Top 10 Drug Detection Dogs

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson

The nose knows! When it comes to super sniffers, these Top 10 Drug Detection Dogs get the job done.

Think your pooch could sniff out drugs just because he discovered that errant potato chip you lost between the sofa cushions two weeks ago. Hey, we all know our pooches are uber-quick when it comes to sniffing out the good stuff. In fact, while humans typically have 400 olfactory (scent) receptors in their nose, dogs are reputed to have up to 100 million – which explains why they go into sniff-and-snort overload when out on a walk. But does that mean all dogs have what it takes to detect drugs?

In this instance, the answer comes down to both nature and nurture. You see, some dog breeds are better suited to taking on this type of role. And it’s their natural scenting ability coupled with targeted training that turns them into the secret weapon border patrols around the world rely on for detecting contraband.

So, what are the characteristics a trainer is looking for? According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), they’re seeking out a dog that is keen, driven and almost always purebred. The latter is because certain breeds have a proven aptitude for this type of work due to their predictable behaviors and reliable capabilities. With non-purebred dogs you can often get a mix of different disciplines and temperaments, making it impossible to train them for this type of highly specialized work.

And it’s not just marijuana from that vacation in Jamaica these keeners are trained to sniff out. Drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, hashish, ketamine and methamphetamines/speed (to name just a few) have also made the scratch-and-sniff list. So, this is serious business and it leads to which are the breeds that law enforcement agencies seek out when it comes to developing a top-quality drug detection dog.

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German Shepherd Dog

Probably the first breed that comes to mind when you think of police work. This versatile dog is not only intelligent, but he’s loyal and focused – both important attributes when working with law enforcement officers. And this breed is renowned for his ability to “air scent” - meaning he doesn’t need to bury his nose in a piece of luggage to know that drugs are nearby.

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Labrador Retriever

While the gentle, affable Lab is typically associated with hunting - where the ability to fetch is paramount - he’s also excellent at sniffing out things other than downed fowl. In fact, his keen sense of smell makes him a highly coveted breed when it comes to scent-related work including drugs, bombs, and even search and rescue missions where the hunt-retrieve drive becomes so important.


Doberman Pinscher

You may associate the muscular Dobie with guard or patrol duty but he’s actually a highly effective drug detection dog. Like most successful sniffers, this breed’s extra-long snout means extra olfactory sensors and when you add in his strong inner drive, his superior climbing/running/tunneling ability and that relentless determination once he’s picked up a scent, you have a drug smuggler’s worst nightmare.

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Border Collie

Renowned for their intelligence, willingness to follow commands and eager-to-please personality, this highly motivated pooch is a natural for sniffing out drugs. In fact, this is one of the top detection dogs in the UK. It’s really no wonder, given their persistent nature and inherent ability to run, jump, and climb to wherever the scent takes them.


Giant Schnauzer

Never thought this breed would make a drug detection list? Consider this: in Sweden, this big boy’s uber-sensitive olfactory capabilities now have him working in an anti-doping capacity for horse racing. Not only can he pick up the scent of contraband in and around stables, but he can zero in and detect just a hint of a banned drug in something as small as a simple stain of horse urine.


Golden Retriever

Gentle, beautiful and a whizz at sniffing things out, this friendly, hunting breed is often seen working for search and rescue missions as well as in training for allergy/ailment detection in humans. And because of his warm, non-intimidating nature, he’s also targeted as being that perfect pooch to use in and amongst the general public where he’s often seen climbing all over luggage and through cars at border crossings. But looking really cute while he’s at it.


Belgian Malinois

This German Shepherd doppelganger is often used by the military because of its smaller size (try parachuting into enemy territory with a full-size German Shepherd strapped to your chest). And it’s this compact size, his super-obedient nature, territorial instinct, and of course his keen sense of smell, that makes him a natural for drug detection. Because superior agility and the ability to respond quickly to commands are paramount.

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Intimidating? Never. Able to run at top speed to take down a drug smuggler. Likely not. But the compact size and determination of this pint-sized scent hound are what make him a lethal little drug detection tool. Adept at both ground and air scent, he’s a favorite with the USDA when it comes to detecting contraband including banned foods and yes, drugs.

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English Springer Spaniel

Odds are you’ve not seen many of these roaming the airports and sniffing luggage, but these super keen pooches are in fact the “Swiss army knife” of drug detection dogs. Yes, bred for the hunt, these determined pooches are adept at picking up both ground and airborne scents, will never be thrown off by wet or dry conditions and can even detect their target scent whether it’s hot (smoke or explosives) or cold.

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This dog is a natural-born tracker with a whopping 300 million scent receptors – more than any other breed. It’s his physical characteristics including long ears that hang down to “corral” the scent and that lengthy snout with open nostrils that make it easier for him to draw him various smells, that make him such a great tracker. With their stamina and determination making them ideal for drug detection. While their size and disposition mean you’re not likely to find them roaming the airports, they’ll seek out any stash, anywhere, anytime.

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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