First-Ever Synthetic Drug Sniffing Dog Will Soon Report For Duty

By McCarton Ackerman 11/06/14

The dog was donated by a local Atlanta family who lost their 14-year-old son to synthetic drugs.

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Meet Dakota. Photo via

Drug sniffing dogs are a regular sight on most police forces, but the first-ever dog specifically trained to sniff out synthetic drugs will soon start his first week on the force.

The K-9, named Dakota, is a Springer Spaniel donated by a local family to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department in Atlanta. The dog is named after their 14-year-old son, who passed away from suicide after smoking synthetic marijuana.

“When we get a hold of a tool or we get a hold of a weapon that helps our law enforcement combat or fight these people who will poison our youth with synthetic drugs, that’s a win for us,” said Lance Dyer, the father of Dakota. The dog cost the family about $10,000, but they said it was money well spent. After a bit more training, he will work with a handler inside Douglas County schools. The family also donated a machine last June that helps officers identify illegal drugs at the scene.

However, some drug dogs are now learning to ignore certain substances at the scene of a crime. Several police departments throughout Washington are now training their dogs not to react to marijuana since it’s legal under state law. The Seattle Police Department has even taken steps to desensitize their dogs to marijuana. But even in cities that have not taken this step, officers will no longer be able to obtain a search warrant based on a dog's alert alone.

The Massachusetts Department of Corrections announced in June 2013 that they were implementing a plan for drug dogs to sniff all prison visitors, but the ACLU sued over it last January and inmates declare that it’s a violation of their rights. "Just because I am doing time for drugs doesn't mean my visitors have to be punished also," one prisoner told The Fix. "Can you imagine my 90-year-old grandmother having to get sniffed down by a police dog? She hasn't done anything wrong."

Updated 5/2016: A reader recently brought this story to our attention, which raises questions about Lance Dyer's story and details his failure to pay for the dog. The dog is also back to his original name, Big.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.