very end of the leash so its movements aren’t restricted or manipulated. In the video, the handler can be seen pulling and pushing the K9’s head instead of allowing the dog to work freely. While teaching K9 narcotic detector classes, I would often tell 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 phenomenon is the handler’s fear of the dog not performing by showing disinterest in the vehicle. It’s embarrassing for a cop when his K9 lacks motivation to search a car, and stares at traffic instead of searching for drugs—especially in front of peers.
After a K9 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 K9 to be considered “dirty.” A dog that is dirty means the K9 will scratch on anything to get its reward.
If drugs are located, the K9 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 it 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.
Barry’s Proven Tip for How to Handle a K9 Search
This tip works. Dozens of citizens have told me of their success with it, and it has worked for me on one occasion.
Anytime a K9 is deployed to search your auto, announce loudly and boldly that you are aware police can make their K9 false-alert and you know what a true alert looks like. This scares the officer, who, after hearing this, will usually walk his dog around the auto and then leave.
Odor Permeation and Your Stash
K9s cannot smell through material. Odors permeate out, creating a scent cone. Almost everything has pores for odors to permeate. Even plastic baggies have microscopic pores. To demonstrate this, 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 nonporous, but if you hide your stash in a lead box, the K9 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 K9 handler suspicious. The trick is to hide your stash in materials that have a slow permeation rate, but be careful that you do not contaminate 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 because they all slow permeation.
Trying to mask odors does not work. K9s smell like humans see. When presented with a bowl of stew, humans see all the ingredients but smell only one odor: stew. Dogs can separate odors with their supernatural snouts. When a K9 sniffs the same bowl, it smells onion, pepper, tomato, 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 K9 will enter this scent cone and smell the plastic baggie, the gasoline, the perfume, the plastic tubing and the marijuana. This explains how my K9 detected hundreds of pounds of marijuana hidden in gasoline tanks.
K9s are trained to detect marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. They are not trained to detect mushrooms or LSD.
Good Luck Out There
I hope this information keeps you out of a human cage that is far worse than the cages kops keep their dogs in.