Pot-Sniffing Dogs Are Enjoying an Early Retirement


With marijuana legal in so many states, the dogs’ work is no longer needed.

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15, 2021

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Marijuana legalization is creating job opportunities around the country, but one career field is taking a hit: K-9 dog units. Once a centerpiece in the War on Drugs, drug-sniffing dogs are quickly becoming a relic of the past in states where cannabis is legal.

In Virginia alone, state law enforcement leaders plan to retire 13 dogs and smaller city police and sheriff’s offices plan to retire one or two dogs, according to the Associated Press. Some agencies plan to buy and train new dogs who will only detect drugs that remain illegal, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. 

In some cases, law enforcement is bailing on K-9 units altogether because the cost of buying and training a new dog is about $15,000.

Related: Should You Use CBD To Treat Your Dog? The Research Is Encouraging.


God for dogs, bad for humans

In Cumberland County, Virginia, Sheriff Darrell Hodges told the AP that his office recently retired a Belgian Malinois named Mambo. His department won’t buy another dog because of a lack of funding.

“You work with them day in and day out, and they become part of you, and to just take it away is kind of tough,” he said. However, he said Mambo is doing great after getting adopted by one of the officers.

“The dog is actually living a wonderful life. He has his own bedroom in a house and is getting spoiled rotten,” he said,

Getting to live at home with their handler — the officer they work with on the force — is a frequent destination for retired police dogs. For example, six marijuana-detecting dogs who retired in Okaloosa County, Florida, last year all went to live with their handlers.

Related: Martha Stewart’s CBD For Pets Brand Expected To Hit Markets This Fall


As it turns out, you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Drug-sniffing dogs face retirement because marijuana is just one of many drugs experts train dogs to detect. With marijuana legal, it makes a big difference if a dog detects an illegal drug and it turns out to be cannabis, not heroin or meth. 

“We won’t use our dogs trained in marijuana because that could be a defense an attorney would raise for a client, to say, ’Which odor did the K-9 alert on — was it marijuana or was it an illegal drug?” Bedford County (Virginia) Sheriff Mike Miller told AP.

Once trained to detect marijuana, it’s next to impossible to get dogs to stop detecting it. And obviously, a dog can’t tell the difference between an illegal amount of marijuana or a smaller, legal amount.

That’s made pot-sniffing dogs increasingly obsolete, at least in terms of working a job. In terms of living life, it’s hard to imagine dogs aren’t enjoying spending time in a loving home rather than helping track down people possessing pot. 

And it might be all for the best, anyway, as a famous Chicago Tribune analysis a decade ago showed drug-sniffing dogs were accurate only 44 percent of the time. Dog experts believe this is primarily caused by handlers unwittingly cueing the dogs to alert them to the presence of drugs. 

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