Mounties have had success teaching old dogs new tricks.
A total of 135 RCMP police dogs have been trained to sniff out fentanyl, as the deadly drug continues to threaten lives of users and law enforcement officers.
On Tuesday, the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre held a demonstration of their methods in teaching these dogs to find the burgeoning drug.
RCMP Sgt. Gary Creed said they are using the same techniques to teach the dogs to find other drugs, but are now adding the fentanyl scent to the dogs repertoire.
“It took about 10 minutes before the dog started to recognize it’s another odour I need to learn and know,” said Creed. “After about a day of training and we’re comfortable that the dogs have it. They’ve shown us they can have it that quickly.”
This training was used in February in Chilliwack, when a police dog sniffed out 12,000 fentanyl tablets in a bust.
Cpl. Dan Block and police dog Eve demonstrated how she finds fentanyl. Eve sniffed around until she located a small sample of fentanyl and would sit. When she is sitting, Block gives Eve a ball to catch, rewarding the behaviour. Eve sniffed out fentanyl in both a wall hole and in luggage.
To make the fentanyl safe for dogs to train with, it is mixed with water until it is a liquid. A small amount of powder fentanyl is combined with water until the powder is combined with the water. The fentanyl is then dropped onto a makeup removal pad and the pad is hid for the dogs to find.
Creed said the dogs are at risk searching in the real world, but noted they do have protocols in place.
“If we know there is fentanyl in a place we’re going to search, that’s not for the dog section. Dogs are here to find what we don’t know,” said Creed, adding dog handlers carry two doses of naloxone and it works on dogs the same way it works on humans.
Insp. Akrum Ghadban, officer in charge of the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre in Innisfail, said they have shared the technique with law enforcement partners in Mexico and the U.S.
“We’re actually making the dogs safer,” said Ghadban. “Before we had this technique, dogs would go out in the world and come across fentanyl every day and not realize it. Now they can detect fentanyl, they’ll provide a sit confirmation and they won’t aggress the hide and pursue to the source. It keeps the dogs and their handlers safer.”
The program is still in it’s infancy, but more seizures are expected because of the new skills and technique.
“This initiative will save lives, and likely already has,” said Kathleen Ganley, Alberta justice minister and solicitor general. “Training police service dogs to sniff out fentanyl will help authorities intercept this deadly drug before it makes it on to our streets.”