Frequently Asked Questions

1. What drugs do the Sherlock Hounds dogs find?

The dogs find; alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, ketamine and ecstasy. The dogs can find other forms of these drugs including prescription narcotics such as vicodin, percocet, oxycodone and codeine. In addition the dogs alert on gunpowder. The decision to train the dogs to find alcohol and gunpowder was made specifically for the school environment.


2. How are the dogs trained?

All of our dogs are play trained. This means that when the dogs find the correct scent, they get to play with a ball. This is why the high retrieve drive is necessary. Finding drugs, alcohol and gunpowder becomes a game. The dogs think the handlers have hidden their "toys" in a school or anywhere we are working. They stay motivated to work because they know they will get to play their favorite game of catch and/or tug-o-war.


3. What characteristics does Sherlock Hounds look for in a dog?

First and foremost, Sherlock Hounds looks for dogs with friendly, outgoing personalities and a high retrieve drive. This means that the dogs are not only approachable but must have the desire to play with a ball and retrieve non-stop. The high retrieve drive is necessary as all the dogs are play trained. We test our dogs with the same standards as any therapy dog program. Those standards include the dogs handling stressful environments and various types of flooring from carpet to slick floors. Many rescue dogs fit our criteria as they usually do not make great pets because of their high energy. As a result Sherlock Hounds predominantly uses rescue dogs, giving them a second chance in life. We are also lucky to have had dogs donated to us from breeders.


4. How long does it take to train a dog?

With the right characteristics, the initial training of a drug dog is a surprisingly short time—three to four months. Sherlock Hounds sends our dogs to Canis Major owned by Mackey Kelly in Oklahoma for their primary training. Mackey has trained dogs for police work, search and rescue, tracking, and narcotics work. Law enforcement programs nationwide seek his dogs with his exceptional training. Mackey has also trained dogs for school programs such as Sherlock Hounds and understands the requirements for dogs who work in schools. Once a dog completes its training with Mackey, the Sherlock Hounds handler will go to Oklahoma for an intensive work session. Each year, handlers and their dogs return to Mackey for a recertification.


5. What breed is best for a drug dog?

Any dog with the characteristics listed in question number three makes a great drug dog. The only breeds with a disadvantage for sniffing would be breeds such as pugs or dogs with "smushed" noses. Sherlock Hounds uses Labrador retrievers because of their friendly personalities and ability to work well in a school environment. Sherlock Hounds also uses terriers—both a Jack Russell and a Smooth Fox Terrier. Other common breeds associated with drug dogs include German Shepherds and the Belgian Malinois. While these breeds are excellent working dogs, Sherlock Hounds will not use them in our program because of their intimidating presence. Sherlock Hounds wants to deter students from bringing unwanted items to school, not intimidate them.


6. Why can dogs legally be used to find drugs in schools?

The Supreme Court has made several rulings regarding the use of dogs in schools. While students do have privacy rights while at school, the Supreme Court ruled that lockers, parking lots, classrooms and basically the school building are the property of the school and students are therefore renting the property. Because of this, dogs are allowed to check cars in the parking lot, lockers, locker rooms, bathrooms, hallways, classrooms, etc. While police officers must have probable cause to perform a search, schools are only required to have reasonable suspicion. However when a dog alerts, this is considered probable cause, giving the school more than enough cause to search whatever item the dog alerted on.


7. What do the Sherlock Hounds handlers enjoy the most about their jobs?

We love working with the dogs and watching the students and staff interact and enjoy the dogs. We all love to make schools a safe learning environment. We are often thanked, not only from staff, but from students as well, for making their school a safe place. Our dogs love their jobs and are excited to be a part of each school. Knowing that the dogs are making a difference and helping kids make better choices is extremely rewarding.


8. What happens when a dog alerts and/or finds contraband?

The dogs will let a handler know that they smell a scent they are trained to find by doing what is called an active alert. This means that the dog will scratch where they smell the scent in order to alert the handler. Over time, handlers become familiar with their dogs and can accurately read their dogs. When a dog alerts at a school, the handler will write down information such as a locker number or car license plate. The school personnel are notified and the school administrators will check where the dog alerted. Handlers may allow the dog to help further such as checking multiple backpacks found in a locker to pinpoint where the scent is coming from. The dogs are rewarded with their toy if they find something with a correct scent. If during a check of a student’s locker, car, etc. contraband is found, the school will determine the next course of action shaped by the school district’s policy. Sherlock Hounds will always write up an Interdiction Report when contraband is found.


9. Does Sherlock Hounds carry liability insurance?

Yes, Sherlock Hounds has liability insurance; however, no claims have ever been made.

10. How do students react to Sherlock Hounds dogs in their school?

We find that our dogs quickly become celebrities in the schools. Students love petting the dogs and learn their names. We are often asked questions such as: how old are the dogs? When are their birthdays? What breeds are they? Teachers and administrators often stop to pet the dogs. The dogs love their jobs because of the great attention they receive and of course because they love playing with their toys.

11. How is Sherlock Hounds proactive?

We work to make the program proactive. We don’t want to make a bust, although that certainly happens. Our message is that the dogs are coming to the schools on random days at random times so don’t bring anything to school that shouldn’t be there or the dogs will find it. Sherlock Hounds handlers work hard to vary their schedules and not create a pattern at any school. If necessary we will schedule our visits with the school, but we have found the most success with our program by showing up randomly. We believe in giving assemblies at a school before we begin working so that we can answer questions for students, staff and parents. Obviously we always encourage kids to make the best choices possible and we tell them to use the dogs as a scapegoat to get out of peer pressure. An example would be the pressure to carry contraband for a friend. Hopefully students would tell their friend they can’t do that because the dogs might come to school.


12. What type of certification do Sherlock Hounds handlers and canines complete?

At this time, Colorado does not offer certification for narcotics canines and handlers.  For this reason, Sherlock Hounds takes several steps to verify the accuracy of our dogs and handlers.  The dogs train on a weekly basis.  Along with the weekly training, each handler keeps a detailed journal about every training and work session.  Once a year the dogs and handlers travel to Oklahoma to work with canine trainer Mackey Kelly where together they make sure all the dogs are working up to our accurate and high-quality standards.

Additional information