What Are Festival Sniffer Dogs?

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson

The next time you're at an outdoor event, take a look around - you just might see a Festival Sniffer Dog at work!

Svitlana Hulko/Shutterstock

When you think of those big music festivals, does your mind instantly go to Coachella in California, or maybe the 1,000,000-plus people who roam the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, or perhaps those images of 400,000-strong attending Woodstock ’69? You get the picture: wide open spaces, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people milling about, and the potential for it all to go pear-shaped (think Woodstock ’99) if drugs, firearms, or explosives made their way into the crowd and chaos erupted.

Today’s events and festivals always have a comprehensive security plan that’s put in place to anticipate and ideally offset the possibility of crowd safety being compromised. And public well-being can be forfeited in the blink of an eye when illegal drugs, contraband including alcohol, or even incendiaries such as fireworks or explosives are brought into the mix. But while paid-duty police officers and security staff will almost certainly conduct a cursory bag search at entry points, they’re going to need what’s called a factual basis to support “reasonable suspicion”, if they are to conduct a more in-depth search of an individual. And that search can include examining an individual’s body, rummaging through their vehicle, or combing through a tent or other packed personal belongings.

That’s where the Festival Sniffer Dog enters the picture. And with him, that factual basis.

You see, these highly trained detection canines are able to pick up specific scents associated with everything from marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, opiates, ecstasy or LSD to explosives and firearms. They work with their equally trained handlers to patrol points of entry, walking up and down the waiting lines and strolling past cars. Their naturally heightened sense of smell allows them to pick up the slightest whiff of contraband and combined with some rather rigorous training, they will then alert their handler by either barking or sitting down.

And they can’t be fooled; contraband sealed in containers or disguised by other scents won’t get past them. In fact, while most of us would agree that should our pooches be on patrol, everything from a half-eaten sandwich to a sealed bag of potato chips would stop them dead in their tracks, not so for Festival Sniffer Dogs. They’re trained to ignore the smell of food and to focus in on only that for which they’ve been taught to sniff out.

But organizers have been careful to ensure that introducing these four-legged patrols into a festival atmosphere won’t turn what should be a fun, social event into a police state. These dogs are typically trained in a non-aggressive method to ensure that while they’ll quickly identify and communicate back to their handler when they’ve found a scent, they won’t go into a dig-and-damage mode, tearing belongings apart or barking aggressively. To be clear, these dogs are not crowd control canines that are often more intimidating - such as a German Shepherd dog or Doberman Pinscher. They’re milder in nature and non-aggressive.

So which breeds are you most likely to see walking the queues? Well, just because a breed is a terrific scent hound doesn’t mean he’s suited to working the door at a busy music festival. The ideal candidate is typically a gentle-natured, social breed such as a Labrador Retriever, English Springer Spaniel, or even a Beagle.

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and a feline who prefers to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

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