Drug Dogs 101- An Expert Opinion

I meet interesting people through this blog. Today I had the chance to talk with Steven Nicely of K9 Consultants of America. Mr. Nicely was kind enough to answer a few questions about drug dogs. Mr. Nicely is a consultant out of Austin and an expert witness on drug dogs. Here is our Q&A.

1. What is your background/experience?
I started in law enforcement and then K9 while in the Marine Corps during the 1970’s. You can find my CV at http://k9consultantsofamerica.com/CVupdage3.htm

2. How accurate are drug dogs in your experience?
Currently, the dogs I have reviewed are at 52% accurate. This means that 52% of their responses in field conditions drugs are actually found.

3. Why so low?
The training and testing (certification standards) are not designed to identify things that can cause a dog to respond improperly so they can be eliminated.

4. What is a “cold find”?
This term along with many others used by dog handlers and trainers is jargon. My experience with those that use it means drugs were believed to be present but are not long.

5. What are some common mistakes handlers make?
The first and most common mistake made by handlers believes their dog is always correct.
Handlers receiving information about traffic stop is another. The fact that a person was traveling from a source point to a designation point, nervous, perhaps contradicted his statements does not make the dog perform any better. They have no reason to know this information. As a matter of fact it can cause a response based on “Clever Hans.”
6. How could the drug dog system be improved?
Require by law handlers record every time the dog searches to provide PC, the number of times the dog responds, and the number of times drugs were actually found and tested. On a new dog if at any time it would become impossible for the dog to be at 80% of its responses producing drugs it is removed from service, retrained, and retested. If the second time it fails a decision has to be made if it is the dog, handler, or trainer causing the problems. Replace the one causing the problem.

Prosecute a handler in Texas for Official Misconduct if he or she fails to keep those records, and for Official Oppression if a dog that is below 80% is used and a search is conducted as a result of the dog’s response. This seems harsh but sadly most of the trainers and handlers I have met do not want to improve their dogs. They need to think as behavior scientist when it comes to the training of their dogs, and not what will get me in someone’s vehicle. If they thought as behavioral scientist and were constantly trying to improve their dog’s they would get a lot more drugs off the street.

Contact Information