Pets for Surveillance

A BBC story about dogs that can detect drugs makes me think about double-duty pets:

Retired sniffer dogs that have spent years on police patrol are now working in the private sector in the US – sniffing out teenagers’ bedrooms.

Parents can rent a dog and handler for $200 (£125) an hour from Sniff Dogs, a firm operating in New Jersey and Ohio.

Can there really be trust if parents are using sophisticated surveillance, albeit dogs, to monitor their home? My guess is a severe communication problem exists that needs to be fixed if a parent would rather call in big dogs instead of investing in an evening chat over dinner and finding ways to build genuine trust. I say big dogs since police apparently prefer labs due to the intimidating size and people skills, even though the breed is more likely to cause damage to homes while sniffing.

On the other hand, the constant threat of surveillance will give kids a leg up on law enforcement as they grow up in such a system and learn evasion techniques from an early age. Bring in the dogs to teach your kids how to avoid law enforcement techniques. Nice. Or maybe parents will use Sniff Dogs in cahoots with their kids as a test to make sure law enforcement will not find anything, should the real dogs appear.

Imagine parents training their pets to detect things they do not want in their home. Rather than renting, this could be a whole new angle to obedience training, as well as change the dynamic of getting your kids/friends a puppy.

Personally I wonder if parents should also be using dogs to find kids with cigarettes, rather than just marijuana, due to the significant health issues of the former. Strangely, I noticed cigarettes are not on the list:

Sniff Dogs can detect most recreational and illegal substances including marijuana, heroine, methamphetamine, cocaine, Xanax, and Ecstasy. As new drugs enter the market we will bring that new skill to our dogs.

Xanax? It does say recreational. Not sure what that includes. Coffee? Ironically, Sniff Dogs makes the argument that marijuana is harmful to your health because it is just as bad as cigarettes:

And keep in mind, marijuana is by no means harmless to the health: Marijuana users may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers have, such as chronic cough and more frequent chest colds. The daily use of 1 to 3 marijuana joints can produce the same lung damage and potential cancer risk as smoking five times as many cigarettes.

Ok, no citation or reference makes me skeptical of this claim but even if I accept it at face value, I am still curious why/if the dogs do not get trained to detect cigarettes. Maybe they assume even humans can detect cigarette use on their own? Or maybe the handlers smoke so many cigarettes the dogs can’t distinguish?

There is a very familiar sounding security disclaimer on the Sniff Dogs FAQ:

The search is a “snapshot in time,” meaning we cannot guarantee you that drugs were not present last week or won’t turn up next weekend. A Sniff Dogs search can only discover what it currently present.

That brings me back to my point above. If a parent wants a surveillance system, why not train a pet to detect things? That seems like a useful and more personal service, just like selling a business a set of security tools so they may protect themselves as they see fit rather than offer them penetration tests. The only problem with the training, other than cost and time, is probably that kids will be very effective at cross-training or even re-tuning the pet sensors.

One last thought: Are there dogs that can find lost socks? What about comic books, obscene images or liberal thinking?

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