The Mind of a Police Dog

How misconceptions about dogs can lead to abuse of humans

For the first few years I had her, I was impressed by my late dog Harper's uncanny ability to assess people's character. She hated every crappy landlord and bad roommate. Barked at them. Snarled at them. Wouldn't go near them. But if I brought home a date I liked, Harper, a Shar Pei/Labrador mix, would curl up right next to the woman and turn on the charm. It took me several years to figure out that my dog wasn't a good judge of character; she was just good at reading me. She liked the people I liked and disliked the people who rubbed me the wrong way. For dogs descended from lines bred for protection and companionship, this talent makes sense. A dog adept at distinguishing friend from foe was likely to be kept around and bred, and one very good way to tell friend from foe is to read your master's body language.

My confusion about what was going on in Harper's head reflects a common misconception that is also apparent in the ways dogs are used in criminal investigations. When we think dogs are using their well-honed noses to sniff out drugs or criminal suspects, they may actually be displaying a more recently evolved trait: an urgent desire to please their masters, coupled with the ability to read their cues.

Several studies and tests have shown that drug-sniffing dogs, scent hounds, and even explosive-detecting dogs are not nearly as accurate as they have been portrayed in court. A recent Chicago Tribune survey of traffic stops by suburban police departments from 2007 to 2009, for example, found that searches turned up contraband in just 44 percent of the cases where police dogs alerted to the presence of narcotics. (An alert is a signal, such as barking or sitting, that dogs are trained to display when they detect the target scent.) In stops involving Hispanic drivers, the dogs' success rate was just 27 percent. The two largest departments the Tribune surveyed—the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police—said they don't even keep track of such information.

But don't blame the dogs; their noses work fine. In fact, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently conceded, after 12 years and millions of dollars of research, that the canine snout, fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution, is still far more sensitive and reliable than any technology man has been able to muster when it comes to detecting explosives in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The problem is our confusion about when dogs are picking up a scent and when they are responding to cues from their handlers. The Economist's "Babbage" blog summarizes a recent study led by Lisa Lit, a neurologist (and former dog handler) at the University of California-Davis, that demonstrates the startling consequences of that confusion:

[Researchers] asked 18 professional dog handlers and their mutts to complete two sets of four brief searches. Thirteen of those who participated worked in drug detection, three in explosives detection, and two worked in both. The dogs had been trained to use one of two signals to indicate to their handlers that they had detected something. Some would bark, others would sit.

The experimental searches took places in the rooms of a church, and each team of dog and human had five minutes allocated to each of the eight searches. Before the searches, the handlers were informed that some of the search areas might contain up to three target scents, and also that in two cases those scents would be marked by pieces of red paper.

What the handlers were not told was that two of the targets contained decoy scents, in the form of unwrapped, hidden sausages, to encourage the dogs' interest in a false location. Moreover, none of the search areas contained the scents of either drugs or explosives. Any "detections" made by the teams thus had to be false. Recorders, who were blind to the study, noted where handlers indicated that their dogs had raised alerts.

The results? Dog/handler teams correctly completed a search with no alerts in just 21 of the 144 walk-throughs. The other 123 searches produced an astounding 225 alerts, every one of them false. Even more interesting, the search points designed to trick the handlers (marked by the red slips of paper) were about twice as likely to trigger false alerts as the search points designed to trick the dogs (by luring them with sausages). This phenomenon is known as the "Clever Hans effect," after a horse that won fame in the early 1900s by stomping out the answers to simply arithmetic questions with his hoof. Hans was indeed clever, but he couldn't do math. Instead he was reading subtle, unintentional cues from the audience and his trainer, who would tense up as Hans began to click his hoof, then relax once Hans hit the answer. 

In her wonderfully written (but strangely titled) book Inside of a Dog, Columbia University psychology professor Alexandra Horowitz further illustrates how humans can unconsciously influence canine behavior. She describes various tests in which researchers measure the problem-solving skills of domestic dogs in comparison to wolves. The tests include activities in which dogs and wolves are tasked with finding a ball or treat hidden in a room, tucked behind a screen, or sealed in a container. When the task involves minimal human contact, domestic dogs perform about as well as their more primitive cousins. But the more the experiments incorporate interaction with humans, the more poorly domesticated dogs fare. They tend to give up, then simply wait for the human researcher to get the prize for them. Horowitz explains:

By standard intelligence tests, the dogs have failed...I believe, by contrast, that they have succeeded magnificently. They have applied a novel tool to the task. We are that tool....We solve the puzzles of closed doors and empty water dishes....We humans are brilliant enough to extract hopelessly tangled leashes from around trees.…Dogs are terrific at using humans to solve problems, but not as good at solving problems when we're not around.

It is hard to overstate the implications of these findings for the use of dogs in police work. The dogs who failed Lit's scent tests did not lose their sense of smell. But in the process of domesticating dogs, we have bred into them a trait that tends to trump most others: a desire to please us—and toward that end, an ability to read us and a tendency to rely on us to help them solve their problems. Any training program that does not take this tendency into account will produce dogs who frequently issue false alerts.

The consequences of those mistakes are profound. As my colleague Jacob Sullum has explained, the U.S. Supreme Court says a dog sniff is not invasive enough to qualify as a "search" under the Fourth Amendment, so police do not need a warrant or probable cause to have a dog smell your luggage or your car. At the same time, however, the courts treat an alert by a drug-sniffing dog as probable cause for an actual, no-question-about-it search, the kind that involves going through your pockets, opening your luggage, looking in your trunk, and perusing your personal belongings. The problem is that a dog barking or sitting may be responding not to a smell but to his handler's hunch about a suspect's guilt. The reason we have a Fourth Amendment is precisely to prevent searches based on hunches.

The consequences of misusing police dogs go well beyond unconstitutional searches. A drug dog's alert can help establish a connection between a suspect's property and drug activity, allowing police to seize the property for possible forfeiture. Even if the owner is never charged with a crime, the burden is on him to go to court to win back what was his, a process that often costs more than the property is worth. In a case I reported last year, for example, college student Anthony Smelley had $17,500 in cash that he'd won in an accident settlement seized when police in Indiana pulled him over and a drug dog alerted to Smelley's car. It took Smelley more than a year to win the cash back in court, even though a subsequent hand search turned up no illegal substances.

Canine testimony can also play a key role in murder cases. Last September the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the 2004 murder conviction of Richard Winfrey Sr. because the case against him was based on an unreliable, pseudoscientific "scent lineup" in which Fort Bend County Deputy Sheriff Keith Pikett (now retired) claimed his team of bloodhounds alerted to the murder victim's scent on Winfrey's clothing. Pikett and his dogs have assisted in thousands of criminal investigations by police departments all over Texas. As late as last year, prosecutors were trying to use the results from one of Pikett's scent lineups to retry Anthony Graves after a federal appeals court threw out his murder conviction. Graves, who served 18 years on death row, has since been exonerated and freed.

Pikett is now the target of a class-action lawsuit brought by people who say they were wrongly detained or convicted based on his dogs' alerts. Similar questions have been raised about the methods used by the late John Preston, a former Pennsylvania state trooper who found a second career as a freelance dog handler in police investigations, mainly in Florida. Preston's dog helped convict dozens of Floridians in the 1980s. At least three murder convictions secured through Preston's testimony have since been overturned.

In 2006 University of North Carolina law professor Richard Myers conducted a statistical analysis (PDF) of police dog accuracy tests and concluded that the animals were not reliable enough to produce probable cause for a search, let alone serve as the cornerstone of a conviction. At least five states have banned or restricted the use of scent lineups in criminal cases, but they are still frequently used in courtrooms across the country.

Dogs can be valuable investigative tools. They are great, for example, at following a scent in searches for suspects or sniffing out survivors after a disaster. The bomb-detecting dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan are successful because their handlers have no preconceptions about where bombs may lie. Indeed, they are putting their lives in the dogs' paws. With no cues from their masters to cloud their judgment, the dogs are free to go about their task unbiased. But while Canis domesticus retains many of its wilder relative's sensory abilities, it is in many ways a man-made animal. When we don't take that reality into account, a dog can be worse than useless. But that's not the dog's fault. It's ours.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Spoonman.||

    No chance of SCOTUS reversing its opinion based on police dogs not turning out to be as reliable as they're claimed, of course.

  • ||

    Might be interesting to see how they'd react after they get a few dogs "finding" drugs or explosives in the personal effects of the SCOTUS justices...

  • ||

    Two lies about the anti-drug war.
    1)Legalization will stop crime! Wrong, criminals will not go straight because drugs are legal. They are criminals because crime affords them a life free of 8 hour work days. They will move on to other crimes because that's what they do. A drug mule in Arizona will not open up a cocaine shop in Mesa if drugs are legalized.
    2) Prisons cost too much to operate. Only true if you're talking about government money. If you're talking about your money it's better to keep these assholes locked up. Paying to have your car window repaired after a crack-head breaks in to steal your laptop costs a lot more compared to keeping these assholes in jail. If you've ever been beaten and robbed, or had your car stolen you will understand.
    If we start letting dickheads our of jail to save money will you lower taxes? No you won't. I'll make a deal with you pot heads, you can legalize pot and even get a discount as long as you are not on welfare and can hold down a job in between getting tight!

  • Dangerman||

    Getting tight? Who gets tight anymore? Flappers? Where am I? Why are you kids on my lawn?

  • ||

    1) It is more then obvious you have done absolutely no reading on how other liberal countries have handled the "drug war" and the results. I went to Amsterdam, and yes, people who would be street level dealers here, were running smoke shops where you could buy legal drugs. So, your "argument" is spurious at best and proven wrong at worst.

    2) You are an idiot for leaving a laptop unguarded in a car. If you get beat up and robbed often, move or learn how to defend yourself. I would rather have the ability to take care of criminals on the spot then to have to pay to have them taken care of for years at a time and then unleashed on the public again.

    3) You sir, are indeed a moron.

  • ||

    And just what does this have to do with the topic of the article--that is, the reliability (or lack thereof) of using dogs for searching out drugs, explosives, or murderers?

  • Professional Critic||

    That title reminded me of Tobias Funke's epic tome...

  • ||

    Does that make Horowitz a Canine Analrapist?

  • ||

    Anyone who has trained dogs knows that you are not training them to do a task so much as you are training them to get a treat/dodge a whipping.

    If "alerting" gets a treat, dogs are going to "alert" whenever their handler expects one. And they are beyond expert at determining when their handler expects one.

    It took Smelley more than a year to win the cash back in court, even though a subsequent hand search turned up no illegal substances.

    I am mystified as to how anything could be seized when a search turns up nothing illegal.

  • robc||

    The cops arent going to get the good stuff if they can only seize from the guilty.

  • ||

    In a property seizure, your property is considered guilty until proven innocent.

  • ||

    Guilty of what? The search found nothing.

  • robc||

    Guilty of being a big pile of cash.

  • omg||

    How dare it be a big pile of cash instead of a being a foosball table in the officer's break room.

  • botoxporcupine||

    Ha!

  • some guy||

    $17500 foosball table? I can see the gems gleaming in the sun now...

  • Cyto||

    "Guilty of what? The search found nothing."

    In that case I believe the cash was guilty of being intended to be used to buy drugs at a later date. (although there was no direct evidence of this) But it got off on a technicality. At least that appears to be the state's position.

  • ||

    I don't agree with it, I am just stating that from the law enforcement perspective. If you cannot prove you attained the property legally at the time the cop finds it, they will seize it and hold it until you can prove that you attained it legally.

  • ||

    Only if there is some probably cause that it is the proceeds of illegal activity. Whatever probably cause the dog alert created was negated by the failure of an actual search to find anything.

    A cop can't walk up to you on the street, and confiscate your watch, your laptop and whatever else you happen to be carrying unless you have the receipts for them. This case is no different than a cop emptying your wallet and requiring you to prove that every dollar in their was legally obtained.

  • Gray Ghost||

    If you're driving through Tenaha, TX, they might, RC. http://www.chicagotribune.com/.....1682.story

    If there's "enough" cash in your wallet (or ice chest in the trunk), then indeed you might be in the position of having to prove it was legally obtained. Its simple existence in your possession may be enough P.C. that it's the proceeds from illegal activity.
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13.....nd_courts/ (Goes into the 8th Cir. forfeiture case, U.S.A. v. $124,700.) No crime, other than speeding, but Mr. Gonzolez still isn't getting his $125k back. Money quote, "“We have adopted the commonsense view that bundling and concealment of large amounts of currency, combined with other suspicious circumstances, [being Hispanic with no explanation for the cash, ahem.] supports a connection between money and drug trafficking.”

  • sarcasmic||

    Cash over a certain amount, ten thousand dollars I believe, is considered to be drug related unless you can prove otherwise.

  • MPH||

    Unfortunately, the amount isn't specified beyond being "too much". Here in FL a few years ago, the sheriff's department in Volusia county (Daytona) was infamous for considering $50 to be "too much". They were also famous for profiling: if you were black or hispanic, driving I-95 in a nice car (BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes, etc.) AT OR BELOW THE SPEED LIMIT, you'd be pulled over as a suspected drug courier.

    Then there's the issue that most (I don't recall exactly, but it was very high, like 80%+) money has enough cocaine on it for a dog to detect it. So if you're carrying cash, and even if the dog isn't being influenced as discussed in Radley's article, the odds are very high the dog will alert.

  • rather||

    training them to get a treat/dodge a whipping

    WTF? Only a crazy beats an animal

  • ||

    You need to get out more. Plenty of people beat their dogs.

    It mostly teaches your dog not to come within reach, I know, but its a fact.

  • rather||

    it's fucking sick to 'whip' any living thing

  • ||

    It is also, apparently, SOP for police K-9 handlers.

    http://tinyurl.com/33hbnfr

  • rather||

    He's a creep. The whole thing looked like a ritual that was choreographed to be as sick as possible.

  • Herodotus anarch||

    But no sooner had the strait been bridged than a great storm came on and cut apart and scattered all their work.

    Xerxes flew into a rage at this, and he commanded that the Hellespont be struck with three hundred strokes of the whip and that a pair of foot-chains be thrown into the sea. It's even been said that he sent off a rank of branders along with the rest to the Hellespont! He also commanded the scourgers to speak outlandish and arrogant words: "You hateful water, our master lays his judgement on you thus, for you have unjustly punished him even though he's done you no wrong! Xerxes the king will pass over you, whether you wish it or not! It is fitting that no man offer you sacrifices, for you're a muddy and salty river!" In these ways he commanded that the sea be punished and also that the heads be severed from all those who directed the bridging of the Hellespont.

  • JohnD||

    It's always appropriate to whip a dumb ass like Rather

  • rather||

    Holy shit, what the hell did I do to you? I need a fucking score card

  • The Chinese||

    Beating your dog makes the meat tough. Wait till it's slaughtered, then pound the cutlets with the flat side of a meat hammer.

  • ||

    But it has a better taste.

  • ||

    Then I'd hope you aren't relying on any guard dog you train to actually guard anything. Because that's the only way to train a dog to not regard people who feed it snacks as friends.

  • hmm||

    It's not always a treat or punishment. It often starts that way, but after a time it becomes acceptance and following. If you spend time training dogs (especially older dogs that were strays) they tend to either lead(pull) or cower. Getting them to sit with at treat is easy, but it takes time to get them to accept you as the leader. As soon as they do that they will look at you as you walk them and take ques from your movements. Police dogs do this all the time. Just watch them work. They go between person and target over and over looking for the clue of what to do next.

    This happens a lot with strong willed breeds like terriers. Thick headed fuckers either want to be in charge or cower because they have been abused and fear you in charge.

    The Mexican Ceaser guy is spot on with dogs.

    P.S. the mind of a dog is simple, "If I can't eat/chew it or fuck it I'm pissing on it." and "Squirrel!!!"

  • hmm||

    cues...

  • Pip||

    "Thick headed fuckers either want to be in charge or cower because they have been abused and fear you in charge"

    You're talking about cops here, right?

  • hmm||

    Sadly no. I like the dogs a lot more than cops and the dogs only want my attention, not my rights.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: R C Dean,

    I am mystified as to how anything could be seized when a search turns up nothing illegal.


    Oh, for crying out loud, RC: If they take your money for doing something legal (i.e. producing, gathering an income), why would you be surprised by this? Thieves are thieves are thieves. Always.

  • AE||

    Smelley... what a perfectly ironic name.

  • Old Mexican||

    New at Reason: Radley Balko Delves Into the Mind of a Police Dog


    Radley Balko, dog whisperer.

  • Realist||

    New at Reason: Radley Balko Delves Into the Mind of a Police Dog....and never comes out!

  • ||

    I think I saw that Fringe episode.

  • ||

    Must be the eat/chew/fuck/squirrel thing.

  • MNG||

    Nobody has commented about this showing how our crj system is going to the dogs?

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    That dog won't hunt.

  • Old Mexican||

    This phenomenon is known as the "Clever Hans effect," after a horse that won fame in the early 1900s by stomping out the answers to simply arithmetic questions with his hoof. Hans was indeed clever, but he couldn't do math. Instead he was reading subtle, unintentional cues from the audience and his trainer.


    Kind of the same thing with the "Facilitated Communication" hoax of the 1980s-1990s.

    The reason we have a Fourth Amendment is precisely to prevent searches based on hunches.


    Well, the Constitution changes with times and was written by powdered-wig wearing old farts anyway and it's living and breathing and the words don't mean what they say and case law and roads and blah blah blah blah...

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    And it was written over 100 yrs ago.

  • johnl||

    OM the facilitated communications scam is still ongoing. See Julian Wendrow. The bureaucrats have ouija boards now and they are never giving them up.

  • ||

    That is too bad. I used to work with autistic kids--in the 90s--when the FC scam was spreading. More than anything it exemplified a complete lack of common sense.

    One way it was disproven was to have an untrained third party hold the persons hand over the computer, instead of using the normal "facilitator" who worked with the person all the time. Seems like the same thing could be done with police K9's--have an unfamiliar person watch and see if a dog "alerts." Why does it only have to be the one "handler" who can tell if a dog smells something?

  • ||

    Facilated communication works if you don't direct the person's hand. The original case was detailed in "Annie's coming out" a book about an severaly disabled Australian woman. The problem is the yanks took it over and just abused it.

  • Old Mexican||

    But in the process of domesticating dogs, we have bred into them a trait that tends to trump most others: a desire to please us—and toward that end, an ability to read us and a tendency to rely on us to help them solve their problems.


    NOW, if instead we relied on drug-sniffing cats, why....

  • ||

    Yeah, good luck getting the cats to do anything on command.

    Cat: "There's a bomb in there? Piss off, send in the labrador!"

  • ||

    Reminds me of an old Far Side comic where a bomb sniffing dog is running from a building while his handlers are saying "Where are you going Sniffy?".

  • R||

    If you see a bomb-sniffing dog running, try to keep up.

  • Realist||

    Great choice of subjects. Who gives a fuck about the middle east or public unions in this country???

  • robc||

    If Reason hadnt run approximately 47 bajillion ME and PU stories in the last month you might have a point.

  • Realist||

    That's your defence for Reason, running such inane bullshit???

  • ||

    Better question: who gives a fuck about what you think???

  • Realist||

    "Better question: who gives a fuck about what you think???" You should, that way you wouldn't continue to be the stupid fuck you are!

  • The Chinese||

    We (the Chinese) say: man who responds to trolls eats shit from strangers.

  • Radley Balko||

    I don't cover the Middle East or Wisconsin, so I have nothing particularly informed or unique to say about either topic. I'm also a firm believer in shutting the hell up if you have nothing useful to add to the discussion.

  • robc||

    If you are answering questions, when are we going to see Yet Another Isolated Incident, the book?

  • Pip||

    "I don't cover the Middle East or Wisconsin"

    That's pretty obvious given that you don't grasp that Wisconsin is in the Middle West (or "Midwest" for short).

  • ||

    Yeah, either that, or he does grasp the two stories (Middle East and Wisconsin -- two different things) which, according to Realist, are the only subjects worthy of discussion.

  • Realist||

    "....which, according to Realist, are the only subjects worthy of discussion."
    I didn't say that.
    You need to learn how to read!
    My point was either would be be better than the bullshit in the article.

  • Realist||

    "I'm also a firm believer in shutting the hell up if you have nothing useful to add to the discussion." If that was the case you wouldn't have written the article to begin with!

  • Pip||

    Go suck Tony's diseased cock.

  • Realist||

    Great come back genius!

  • ||

    Speaking of having nothing useful to add to the discussion....

  • Realist||

    Very good....you have provided a great example!

  • Boxbot||

    Radley, please consult with our trolls BEFORE posting your article to make sure it's sufficiently on-topic. Otherwise, you'll just embarrass yourself.

  • Realist||

    Nah, just keep posting stupid, senseless articles and watch your readership take an even bigger shit!

  • The Chinese||

    I'm also a firm believer in shutting the hell up if you have nothing useful to add to the discussion.

    Ouch!

  • Mensan||

    "I'm also a firm believer in shutting the hell up if you have nothing useful to add to the discussion."

    I actually understood that to be Balko referring to himself with regard to the discussion of the Middle East and Wisconsin.

  • Realist||

    I don't think so.

  • Mensan||

    Realist|2.21.11 @ 5:30PM|#
    "I don't think so."

    FTFY

  • Realist||

    Up yours!

  • Amakudari||

    Don't feed the trolls.

  • rather||

    don't be such a bore

  • rather||

    don't be such a whore

  • rather||

    I try to be more

  • PeeDub||

    You know who else didn't give a fuck about the middle east of public unions?

    Nazis.

  • Christ on a Cracker||

    I belonged to a sport dog club that trains for bitework, among other things. One local police dog was "certified" in "drug-" and "bomb-" detection. The handler had not yet "gotten around" to the "obedience" certification. That dog was the most absolutely out of control animal I've ever seen.

    The majority of police dogs that come through are just extensions of the handler's penis. I believe that's why there are few female cops with dogs, although women are some of the best sport handlers.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Christ on a Cracker,

    The majority of police dogs that come through are just extensions of the handler's penis.


    Sometimes literaly.

    http://www.topix.com/forum/wor.....L4D85QOM5N

  • MNG||

    The majority of police dogs that come through are just extensions of the handler's penis.

    Santorum warned us about this...

  • SIV||

    Stopped clock...

  • ||

    I don't understand why dog's handlers are allowed to keep them as family pets. In my police department, there would be a non-cop in charge of feeding, training and otherwise working with the dogs and the officer would have to check said dog out every morning for his work. That way the dog could be more focused on his job and less on his "master". then, at the end of the day, the officer would bring him "home". the dogs would be rotated among officers so they didn't pick up woo many bad habits from various subtle "cues". The officer, also, wouldn't get emotionally invested in the dog, which was not his. Also, I'd implement the same policy for bulletproof vests and guns. Come in to work, you get one. Leave work, you leave it. If the officer wants to have a gun with him 24/7, he can buy his own. And if the state doesn't allow gun ownership, tough shit. Its rediculous that we allow these people (police) special rules over the rest of society. Oh, and killing a cop dog being a felony. Only if its one when a cop (or anyone else) kills yours.

  • Fiscal Meth||

    Oh so many +1s for the oh so many different things you said.

  • ||

    + woof

  • Colonel_Angus||

    In my police department, there would be no drug searching dogs.

  • ||

    Everyday ending the drug war looks more and more inevitable.

  • ||

    Chinese drug-sniffing dogs are MUCH better.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    A Pekinese? Really? I can just see it...furball sits next to bag at airport, six year old goes nuts tryinhg to pet it, cop kills six year old.

  • hmm||

    *Cliché goes here*

  • Cliché Bandit||

    parasite...Do I look like a communist that gives out other peoples shit for free? get your own damn clicé or start paying for mine. In the mean time be glad when I provide...bask in my benevolence.

    The first one is free...

  • kinnath||

    I used to travel to Europe on a regular basis. Coming back from Amsterdam to Minneapolis on NWA, you could always expect the drug sniffing dogs down in the baggage pick up area.

    One day, a dog took notice of my carry-on bag, and the handler told me he needed to look inside. I replied that I had about 4 kilos of Dutch chocolate in the bag (as far as my family was concerned, my only job was to bring home the good stuff). The handler said the dogs were trained to ignore food items. So I unzipped my carry-on bag and pulled out a great big bag of chocolate bars. The handler harrumped and moved on.

    Fortunately, dumpy middle-aged guys flying in business class aren't the real target of the searches.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: kinnath,

    The handler said the dogs were trained to ignore food items.


    You could have retorted with "Do the dogs know that?"

    But you probably wanted to return home without further delay, so I guess you valued that more than the pleasure of being snarky. I understand.

  • kinnath||

    No snark of any kind until one clears customs and immigration. Until then, you ain't on U.S. soil.

  • IceTrey||

    Very smart hiding 3 kilos of high quality heroin inside of the chocolate.

  • kinnath||

    I'm way too boring to attempt something like that, and my safe, cozy, middle-class life has numbed me from having any desires above a big screen TV.

  • Fiscal Meth||

    Mythbusters tested whether you could fool the Police dogs. They used all kinds of scents to try to throw them off but the dogs were never distraced by meats and treats and were always able to find the target scent. They are pretty incredible when the cop doesn't have any hunches to throw the dogs off. Mythbusters should have introduced some Mexicans into the study.

  • ||

    I used to really like MythBusters, but part of me feels like they have more of an agenda than just disproving myths now. I mean they did all of the different ways to fool a radar detector, and now the dog sniffing myth. I don't think they mess up the experiment to favor an outcome, but I do think sometimes they leave out reporting something to favor a side's hypothesis.

  • JD||

    They leave out some essential components of a good experiment to make it an interesting TV show--eg they usually don't have the proper controls.

    I can't fault them too much for that; their primary job it entertainment. Good science is usually boring (especially to watch on TV).

  • omg||

    I was actually just thinking of those episodes myself. The dogs seemed pretty reliable, but it could certainly be explained that the officers had no pre-conceived notions on who would have what (as they knew the person was randomized). This is different then the real world, where (particularly in the mind of the officer) the people carrying "contraband" aren't randomized.

    I think both the dog handling tests and the speed camera tests were tainted by the involvement of those individuals whose jobs depend on the tested technology being accurate. If there was a question of reliability for a situation, obviously the cops or the camera companies aren't going to let that test happen with their equipment.

  • Zeb||

    I am sure that dogs are capable of detecting drugs reliably. They do have an incredible sense of smell. That they just want to please master seems the most plausible explanation to me.

  • Christ on a Cracker||

    Mythbuster was actually pretty good, although after a while, the guard dog obviously was just playing with testers. The bloodhound was impressive,but not really scientific. I would have liked to see a longer wait before setting off the dog-but it is TV.

    The dogs job is to follow the bad guy's track and identify dropped articles along the way. The cops still need to do the detective work. I don't see how anyone could accept a dog's word on anything other than a bitch in heat.

  • ||

    Kind of like that scene in Top Secret, when the police dogs got the man killed over a bag of dog biscuits.

  • Rock Action ||

    One of the funniest scenes in a movie. Ever. Or was it because I was in seventh grade?

    That's not passive-aggressive, it's just a comedic scene that sticks with me vividly, and I laugh just thinking about it. Damn German Shepherds.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    You should have let the dog have some.

  • ||

    I like dogs.

  • ||

    Dogs are smarter than the average cop.

  • waffles||

    I really like the cops
    I think they're really neat
    I like it when seize my cash
    Cause their dog sniffed my meat

  • Ted S.||

    In her wonderfully written (but strangely titled) book Inside of a Dog,

    I think the title comes from the Groucho Marx quip: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

  • ||

    Inside of a dog, no one can hear you scream.

  • kinnath||

    +many

  • IceTrey||

    Dogs are self made not man made. Wolves that didn't run away every time a human came to add garbage to the dump had puppies who were less fearful and so on until you have dogs.

  • BakedPenguin||

    At some point, humans starting realizing they could hang out with these demi-wolves, and bring them along on the hunt. We definitely had a hand in domesticating them.

  • kinnath||

    Selective breeding == human intervention == man made

  • robc||

    Nature wouldnt create anything as warped as a english bulldog. That took human intervention.

  • Mike||

    The platypus and elephant beg to differ. Naturing is f'ing weird.

  • JD||

    At least the platypus and elephant can give birth on their own.

  • robc||

    And dont need nasal surgery to fly.

  • R||

    Wait....elephants and platypuses can fucking fly? Why didn't anyone tell me?

    Where do they keep their wings?

  • Mensan||

    I have an aunt who is a dog and horse-breeder. She is very educated on selecting for certain traits, and the history of all of the breeds with which she works. She is also an evangelical born again christian, and a creationist. Does anyone else see the irony in that?

  • DNS||

    She is also an evangelical born again christian, and a creationist. Does anyone else see the irony in that?

    As was Gregor Mendel, a monk of The Order of St. Augustine.

  • Realist||

    Your aunt is a fucking idiot, as are you.

  • ||

    Not really. She sees all the breeds as having arisen through intelligent design (i.e., deliberate human activity to select for certain traits) and concludes that species all arose the same way.

  • Zeb||

    Nature may have gotten it started, but you don't get anything like what dogs are today without thousands of years of deliberate breeding.

  • ||

    Part of the problem with human perception is the belief that our own dogs are quite intelligent. We live with them, share our holidays and food with them, and project human qualities onto what are pack animals. Then, you get a jury of otherwise rational people who will believe a dog over a human being, all because of their own past experiences.

    It also doesn't help that popular culture makes dogs out to be super-geniuses. Beethoven, Benji, Pongo, Lassie, etc. are shown being capable of abstract reasoning and problem solving abilities. I don't believe that any adult would rationally believe that a dog could be a crime fighter. But, subconsciously, I do think we are primed at a young age to anthropomorphize our pets, and that this leads to cognitive errors later in life.

  • Skid Marx||

    "It also doesn't help that popular culture makes dogs out to be super-geniuses. Beethoven, Benji, Pongo, Lassie, etc. are shown being capable of abstract reasoning and problem solving abilities."

    Dogs can problem solve. I used to stuff a milk-bone inside a Kong toy. My sweet German shepherd dog learned on her own that a really good way to get the treat out was to toss it a few feet into the air, so that when it hits the ground the milk-bone breaks up and the peaces come out of the opening. She also knows that when I hold up my hands and say "No Mas", she's not getting any more treats, at which point she immediately walks away.

  • Pip||

    Sounds like problem solving to me (the first example not the second).

  • ||

    My dog just slowly destroys the Kong until the treat is liberated. My lesson learned is he can and will chew through anything. Are there any high tensile strength dog toys?

  • Gray Ghost||

    Black Kongs, though I'm assuming you've tried those.

    JW Pet Company makes the "Ruffians" line of pet toys, that my red Kong-destroying dog has so far been unable to even tear. The squeaker drove me batshit long before the dog got tired of the toy. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000HHM4VE/reasonmagazineA/ However, a Pit, or other big chewing bully breed or Molloser, may be able to rip them up. The first review at Amazon says just that, in fact.

  • ||

    You mean that The Ugly Dachshund was fiction?

    Man, do I have to reevaluate everything I thought I knew.

  • Walt Disney Co.||

    we are primed at a young age to anthropomorphize our pets

    So?

    [ka-ching!]

  • Colonel_Angus||

    The concept of keeping animals in the home that aren't confined to a tank or small cage is insane and unsanitary.

  • ||

    Ditto re children.

  • ||

    The right decision no doubt. But if you read about this Winfrey guy and his two kids, you kinda get the feeling they got away with murder. Not the first. Not the last.

  • ||

    Sounds like that dude has a lot of spare time on their hands!

    www.being-anon.tk

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Anon-bot, not known for proper grammar.

  • ||

    Handlers all know how to make their dog signal... you don't and they use this to their advantage in getting what they want... reason to search... I know, I train dogs and have witnessed others in a police dog training facility...

  • prolefeed||

    But if I brought home a date I liked, Harper, a Shar Pei/Labrador mix, would curl up right next to the woman and turn on the charm.

    If you brought home a date you DIDN'T like but wanted to fuck anyway, did your dog cock-block you?

  • ||

    But if I brought home a date I liked,

    Sure, Radley. You're a libertarian. We all know libertarians don't have dates. At least not with actual humans.

  • ||

    Hookers are people too, dude.

  • ||

    Speaking of dogs. Two stray schnauzers have been squatting on the property all day. The last dog that did that never had to leave. I've tried the hose and chasing them with a stick but they just run around the house. Anybody have a good idea for chasing them off?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    The obvious solution is drug sniffing wild wolves.

    There could be drawbacks.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Or, yeah... we could always just make drugs legal. Always forget that one. Crazy idea, I know.

  • ||

    Not as crazy as drug-sniffing wild wolves. Which I still can't say without breaking up.

  • ||

    Sniffer dogs, polygraphs and psychics are just beards cops use to get around PC.

  • ||

    let's not forget, "for the best interest of the child"

  • ||

    As a scout dog handler in Vietnam 1969 among the things my dogs was trained for was alerting me to the location of the enemy hiding in the jungle. My dog Sarge in training exercises would always alert to decoys hiding and locate them within 10 yards of their location by my reading his alert signs. One must learn how to read the alert be subtle or barking given by the dog. The key is knowing your dog and I would place blame on the handler for not properly reading the dogs alert.

  • ||

    At least for the drug searches, there is a possible explanation that the article ignores: The vehicles or the passengers may have residue of drugs on them from recent use or carrying, although quantities of the drugs are no longer present.

  • Coeus||

    That's an explanation which really easily doubles as an excuse. Here's what happens when they don't have that excuse to fall back on:

    http://blog.norml.org/2011/02/.....vis-study/

  • RSDavis||

    A couple of thoughts:

    A recent Chicago Tribune survey of traffic stops by suburban police departments from 2007 to 2009, for example, found that searches turned up contraband in just 44 percent of the cases where police dogs alerted to the presence of narcotics... In stops involving Hispanic drivers, the dogs' success rate was just 27 percent.

    Based on the idea that in many cases, these dogs are responding more to the unconscious signals of their masters, it would appear that the officers in the Chicago PD have a bias against Hispanics. That's not to say that they let it affect their behavior as officers, but its there just the same, unconsciously directing their dogs to pick on Hispanics.

    Dog/handler teams correctly completed a search with no alerts in just 21 of the 144 walk-throughs.

    It would seem that in those 21 cases, it was a case of exceptional handlers, not exceptional dogs. In those 21 cases, the handlers were able to mask their hunches and opinions from the dog and let it do its business.

    It would seem that the problem is in the handlers, not the dogs. Perhaps tests should be given like the above to train handlers to keep their biases below the surface. Accuracy should be tied to the handler, not the dog.

    - Rick

  • ||

    Not to be excessively snide, but that was pretty much the point of the post, no?

  • ||

    cops should just be able to use divining rods. "cop intuition" we will call it. totally acceptable for probably cause.

  • pepbac||

    This a serious issue that needs to be adressed with immediate effect, it hurts and leaves people with vengeful minds towards the deffense forces. I hate it reading such kind of story knowing it is a mistake that can be corrected and they are just ignoring the whole thing. or they should go back to the training to know more about using the drugs and dogs.


    directtohomeappliances.com directtohomeappliances

  • gemsonline||

    The post is very nicely written and it contains many useful facts. I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post.Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement.Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Dangerman||

    Bizarro world un-troll?

  • Bill McGonigle||

    The Russians do this correctly. They have a custom breed of part-feral dogs that are made just for sniffing out bombs. They train these dogs, and then the 'handler' sets them free in the airport terminal. They explore on their own until they find something and then alert. Passengers just have to deal with these little dogs jumping up on the seats and such, they don't need to be controlled by a human.

  • Dogboy||

    First off why did this reporter call the dogs mutts? And just because they did not find drugs on the hand search it does not mean there were no drugs in the car. Alot of assumtions in this article to say the least.

  • ||

    First off why did this reporter call the dogs mutts?

    Maybe because they aren't an AKC-recognized breed?

    And just because they did not find drugs on the hand search it does not mean there were no drugs in the car.

    Guilty until proven innocent?

  • Anna||

    Ps. The initial plan with above dog training was to have her browse grass areas after music festivals, but she never quite acquired that level of ability.

  • Anna||

    Dog training:

    I trained my dog to find money (coins, keys and wallets) after I saw a bank ad on TV with a dog trained like that.

    The game was like this: one would hold my dog turned into a corner and block her eyes and ears with the hands, while the others would hide the money. Then we would say 'Find the money!' and she would take off with great speed and enthusiasm, check under furniture, lift blankets and investigate handbags. She would 'mark' very expressively when there was a drawer or closed bag of interest to get us to open it. Every time she returned with a coin she would get a treat.

    She wasn't very effective though, and constantly looking for cues from us.

  • Conway193||

    I have had a personal experience with overzealous police using canines. Decades ago I was arrested by the police after they stated that a sum of currency I was carrying was identified as "drug proceeds" by a "drug sniffing dog".

    My vehicle was searched along with my person; no drugs of any type were found, though the police did help themselves to a toolbox and its contents, after rifling the trunk.

    It cost me over a thousand dollars in legal fees to get my money returned, well over a year after a judge threw the "criminal" case out of court due to lack of evidence.

    Needless to say, after that experience, I have little or no use for police, or their "drug sniffing dogs".

  • ||

    Thanks to prohibition we're about to lose all semblance of that once ordered, prosperous and safe society. Myself, along with many others, have been debating prohibitionists on this for many years. We have shown what destruction prohibition has wrought on all the civil institutions of this once great nation, -we've always provided facts and statistics - they, the prohibitionists, have countered with either lies, personal abuse or even serious threats of violence.

    Ending the insanity of drug prohibition by legalized regulation, respecting the rights of the responsible users and focusing on addiction as a sickness, like we do with alcohol and tobacco, may save what remains of our economy and civil institutions along with countless lives and livelihoods. Prohibition continues unabated for shameful political reasons. It cannot, and never will, reduce drug use or addiction.

    Prohibition has permanently scarred our national character as well as our individual psyches. Our national policies and cultural practices have become pervaded by the fascistic, prohibitionist mind-set which has turned our domestic police force into a bunch of paramilitary thugs who often commit extra-judicial beatings and executions while running roughshod over our rights in order to "protect us from ourselves".

    When we eventually manage to put the horrors of this moronothon behind us, we'll need to engage in some very deep and honest soul-searching as to what we want to be as a nation. Many of our freedoms have been severely circumscribed or lost altogether, our economy has been trashed and our international reputation for being "free and fair" has been dragged through a putrid sewer by vicious narrow-minded drug warrior zealots who are ignorant of abstract concepts such as truth, justice and decency. We'll need to make sure that such a catastrophe is never ever repeated. This may mean that public hearings or tribunals will be held where those who’ve been the instigators and cheerleaders of this abomination will have to answer for their serious crimes against our once prosperous and proud nation.

    Each day you remain silent, you help to destroy the Constitution, fill the prisons with our children, and empower terrorists and criminals worldwide while wasting hundreds of billions of your own tax dollars. Prohibition bears many strong and startling similarities to Torquemada­'s inquisition­, it's supporters are servants of tyranny and hate. If you're aware of but not enraged by it's shear waste and cruel atrocities then both your heart and soul must surely be dead.

    Prohibition engendered black market profits are obscenely huge. Remove this and you remove the ability to bribe or threaten any government official or even whole governments. The argument that legalized regulation won't severely cripple organized crime is truly bizarre. Of course, the bad guys won't just disappear, but if you severely diminish their income, you also severely diminish their power. The proceeds from theft, extortion, pirated goods etc. are a drop in the ocean compared to what can be earned by selling prohibited/unregulated drugs in a black market estimated to be worth 400,000 million dollars. Without the lure and power of so much easy capital, it's also very unlikely that new criminal enterprises will fill the void left by those you disrupt or entirely eradicate.

    Millions of fearless North Africans have recently shown us that recognizing oppression also carries the weight of responsibility to act upon and oppose that oppression.

    The drug czar's office is not only unnecessary but also the greatest waste of space since vows of fidelity were included in the christian marriage service.

  • roguepatriot||

    Another great piece from Radley. Thank you!!!

  • ||

    I was arrested for conspiracy to distributre meth ampethamine due to a dog sniffing my car. I was arrested, handcuffed and my car searched. They found nothing and let me go. I would not piss on a police officer to put him out if he was on fire.

    Jim

  • منتدى العرب||

    Thank you

  • Sarah Meister||

    Sounds dogs in the police force and that whole program should be reformed. No one really wins in that situation. If it doesn't work, fix it. I would like to see examples of police forces/jurisdictions that have reformed their K9 force or even eliminated.

    Nonetheless, interesting article. Thanks.

  • nike running shoes||

    is good

  • Bernhard||

    The article is nicely written and contain a few very informative facts about police dogs.

  • دليل||

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  • Joe M||

    This article makes me think of racists who think its funny that their dogs "bark at black people" and think it somehow gives them cover for their racism.

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

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