Drug detection dogs in Australia: More bark than bite?

Sophie Hickey, Fairlie Mcilwraith, Raimondo Bruno, Allison Matthews, Rosa Alati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction and Aims: Canines are often used by police for drug detection and deterrence. However, their effectiveness has been questioned. This paper aims to describe the experience of regular illicit drug users when in contact with drug detection dogs.

Design and Methods: Regular ecstasy users (n=2127) were interviewed across Australia between 2008 and 2010 as part of the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System.

Results: Over the 3year period, there was increased visibility of drug detection dogs by regular ecstasy users. New South Wales was the jurisdiction with the most reported sightings, mainly occurring at festivals or live music events. Despite this police presence, however, detection and deterrence rates remained low. Approximately two-thirds of participants who had seen the drug detection dogs had drugs in their possession at the most recent sighting, yet less than 7% were positively identified by dogs. Further, the majority of participants in possession of drugs took no actions after sighting the dogs, whereas a small group hastily consumed the drugs.

Discussion and Conclusions: The low proportion of reported positive notifications from the dogs by the participants who had drugs on them at the time of sighting questions the accuracy and effectiveness of this procedure. Despite the increased visibility of police drug detection dogs, regular ecstasy users continue to use and be in possession of illicit drugs in public, suggesting a limited deterrence effect. The hasty consumption of drugs upon sighting the dogs also raises health concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)778-783
Number of pages6
JournalDrug and Alcohol Review
Issue number6
Early online date9 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


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