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How to Train a Dog for Narcotics Detection

By Celebrity Dog Trainer, Joel Silverman

Over my career, I have been quite fortunate to train a variety of animals for various things including theme parks, live shows, movies, TV shows, and commercials. What a lot of people do not know is that I have had the opportunity to train dogs to detect and find drugs in middle schools and high schools. I thought that it would be great to give you a look at the training of some of these dogs, and explain why certain personalities of dogs are better than others for narcotics detection.

dogs trained for narcoticsIn order for you to understand which personalities are best for training for narcotic detection, it’s important to understand how the dogs are trained. The first thing we want to do is find a dog that has what we call a “high prey drive.” Prey drive is a dog’s natural desire to go after prey and kill. It does not necessarily mean that the dog wants to go after another dog or person. It simply means that the dog is very reactive, meaning that his sights, sounds, and odors are elevated.

Some dogs have a naturally high prey drive, and when that behavior is channeled in the right direction, these dogs can make excellent drug dogs. Here is how we train a dog for this:

1. It all starts off with the toy! We find a dog that likes to tug, and play with toys, because that is always going to be the dog’s reward!

2. Take something like a dishtowel and roll it up and put duct tape on the sides. This soft towel gives the dog something to tug on that’s very reinforcing to the dog.

3. Put something with an odor in a plastic bag rolled up in the middle of the dishtowel. We take it, and place it in areas of the house the dog can see. Subconsciously, he is also getting conditioned to this odor. As he runs to the dishtowel and gets to it, we play our tugging game. That’s his reward.

4. We repeat this, and start placing it inside cupboards that are opened a few inches. Again, as he runs to the dishtowel and gets to it, we play our tugging game.

5. As we continue, we start to close the cupboards a little bit more. Again, as the dog finds the towel he is rewarded with the tugging.

6. As we shut the door more, and place it in a variety of areas, this is where the dog’s prey drive kicks in. The dog’s desire to get to the toy that he wants is what makes this all happen. His burning desire to get to the toy is what makes his nose hit the ground to smell to find it. Once he gets to the toy, as always, he his rewarded with the tugging.

Prey drive is not something that all dogs have, but the dogs that do possess it can make great drug dogs. Certain breeds of dogs have a natural high prey drive like German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Labrador Retrievers.

10012757_10202819099973058_2148979206839254486_oJoel Silverman has trained animals for Hollywood films, TV, amusement parks, and he now devotes his forty years of professional experience to helping thousands of pet owners train their dogs. Joel has worked behind the scenes on lots of shows and films, but he’s best known for Good Dog U—his top-rated Animal Planet series that ran from 1999 to 2009. Joel has also authored three books to share his expertise: What Color Is Your Dog?®, Take 2 – Training Solutions for Rescued Dogs, and Bond With Your Heart; Train With Your Brain®.