Police and customs dogs are trained to locate narcotics, currency, counterfeit currency and weapons while other dogs work at border crossings to find prohibited products like certain agricultural products or parts of endangered species.
At the Czech Republic Police Regional Headquarters, 10 specially trained police dogs have been able to distinguish the individual scents of identical and non-identical twins even though each pair of twins tested lived in the same house and ate the same food as one another.
Police in France have used trained German and Belgian shepherds to help resolve criminal cases
. These detection dogs
undergo a two-year training program and then are able to establish whether an individual has been present at a crime scene. The dogs have helped resolve 162 cases
A rescued male German Shepherd cross named “Frankie” dog was trained to identify the presence of thyroid cancer in humans with an 88.2 percent accuracy. The study’s lead investigator David Bodenner, MD, PhD, from the University of Arkansas, said that scent dogs could be used to detect cancer (through the scent of human urine samples.) at early stages and assist in avoiding unnecessary surgery. He also said that the usual method of diagnosing thyroid cancer involves fine-needle aspiration which is more invasive and only very slightly more accurate than the results obtained by “Frankie”.
In Argentina, “Train”, a scat detection dog and his handler assisted scientists by identifying scat of jaguars, pumas, ocelots, oncillas, and bush dogs which the scientists collected and analyzed. The scientists could then develop models for movement corridors between that region’s protected areas.
There are many other ways dogs work in scent detection but scent detection is not just for working dogs
. Family dogs can do this too and there seems to be an activity and organization for every interest. For those who like to test their training, there are trials and competitions. The work can also be useful. For example, dogs can learn to find items for their owners and recover missing pets or join a Search and Rescue organization
and search for missing people
Tracking, trailing and scent discrimination are three popular activities.
In tracking, the dog follows a scent a human has laid out for them. The dog follows the track where the handler thinks the scent is. The trailing dog is given the scent they need to locate and follows that scent wherever it is strongest. The handler learns to read the body language of their dog so they can interpret the behavior to assess whether the dog is still following the scent, or has switched to another scent or has lost scent. Dogs will “alert” when they have found the scent. Trailing dogs also discriminate between odors. For example, dogs who are trained to search for missing dogs are trained around “decoy” dogs so that the search dog learns to focus on the missing dog and ignore other dogs who may be in the area. They are also trained to give an indication that they have not found the scent.
Other scent discrimination exercises can involve identifying an individual human scent while others use essential oils and other odor sources. In these activities, the dog is trained to find the odor source on certain items or in containers, vehicles and indoor and outdoor search areas depending on the individual scent discrimination activity.
Doing scent work is tiring for dogs and builds confidence in a dog. Dogs who seemingly cannot calm down even after a lot of exercises tend to calm down when doing scent detection. It is also a lot of fun!