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August 13, 2020

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Education sector

How drug detection dogs are supporting the education sector

The team at ICTS UK & Ireland explain how drug detection dogs can be a useful method of providing a high profile deterrent of drug misuse in educational institutions, as well as a useful method of educating about the dangers of drugs to young people. 

Far-reaching ‘county lines’ drug dealing networks mean that young people are increasingly exposed to the dangers of drug misuse, and lockdown has exacerbated the problem. Drug offences were up 27% before lockdown eased. As schools, colleges and universities prepare to welcome pupils back for the start of the academic year, this will be a factor institutions will need to take into account.

Canine deployment is an effective resource to support local authorities, police forces and educational institutions. Drug detection dogs can provide a high-profile deterrent to drug misuse and raise drug awareness amongst pupils in an effective manner.

ICTS UK & Ireland’s Canine Security Division is an example of a provider which for the past 10 years has worked closely with over 60 institutions across the UK, supporting drug awareness programmes and PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) lessons. Our team of drug detection dogs and handlers offer a range of different approaches, as well as a drugs awareness presentation which includes up-to-date briefings on ‘county lines’ issues.

Each institution varies in character and requirements. It is important that the drug detection dogs in education programmes are flexible and adjusted to the specific needs of the educational locations and premises. The Canine Teams can be highly visible or more discreet as they carry out drug sweeps in classrooms, communal areas and playgrounds/campuses.

Jed Marshall, Divisional Director Canine Security Services, ICTS UK & Ireland says: “We provide an opportunity for early intervention without criminalising young people. Our highly trained dogs, principally spaniels and labradors, are extremely popular with the students and are always well received by staff and governors. The dogs really catch pupils’ attention and assist in the delivery of what is an essential life lesson. 

“All of our dog handlers are DBS cleared to an Enhanced Level for working in schools, colleges and universities. They are also drug awareness trained and have a sensitive, professional approach when working in what can sometimes be a challenging environment.”

Why are sniffer dogs so good at what they do?

  • The canine olfactory system (nose) has up to 300 million scent receptors and a dog’s sense of smell is up to 10,000 times better than humans, so are well-equipped for detecting substances.
  • Detection dogs can be trained to identify several different types of scents and articles related/associated to those scents. This can include the target source (such as an explosive or drug), or any associated equipment related to the crime through contamination of the target source.
  • Compact, mobile, rapid searching and with the capability to search both metallic and non-metallic items, specially trained detection dogs are ideal for searching a vast range of environments. These include airports; shopping centres, theatres and concert venues; sports events; public spaces; occupied buildings; derelict buildings; routes and vehicles.

Additional advice for educational institutions

CPNI has produced useful information on standards relating to detection dogs.

The Government has also put together advice for schools and educational institutions for dealing with drugs, which you can find here. The guidance covers some of the most common questions raised by school staff about drugs, and explains the relevant powers school leaders have in relation to searching and confiscating drugs.

Included within this is that “schools should ensure pupils have access to and knowledge of up-to-date information on sources of drugs.”

How are canine sniffer dogs trained to detect drugs?

A drug sniffer dog or drug detection dog is a dog that is trained to use its sense of smell to detect a variety of substances including drugs. Their sense of smell is 2,000 times stronger, and 50 times more sensitive than that of a human, which is why sniffer dogs are used for a number of security operations.


Sniffer dogs have no interest in the drugs themselves. What they are actually searching for is their favourite toy. Their training programme has led them to associate that toy with the smell of drugs. The sniffer dogs’ strong desire for the reward drives them to seek out what they have been trained to find.

Drug detection dogs are taught not to make a fuss and to passively alert their handlers when they smell the drugs, ensuring they do not cause damage to personal or business property.

During the early stages of training the sniffer dog will receive a reward when it displays any form of recognition of the target scent. As the dog’s skills progress, the reward will only be given when the dog responds with the desired reaction (e.g. sit, stand, stare, down, bark, etc…).

Canine sniffer dogs and their handlers undergo extensive training for months in order to be certified and are successful because of their ability to work as a team. They will carry out testing and retraining throughout their careers to ensure their skills are reliable and up to standard. Dogs typically stay assigned to the handler they were trained with, and the team is re-tested together.

The Education sector is just one of the many sectors in which ICTS UK & Ireland’s Canine Security Division operates. ICTS provides training and security screening for drugs, explosives, firearms, currency, pyrotechnics and also mobile phones.

Find out more from ICTS UK & Ireland.

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