Working Dogs & Recovery

dog - tunrspitThe term working dog may conjure a herding collie or a barking guard dog behind a chain link fence but the fact is every dog is always working.  The play of tug-of-war or fetch are derivatives of natural tasks.  Historically dogs search, pull and carry while trainers study the application of a gifted nose, wagging tail and strong legs.  Scientifically, we know that companion dogs can smooth the edges of PTSD and bridge social anxiety.  Nothing is more inspiring that a Guide Dog, sharing the crosswalk with their blind charge.  Nursing homes and classrooms for special needs students benefit from some little wagging joy pooch.  Posts of dogs and puppies calm nerves and videos force bubbling laughter.  As the joke goes, put your dog and your husband in the trunk, drive around the block, open the trunk and see who is happy to see you.  Dogs are an A+ creation.

dog 1From German shepherds to giant schnauzers and, recently, pit bulls; dogs can deter with a growl.  It is easy to tell what is play and what is a warrior’s duty.  Even a barking poodle behind a door can advise an intruder to move along.  Hitler used them in the camps.  Swiss rescue used them in the mountains.  Homeland security uses them to find explosives.  TSA uses them to inspect cargo.  Residential addiction recovery uses them to keep everyone safe and honest.

Scent Detection Dogs
dog 3Using a natural skill, certain dogs are able to take their nose to work and inform their handler that something lies ahead or within.

One ala-non member told a story of her mother hiding scotch in a pump hairspray bottle.  Another talked about hidden stash poisoning the day and the whole recovery environment.  Trust was vanishing as the mystery widened.  Today centers use scent detection trained dogs to keep the residence clean and the residents on notice.  No matter the illusion of intruding or a loss of privacy the treatment center resident has relinquished such autonomy; trading it in for recovery.  Sherlock, the shepherd, is deterring clients from making some bad decisions that would contribute to an addiction relapse.  Miss Marple, the lab, is actually keeping clients accountable.

The Search
Sweeping from room to room, under beds, in hampers or duffles, the dog leads the workforce to assure everyone that the place is drug free.  The handler is giving commands, maybe using a clicker or whistle.  Generally there is an advocate for the clients in the posse.  It is quiet, serious and swift.  The dog moves through and sits upon a discovery.  The handler notes the spot.  The residence manager is given the “treasure map.”

 Dogs have been successfully trained to detect:

  • Popular street drugs (heroin, cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamine)
  • Synthetic drugs (K2 or Spice, Bath Salts)
  • Popular prescription drugs (OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet)
  • Alcohol

Substance Discovery
Depending on the services employed, handlers carry detection kits and can advise the client advocate on nature of the find.  How the product is disposed of is the decision of the residence management.  Most likely, the handler is not contracted to remove the substances for disposal.

Schools and Detention Centersdog 6
Having an extraordinary sense of smell and an infinite desire to please owners, scent detection dogs are ready to work.  American public schools began using them in Texas, inspecting lockers and book packs. It was seen by authorities as an effective tool for safety and a strong deterrent for bringing drugs and alcohol on a campus.  Current use has widened in application of controlling violence, weapon and substance detection but is, many times, cost prohibitive in poorer public schools.

Dogs are also enlisted in the armed services, law enforcement. border patrol and immigration.  Each is paired with a lifelong handler and trained for specific detection.  Bombs to marijuana are on their resumes.  Stories abound that they would rather be working than taking the day off though it is said that a Guide dog knows when the walking leash is off, they can relax into the usual domesticated dog life of lying on the couch and chewing a bone.

Training is serious business to the handler but is extended play to the dog.  Tugging a towel with lots of praise is expanded into a towel wrapped around the contraband.  The interactive game is the source of joy, not the substance itself.  It is a regimen of association.  Sniffing, discovery, (encouragement), communication of a success, releasing the substance with pride and great praise.

The temptation is to pet, to say hello, to call to the working dog as if it was Lassie or Snoopy but don’t bother.  The working dog is fully engaged in a partnership of importance.
Detection + Praise = Satisfaction.