Dogs that graduate from the police K-9 school are ready to begin working the streets as patrol dogs. However, many police departments around the United States are urging handlers to cross-train their dogs in a more specialized area. Two of the most common choices are narcotics and explosives-two substances police are likely to confront while working on the streets. Not surprisingly, having a partner that can smell the tiniest amount of drugs or just a whiff of the powder in a bullet or an ingredient used to make a bomb could be a huge help to police. And that is exactly what a cross-trained K-9 can do.
The Nose Knows
While human beings depend primarily on sight to interact with the environment, dogs use their sense of smell. The reason is purely physical. There are microscopic cells, called receptors, that gather smells in the noses of animals, including humans. When an animal smells something, that scent is trapped by the receptors, which send the information up into the animal’s brain.
The brain then helps the animal identify the scent-whether it is food, a predator, or any number of other possibilities. The big difference between humans and dogs is the number of receptors. While a human has 40 million of them, a dog has nearly 220 million receptors. Depending on the odor, a dog’s nose is anywhere between one thousand and ten thousand times more sensitive than a human’s nose. Even more remarkable, a dog can smell and catalog between one thousand and ten thousand different smells all at once.
Sergeant Richard Miller, a K-9 handler in Iraq whose dog is trained to sniff out explosives, says it is almost impossible to imagine how much information a dog can get in a single sniff:
The best way I can explain it is that if you were to walk into a fast-food place, you’d smell the meat cooking on the grill and the mop bucket they are using to clean up a spill. A dog will smell the fat in the burger charring, the meat cooking, the sesame seeds on the bun, the pickle juice, the type of perfume the cashier is wearing, and a thousand other scents, all at the same time.
All of His Hope
The K-9’s ability to identify and catalog even small amounts of scent is extremely valuable to police. For example, in a case when police stop the car of a person suspected of dealing drugs, unless the drugs are in plain view, it might take officers hours to find them. A dog can smell the presence of drugs in seconds and alert its handler immediately.
St. Paul police officer Mike Ernster and K-9 Buzz were called by investigators who had searched a car but found nothing. They had information that the driver was a drug dealer, but searching through the glove compartment and trunk, under the seats, and in other hiding places had yielded nothing.
Ernster prepared Buzz for the hunt by asking the dog, “Are you ready to find the drugs? You want to find the drugs?” It was a game to Buzz, and he was immediately ready to play as he climbed inside the car.