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The K9 Nose: Can Drug Dogs Smell Alcohol?

Published August 25th, 2023 by 3DK9 LLC

It's commonly known that dogs make valuable members of police forces and security teams thanks to their impressive sense of smell. In fact, dogs are estimated to smell between 1,000 and 10,000 times more sharply than humans. 

Most of the time, dogs in a K9 unit are trained to smell narcotics or explosives. Can drug dogs smell alcohol, too?

3DK9 has years of experience training detection guard dogs. Today, we're going to talk about the possibility of training dogs to detect alcohol, the potential uses, and the potential drawbacks.

Read on to learn more about using drug-detecting dogs to sniff out alcohol.

Do Narcotics Dogs Detect Alcohol?

If you have a narcotic-sniffing dog on your team, that means that you have a dog that has been rigorously trained to sniff out illicit substances, including Schedule I, Schedule II, and Schedule III drugs. Some may only sniff out drugs that are illegal, such as heroin and cocaine, while others may also know how to detect prescription medications that are often abused, like Oxycodone and Vicodin. 

Can narcotics dogs also detect the smell of alcohol? Not inherently, no. If you're partnering with professional K9 unit trainers like 3DK9, it's important to note that we will disclose all substances that one of our dogs has been trained to detect. If it isn't in a dog's file, they aren't going to seek out that scent. 

Can Drug Dogs Smell Alcohol?

Can we train our dogs to detect and alert you to the smell of alcohol? The short answer is yes. 

As we mentioned earlier, dogs have a much stronger sense of smell than humans. This is what makes them excellent companions for hunters but also for police officers, security guards, and homeowners who are looking to increase their home protection. 

However, it takes several weeks' worth of training to ensure that a dog is accurately detecting a specific smell. In order for your dog to detect alcohol, it would need to be taught to seek out that scent and receive a reward each time it demonstrated its recall. Without that process, the smell of alcohol would just be one of the thousands of smells your dog would physically be able to smell but would not react to in any noticeable way.

When Would Alcohol Detection Be Useful?

If you're interested in training a narcotics dog to also detect alcohol, it's important to think about feasible ways to make use of this skill. Three options include schools, public areas like parks, and roadside traffic stops.


Many schools now have a police or security presence to mitigate violence and illegal activity. They may even have a K9 unit to detect possible drugs being sold or used on school grounds. 

In all 50 states, it is illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to purchase or consume alcohol on their own. Even in states where parents can supervise alcohol consumption in minors, it is never legal for students to have alcohol at school. A dog trained to detect alcohol could identify students or faculty who have consumed or are carrying open containers of alcohol on school grounds.

Public Parks

It is illegal to be drunk in public and in many states, it's illegal to consume alcohol outside of designated areas like homes, restaurants, and bars. Unfortunately, many people do consume alcohol in public, which can become especially problematic if they're doing so in family-friendly places.

K9 units can help monitor public parks to mitigate illegal substance use of both drugs and alcohol. This can make parks safer and more appealing for everyone to enjoy.

The Drawbacks of Alcohol Detection in K9 Units

There is a reason why most dogs have not been trained to detect the scent of alcohol. Let's take a look at some of the drawbacks of focusing your dog's training efforts and abilities on alcohol detection.

Alcohol Is Legal in Many Contexts

There are many substances that are illegal in all contexts, whether someone is carrying them in their vehicle, using them at home, or using them in public. That means that any time your K9 unit detects these substances, they are identifying illegal activity.

This becomes tricky when dealing with a substance that is legal in many contexts. While you can train dogs to smell alcohol, you can't train them to only alert you to underage drinkers. That means that in places like concert venues, sporting venues, and airports, your K9 unit could become overwhelmed by the legal presence of alcohol. 

There Are Other Ways to Identify Drunk Drivers

Drinking before or while driving is undoubtedly dangerous and police officers work hard to stop and detain intoxicated drivers. Could an alcohol-detecting dog aid police officers in identifying drunk drivers during traffic stops?

Police officers have other tools and systems in place to detect drunk drivers, including breathalyzers and sobriety tests. Not only are these effective options but they can also determine that the driver, in particular, is intoxicated, as opposed to someone else in the car.

Contact Us About Trained Detection Guard Dogs

Can drug dogs smell alcohol? With focused efforts and training, dogs can learn to identify and alert their handler to alcohol or individuals who have consumed alcohol. However, it isn't a common practice and may not prove as useful as narcotic and explosive detection.

Do you need an expertly trained dog for your police force, security unit, or home protection? 3DK9 is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our training programs.

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