I sincerely believe that a dog can be trained to detect the smell of loosely packaged marijuana. I'm less inclined to believe that a dog can be trained to detect vacume-packaged marijuana or powdered drugs like cocaine and heroin. If air cannot enter the package, odor cannot get out.
I have conducted this experiment: I have a pheasant wing, which I can hide in the bushes and my Golden Retriever will dutifully find the wing. Each year at pheasant hunting time, I collect several pheasant wings, vacume-pack and freeze them for training use in the spring. The dog cannot find the vacume-packed wing.
We never hear about the number of times a dog is used in a search, alerts that the vehicle contains drugs, and no drugs are found. It happens. I know of a T-shirt vendor who was headed to the Sturgis Rally years ago who was stopped on the interstate for "weaving in his lane." A dog was employed to determine if there where drugs aboard the box truck. The dog "alerted" and a search then took place wherein all the vendor's inventory was removed from the panel van, every box was opened and tossed in search of drugs that did not exist. The dog was wrong and falsely signaled that the box contained drugs. The vendor was given a warning for "weaving in his lane" and left to repack his boxes and reload them in his truck with no apology for his inconvenience.
I remain convinced that these incidents are more frequent than any reasonable lawmaker would tolerate.
How many people have been searched because a "drug dog" was mistaken? How many bags of luggage have been searched? And now there is a Florida case where a dog alerted at the front door of a residence.
There are multiple problems with so-called "drug dogs."
1. The public and the court system has been convinced that dogs are infallible. In fact, they are less reliable than polygraph tests, which are not admissible in court.Finally, retrieving dogs (Labradors, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Golden Retrievers) all have the ability to learn body movement signals from their handlers. A handler could easily train a dog to alert simply by giving the dog a body signal, such as folding his arms in front of him. A dishonest handler could train the dog to alert with a voice command such as "Find It."
2. Dogs cannot be cross-examined. This is particularly convenient for the prosecution because generally the only witness who can testify about a dog, is its handler, who has a stake in the case.
3. Defense attorneys do not know about dog training and do not know to ask questions like:
a. Officer, did you train your dog to detect the presence of drugs?
Dogs are rarely trained by the officers who eventually handle them.
b. In the course of your dog's training, was it ever trained to alert when anything other than drugs is detected?
The dog's handler has no way of knowing the answer to this question, unless he personally trained the dog or was present during every stage of the dog's training. If he didn't train the dog, he has no way of knowing and therefore his answer must be: "I don't know." This is significant because some dogs are trained to detect everything from wild game, fruit, money, cadavers and living human beings.
c. Has your dog ever – during its training or since you've been its handler – alerted when no drugs were found?
Dogs learn by trial and error. They are rewarded during training for correctly alerting. They will, during training, alert just to get the reward. If the handler responds that it hasn't, he's lying. Defense attorneys should ask handlers who respond that the dog has never falsely alerted with: "How do you know, were you present during every training session?"
d. Assuming your dog is house trained, tell us how your dog alerts you that it needs to relieve himself?
The alerts for "I'm hungry," "I have to pee," and "I smell drugs" are all likely to be very similar. The defense attorney's question should then be: "So you don't really know whether the dog was telling you it found drugs or had to pee?"
e. What reward does your dog receive when it successfully alerts you that there are drugs present?
In the early stages of training, often a puppy will receive a reward – usually a treat (I use Braunschweiger) – when it successfully completes a task. Later, the dog will complete the task for a scratch behind the ear and a "Good Boy!"
f. What reward did the dog trainer use when training the dog to go outside to relieve himself?
In this case, the reward is almost always praise from the beginning and there is rarely a treat used to reward peeing outside. Sometimes, when caught in the act of peeing inside, the dog is scolded and physically taken to the door. Defense: So, do you think it is likely a dog is more likely to alert if he knows there is a treat or praise?
Until a dog can be trained to honestly answer questions in cross examination, the practice of using dogs to establish probable cause for a search of a vehicle, home or person, should be outlawed.