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Can Drug Dogs Smell Edibles?

Published November 1st, 2023 by 3DK9 LLC

Dogs are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. They can learn to mimic some of our facial expressions, communicate through buttons, and even do simple math. Yet there's one thing they can do that we could never learn: identifying the scent of illegal drugs.

Drug-detecting dogs are a common feature at public gatherings, festivals, and schools. They keep people safe and the premises secure from illicit substances of all kinds. The thing is, drugs come in so many forms, some of which present a potential challenge to their precision-tuned noses.

Take edibles, for example. Can drug dogs smell edibles?

Let's take a closer look at the abilities of a working dog and see if edible drugs are within their purview.

What Are Edibles?

Edibles are, as the name implies: something you can eat. Among drug users, though, they have a very different meaning. Edibles refer to food products containing a type of drug, typically cannabis.

Edibles can take almost any form you can imagine. They may be mixed into home-baked cookies, brownies, or even popcorn. Many people also purchase edibles in candied form, such as gummy bears or hard lozenges.

There's nothing inherently wrong with using edibles, per se. Many recreational drug users take edibles safely and responsibly in the privacy of their own homes. It only becomes a problem when they take them out in public to places where they don't belong-especially where they're illegal.

The Problem With Edibles

Edibles often turn up in contraband from police raids. It's easy to see why.

At first glance, they appear to be everyday food items or snacks. This may cause law enforcement to mistakenly throw them out or return them to their owners. Due to the recent popularity of edibles, many police now learn to pay closer attention to food that could potentially be an edible.

The issue gets even more complicated when you look at security for events, workplaces, and public spaces. Guards in these areas are usually on the lookout for weapons and illegal drugs, not drugs disguised as food.

In order to avoid stopping up the arrival line, they may easily overlook suspect food products. If they find them while performing rote pat-downs and poking through bags, it doesn't usually raise any red flags.

Drug-sniffing dogs are the crème de la crème when it comes to finding drugs on a person or their belongings. So, can these drug-detecting animals find drugs when people mix them into food?

Can Drug Dogs Smell Edibles?

A dog's sense of smell is thousands of times more refined and sensitive than a human's. This reason, and the fact that a dog is man's best friend, makes them perfectly suited to the job. During drug detection training, they learn how to uniquely identify the scent of drugs such as the following:

  • Cannabis and marijuana products
  • Opioids and opiate compounds
  • LDS and other psilocybin types
  • Explosive compounds

Most dogs only learn the scents of scheduled drugs like the above. But in reality, you can train a dog to detect any scent. Even drugs that have only recently become a problem, such as fentanyl, are well within a dog's ability to detect.

There is a limit, however. The average dog can only learn 6 to 8 unique scents. If you're looking for a certain substance in particular, you'd need a dog whose training covers that scent.

Additionally, dogs can identify scents similar to those they were trained to learn. Cocaine and heroin-both types of processed opioids-have close enough scents that a dog can learn one and detect them both.

So, if an edible has any sort of illegal substance, there's a K9 dog that can find it. The only real limiting factor is whether the dog in question knows that particular scent.

What About the Smell of Edibles?

A common question people have is whether the smell of edibles will mask the underlying drug scent. After all, an edible has a high food-to-drug ratio. A 20-gram cannabis cookie might only contain a few milligrams of THC.

You'd think, with good reason, that the delicious aroma of chocolate and cookie dough would "hide" the smell of marijuana.

This is known as a red herring: a strong, overpowering smell that distracts dogs from their target scent. It originates from an apocryphal story about escaped convicts who would slather themselves in strong-smelling red herring fish. They did this to lead pursuing dogs off their trails.

Though a fun story, the idea is false. Dogs have strong nose receptors, so strong that they are inundated by thousands of scents everywhere they go. Their olfactory processing is sufficiently advanced to tell one scent from another and home in on it.

Long story short, the smell of food will not prevent a dog from finding illegal drugs.

Will a Dog Try to Find Food?

Another question people ask is whether the dog will want to eat the edibles it finds. Dogs love eating human food, as you can no doubt observe from your own pet. It stands to reason that a hungry dog might lose focus when it gets a whiff of a snack.

Some might worry that a hungry dog would lead security personnel to false positives. The dog might find some cookies because they're food, not because the cookies are edibles. This could lead to some uncomfortable interactions with innocent guests.

There's nothing to worry about here. These are highly-trained working dogs. Similar to other service dogs, they have far more discipline than the average pet.

The smell of food will not present a problem for drug-detecting dogs. They are conditioned to receive a reward for finding illegal drugs and ignore clean food.

Bump Up Your Event Security

Can drug dogs smell edibles? Yes, they can smell illegal drugs, whether they are in plastic containers or baked into food. They won't get distracted by the scent of food, and they are capable of singling out a wide range of substances.

3DK9 supplies precision-trained dogs capable of everything from finding illegal substances, to detaining intruders and thieves. Our dogs serve the entire United States with pride. Schedule a consultation with us and secure your event with 3DK9.

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