Interdiction Officers should never be Drug Detector Dog Handlers


Steven D. Nicely


Interdiction Officers and Drug Detector Dog Handlers should never be one in the same. Drug dog handlers who cross train into interdiction should never be allowed to handle a drug dog again. As a matter of fact when dog handlers are called to search a vehicle the only information they need to know is if anything was seen that is harmful to the team. This sounds harsh but behavioral science favors the reasons.


Have you ever heard of a self fulfilling prophecy? Interdiction officers are trained to look for indicators of criminal activity. As an officer begins to draw a conclusion that drugs are present his or her perception dictates how they react both intentionally and unintentionally. Perception creates mental set which transfers to unconscious body actions that influence the dog.


Drug detector dog on a national level are not very accurate. Handlers and trainers try to cover this using the excuse of the person exhibited all the indicators so there must have been drugs there at some time that is why the dog responded. Or they will use the dog as proof that drugs had been there so making the indicators correct. An example, of this occurred in the mid 1990 in Shelby County Tennessee when their highway interdiction unit and K9 unit were set up. They took the bait, stopped a vehicle that in their mind had all the indicators, the occupants refused search and a drug dog was called. After seven trips around the vehicle the handler said the dog responded outside of the view of the police on board camera.


The officers immediately wanted into the cargo hold of this cargo truck. When it was open the area contained nothing. The dog was not put inside to see if something was being hidden inside the walls.


After that the officers decided to search the passenger area. There they found a suit case that unknown to them at the time carried recording devices. Officers were see holding the suitcase up and sniffing at it. One said it has Marijuana. Another sniffed and said it was cocaine. The suitcase was placed on the ground the dog handler approached and immediately caused the dog to respond by talking the dog into the response.


Questions are already arising concerning this matter. Lindsay Beyerstein, freelance journalist wrote Crooked cops, Clever Hans, and drug-sniffing dogs. To imply an officer is crooked because his or her dog is influenced by Clever Hans is wrong. It is equally as wrong to assume that when a dog responds and the intended target was not found that the odor was there. Both need proof. Yet when handlers and trainers do not willingly produce the team's records their competency and knowledge must come into question.

Mental set has a very strong influence on our behavior. Those involved in the handling and training of detector dogs should be very aware of its influence. Training and testing to overcome its influence should be part of the team's training process.


revised 06/10/07