Drug-Sniffing Dogs and CBD

Drug-Sniffing Dogs and CBD

Dogs have a sensational sense of smell—far better than humans’. If you have a dog, you may have seen how she reacts to a scent and follows it with determination and, sometimes, extravagant persistence.

It is estimated that dogs have more than 300 million sensory receptors in their nose as opposed to a mere 6 million for humans. This number tells us a lot about dogs’ ability to detect various scents.

It is, therefore, no wonder that dogs and particular dog breeds have been trained to become drug-sniffing dogs in airports, train stations, and other public spaces. With the proper training and a strong relationship with her handler, a dog can sniff hemp, cocaine, meth, heroin, etc., and alert the handler about the presence of illegal drugs.

Given, however, the legalization of CBD across much of the Western world, what happens when drug-sniffing dogs alert their handlers about the presence of CBD? This has caused some controversy as dogs detecting CBD can cause unduly unrest.

As a result, some police departments have chosen to retire their four-legged experts, while others have decided to re-train them to detect other illegal substances. For example, with the proper training dogs, can even detect illegal wildlife pieces like rhino horns, elephant tusks, and tiger skin.

This post explains how dogs detect CBD and how to give your dog CBD if she’s reluctant to try it because of its strong aroma.

CBD and Drug-Sniffing Dogs

Dogs that have been trained to detect hemp and marijuana can be remarkably successful at it. With the legalization of CBD, however, what was a celebrated feature has become a problem, as it is nearly impossible for dogs to make a distinction between CBD and marijuana. As a consequence, some drug-sniffing dogs have been either re-trained or retired from drug-sniffing duty.

Dogs can be quite good at sniffing drugs, although the handler’s input also has an impact. Because of dogs’ unsurpassed sense of smell and their unique brain, which has been built to experience life through the olfactory receptors, these animals have an uncanny ability to detect countless scents and smells.

That is why they have been chosen to find drugs, guns, and bombs, among others. With the legalization of CBD across large parts of the world, the police are choosing to train new dogs into detecting hard drugs like opioids, meth, cocaine, and heroin rather than CBD or marijuana. Lately, dogs have also been used to thwart other illegal activities, such as the smuggling of wildlife parts and even electronics.

How Are Dogs Trained to Detect Drugs?

Based on dogs’ amazing sense of smell, trainers start with puppies. Some breeds are more conducive to drug-sniffing, so most handlers usually choose German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Border Collies for training.

It all starts as a game. The dog is presented with a toy. Once she has become attached to it, the handler will use this attachment by covering the toy with an illegal substance, such as cocaine or meth. Because of the dog’s love for the toy, there will be a connection in her mind between a pleasurable toy and sniffing the illegal substance.

Progressively, the game becomes harder. The toy and the illegal substance are hidden behind trees, in the rain, in the snow, between cars, or amongst a pile of rubbish. The aim is to simulate real-life scenarios for the dog, mimicking the environments where she will be asked to perform, including rural and urban ones. When the dog finds the toy and the illegal substance, she gets rewarded.

Given enough time, the illegal substance gradually gets detached from the toy itself. The dog will be asked to detect the substance without the presence of the toy—after all, that’s how it will be under real conditions. With constant training, the dog learns to understand the difference between various scents and how to recognize them individually.

This kind of training is slow, taking months to achieve results. It is also never-ending: the handler and the dog are re-trained on a continuous basis to keep the dog active and alert.

Dogs are trained to detect specific scents. Some dogs are trained for illegal drugs, others are trained for guns and gunpowder, while others are chosen for detecting bombs. A dog can’t be trained to sniff a multitude of different substances or objects. Just because a dog is trained to detect meth, for example, doesn’t mean she can detect bombs as well.

Can a Dog Detect Hemp And Marijuana?

Dogs have been trained to detect hemp and marijuana. When hemp and marijuana were both illegal, drug-sniffing dogs were useful in finding these illegal substances. Since the legalization of CBD and industrial hemp, however, things have got complicated.

Hemp and marijuana smell almost the same to dogs. When dogs alert their handler about hemp or marijuana, the dog can’t really tell whether it’s industrial hemp or cannabis. After all, both hemp and marijuana belong to the cannabis plant and have similar origins.

When a dog alerts her handler about the presence of CBD, which is perfectly legal, she inadvertently causes confusion and unnecessary searches. The problem is acute in countries like the United Kingdom where CBD is legal but marijuana isn’t. How can you train a dog to sniff marijuana but not CBD?

Can You Re-Train a Dog?

Some police departments are re-training their dogs. Their goal is usually focused on de-sensitizing dogs to cannabis.

Unfortunately, de-sensitizing training can be difficult and costly—so much so, that police departments often have no choice but to retire their drug-sniffing dogs early. Retraining sessions are based on the premise that a dog should not be rewarded when she sniffs CBD. Gradually, the dog will learn to ignore the scent of CBD and stop alerting her handler about its presence.

It should be noted that the dog will still smell the cannabis. Re-training is based on the premise that the dog will not alert her handler about it.

How Successful Are Drug-Sniffing Dogs?

We often hear stories of drug-sniffing dogs discovering immense quantities of hard drugs, stashed away in the most inconspicuous places. And yet, drug-sniffing dogs are not always successful.

A 2011 trial [1] showed that dogs are affected by their handler’s behaviour and demeanour. If the handler thinks there are illegal substances to be found, the dog may take her cue from the handler. The above trial showed that the dog was more prone to alerting when the handler believed there was a substance, even if no substance was actually there.

Another 2014 study [2] studied drug-sniffing dogs in further detail. It tested several drugs, different locations, and various dog breeds. Here are a few findings from the study:

  • German Shepherds were the most successful in findings drugs.
  • Marijuana was the easiest drug to detect, as opposed to cocaine and heroin, which were more difficult.
  • In general, dogs were correct 87% of the time.
  • Searching outdoors proved more confusing to dogs as did searching in cars.

Will My Dog Sniff the CBD in Her Food?

Your dog will definitely smell the CBD oil you are putting in her food. The part of a dog’s brain dedicated to analysing scents is far bigger than the respective human one. Put simply, dogs understand the world mainly through their noses.

It is almost impossible for your dog not to smell the CBD in the food. Some dogs will detect it and ignore it, happily eating her food. Other dogs, however, may not like the new scent added to their kibble. In these cases, you could be a bit more creative with your dog’s eating routines.

The first thing to try is hiding the CBD oil or CBD tincture in peanut butter or any other food that your dog adores, such as cheese, yogurt, avocado, or bacon. This has the added advantage of increasing bioavailability. Healthy fats are a great way to take CBD because CBD is lipophilic and blends nicely with fats. Such combinations give better absorption rates of CBD by the body.

Of course, your dog will still smell the CBD, but will associate it with the great taste of peanut butter, bacon, etc. Her initial fear of CBD should soon be overcome and she will learn to gulp it down. Your strategy is based on dogs’ love of food.

An easier alternative is to give your dog a specially-developed CBD treat. CBD manufacturers have gone the extra mile by producing CBD treats for dogs. These are mixed with equally appetizing ingredients like bacon, pumpkin, cheese, peanut butter, fish oil, and other dog-preferred ingredients. As a bonus, CBD treats make it far simpler to deliver an accurate CBD dosage to your dog in an easy way.

Giving Your Dog CBD

Plenty of research suggests that CBD may help keep your four-legged family healthy, stress-free, and pain-free.

If you want to integrate CBD into your dog’s daily regime, you should remember that your dog will smell the new ingredient. In the best case, your dog will overlook it. In the worst case, you will have to convince your dog to try it by mixing it with a food that she really likes. Alternatively, you can try one of the many brands of CBD treats for pets available on the market.


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3078300/

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24631776/


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