Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Police Dogs Work


Dogs On Patrol
The seizure of approximately 1,500 pounds (680 kg) of marijuana, found by K-9 Breston during the routine check of a self-storage facility
The seizure of approximately 1,500 pounds (680 kg) of marijuana, found by K-9 Breston during the routine check of a self-storage facility

Why do we bother using police dogs at all? For one thing, their sense of smell is almost 50 times more sensitive than a human's. A dog can sniff out criminals, drugs, weapons, and bombs in situations where a human officer would have to search every inch, a dangerous task. In one case, Breston, a Belgian Malinois who works with the Cheektowaga Police Department in Cheektowaga, NY (a suburb of Buffalo), easily sniffed out a shipment of marijuana in heat-sealed Mylar bags, inside plastic-lined crates sealed with foam sealant, inside a closed storage garage. With his sensitive nose and a search warrant, Breston kept $3,400,000 worth of drugs off the streets.

In addition to sensitivity, a dog's sense of smell is picky. It can discern a specific scent even when there are dozens of other scents around. Drug smugglers have tried to fool drug-sniffing dogs by wrapping drugs in towels soaked with perfume, but the dogs find the drugs anyway.

­A police dog's work isn't all about his nose, th­ough. The intimidating growl of a well-trained German shepherd can cause many criminals to surrender instead of running or fighting. "When I bring out the dog, all of a sudden they know they can't reason with him, they can't intimidate him, they can't try to scare him," said Officer Dan Smith, Breston's handler. The very presence of a police dog can prevent physical confrontations.

When a conflict does arise, dogs are faster and stronger than most humans, able to catch a fleeing criminal and clamp down with powerful jaws to apprehend the suspect until other officers arrive. Dogs have more than earned their place in the police forces of the world.


More to Explore