K-9 units are increasingly on the front lines of the drug war. News4's Alan Frio got a firsthand look at the extensive training the Metro Police Department's K-9 units undergo to combat strategies used by drug smugglers in Nashville.
The dogs can detect the smallest amounts of marijuana, cocaine, or heroin.
The training begins with a toy. In the case of Metro K-9 Officer Gunner, the toy was a tightly wrapped towel with a scent of illegal drugs.
"The dog will pick it up with its mouth, and we'll play tug-of-war," an officer told us. "And while he's doing that, he's smelling that odor."
Gunner's training lasted 50 days, and it clearly paid off.
In a demonstration provided to News4, explosives were hidden in the wheel wells of an SUV. In seconds, Gunner indicated he found a scent by simply sitting near the wheel.
While Metro PD doesn't keep statistics on the amount of drug detected by K-9s, we were told "it's significant."
However, smugglers are trying to find ways around the dogs.
"For a narcotic, they may try to put coffee around it, or package it where it's vacuum sealed," the officer said. "[Gunner's] nose is still strong enough, he can smell that -- get to that odor."
Police tell us these dogs are used at airports and when there is a reasonable suspicion that drugs are in a vehicle during a traffic stop.