I suppose it's no surprise that those of you who answered my call for stories about police detection dogs mostly reported searches gone awry. Obviously, in many instances dogs find the drugs or bombs they are dispatched to sniff out. If I'd sent a query to prosecutors or police officers, I'm sure I'd have received plenty of success stories. But that's not what you, dear readers, wanted to talk about. And in your tales of false alarms or, ahem, the contraband that got away, you've made me wonder all the more whether dogs are reliable enough to warrant all the deference the law gives them.
One big concern is the lack of training requirements for the dogs the police use. A student from Ohio State University who is doing research on the pair of Supreme Court cases about dog sniffing scheduled for argument on Wednesday reports that only two states have standards for dog certification. In Canada, only British Columbia does, according to Barry, a private trainer and handler of three drug-sniffing dogs. He says that he and others are working with the Department of Labour and Safety to change that, but "at the moment, it is possible to advertise that any dog is a detection dog, charge people and companies a fee, and show up and provide a service with no documentation whatsoever to indicate that the dog and handler are competent!" As a result, "completely bogus teams are out there ruining the public's sense of good dog and handler teams' ability to actually find these substances—and a well trained dog with a competent handler has no problem at all doing this work, believe me!"