Sniffer Dogs ’80% Inaccurate’

Sniffer dogs looking for drugs get it wrong four out of five times, according to figures obtained by a Greens MP in New South Wales (NSW), Australia.

The figures come from a parliamentary question asked by Greens MP David Shoebridge.

14,102 searches were conducted in Australia’s most populous state, which includes Sydney, after a dog sat next to a person, indicating they might be carrying drugs. But, in 11,248 cases, no drugs were found.

Only 2,854 searches – 20 per cent – in the first nine months of this year, resulted in drugs being found, the figures show.

Sniffer dogs are regularly deployed at music events and other large scale events like Mardi Gras as well as in certain locations.

Says Shoebridge:

”Now that we know the error rate is so high, the program needs to be halted. Because of where they operate, police sniffer dogs tend to target young people and Aborigines. If this was happening in the car parks of merchant banks, there would be outrage.”

“No test which has an 80 per cent error rate could be considered a reasonable basis on which to conduct an intrusive public search of a citizen going about their daily business,” he said.

“Every one of them was then subject to a humiliating public search, some were taken aside for a full strip search, only to be found to be carrying no drugs at all.”

The secretary for the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, argued that the use of sniffer dogs infringed people’s freedoms and could only be justified if it resulted in a high rate of detections.

Don Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, said that the high number of searches relative to detections is not an indication of failure.

”The question is how many people would carry drugs if not for sniffer dogs,” Dr. Weatherburn said.

But Dr. Matthew Dunn from Deakin University, who authored a 2009 study on ecstasy users and drug detection dogs, says that the majority of people he surveyed were undeterred.

He says, if anything, the dogs encouraged drug users to find ways around being caught.

“What we found was that the majority had come into contact with a drug detection dog in the six months preceding the interview, but they don’t really see them as a deterrent,” he said.

“If they knew dogs would be in an event that they were attending they would conceal their drugs better, avoid the dogs, take their drugs before they went to the event or change some pattern about what they did.”

“If the purpose is to get drug dealers and traffickers, the dogs are not serving their purpose,” Dr Dunn said.

“If the purpose is to be a visual deterrent, I think just having police out is enough of a deterrent. I don’t think they need to have the dogs there as well.”

Related stories:

Is It Time To Start Drug Testing Politicians?

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients is “Compassionate”

Dog Cloning: Would You Clone if the Price Were Right?

Picture by Annie Mole


Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago


Nancy L.
Nancy L4 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Hilary E.
Hilary E4 years ago

chill out people, no one is attacking theses dogs. Clearly they aren't being trained properly.

Marianna B M.


Chad A.
Chad Anderson4 years ago

I have heard that there are many disparities in the training of the dogs and the handlers so that dogs that are not really trained are often employed. This was supposedly an issue with the rapid expansion in the wake of the drug war and 9/11 in the US. When properly trained, dogs should be extremely effective.

Alicia N.
Alicia N4 years ago


Malcolm H.
Malcolm H.4 years ago

Really this amounts to nothing more than police being used and authorised to enforce the legal monopoly of alcohol on the recreational drug industry. niether of the drugs commonly involved are as harmful or even nearly as harmful to the body, or society in general as alcohol and all one needs do is cross from NSW to Canberra and marijuana at least is no longer illegal. This has gone on long enough, the use of police to support suppression of one type of drug, to support the monopoly of another is reprehensible.

Carol B.
Carol B4 years ago


Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago

Dogs are not Gods- right 100% of the time.

Cora B.
Cora Bird4 years ago

All I know is that a friend of mine was found in the Timothy McVeigh bombing aftermath in 1995 and she wouldn't have been found if the dog hadn't been there as it didn't look to the searchers like anybody was alive in that part of the building. I feel that dog was accurate and so does she.