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Can Drug Dogs Smell Nicotine?

Nicotine, a commonly consumed chemical found in tobacco products, raises intriguing questions about the capabilities of drug-sniffing dogs. In this blog post, we delve into the topic to explore whether drug dogs can indeed detect the scent of nicotine.

Cigarettes and cigarette butts.
Photo credit: Pexels.

Drug dogs can be trained to detect numerous illegal substances including Heroin, Cocaine, LSD, MDMA, Fentanyl, Marihuana/Marijuana, Meth, PCP.

Most law enforcement police drug dogs are not trained to detect legal substances such as nicotine. However, some law enforcement jail drug dogs may be trained to detect tobacco or nicotine which is often considered contraband in jails.

Also some schools may request the aid of such drug dogs that can detect nicotine which can be found both in cigarettes as well as E-cigarettes, vapes and juuls.

What are drug dogs trained to smell?

Police drug dogs and drug dogs in the airports and jails are trained to smell and detect numerous illegal substances including Heroin, Cocaine, LSD / Lysergic acid diethylamide, MDMA / Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, Fentanyl, Marihuana / Marijuana, Meth / Methamphetamine, and PCP / Phenylcyclohexyl piperidine.

According to the Washington State Department of Corrections, drug dogs utilized in jails are imprinted on Tobacco which contains Nicotine, Suboxone and even cell phones.   

What types of drug dogs are used to smell tobacco and nicotine?

Different breeds of dogs are used as police drug detection dogs including Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, German Shorthaired Pointers, and Labradors.

These breeds are chosen for numerous reasons including their drive to hunt, trainability, olfactory receptors, and agility.

Police K9 with harness and metal on collar sitting on grass.
Photo credit: Pexels.

How are drug dogs trained to smell nicotine?

There are many ways a drug dog can be trained to detect nicotine but the basic process is called imprinting.

A common method used to imprint a dog on a scent is to present a the target odor to the dog in a tube or box then subsequently highlighting it by using either a verbal marker such as “Yes!” or through the audible sound of a training clicker. The dog is then immediately rewarded with either food or a toy every time it smells the particular tube or box that contains the target odor.

The dogs begin to associate that specific odor with a reward and will soon hunt for that odor among empty tubes or boxes.

Once the dog correctly identifies the specific odor they are then trained to perform a final response to the target odor. In most cases the response is to sit and stare at the source of the odor. In some cases, the dogs can be trained to scratch at the source.

This is the same process a trainer would use to imprint a dog to smell mushrooms.

Drug dogs’ sense of smell is far more superior to that of a human.  While humans have approximately 5 million olfactory receptors in their noses, dogs have an estimated range of 125 to 300 million, depending on the breed.

Furthermore, the part of the brain dedicated to analyzing smells, known as the olfactory bulb is estimated to be about 40 times larger in dogs than in humans making them well-equipped to detect nicotine if trained to do so.

Can drug dogs smell nicotine?

The answer is yes, drug dogs can smell nicotine however not all drug dogs are trained to alert to the presence of nicotine. There are also many variables to consider such as how the nicotine is packaged, and how far away the dog is from the odor they are searching.