Professor Nowotny, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange in the University of Sussex’s School of Engineering and Informatics had determined that animals may not single out a specific odor when they look for a substance. He has found that animals may find it easier to detect a collection of odors instead of a single substance. If this is true, then most of the detection dog training that focuses on teaching a dog to look for one odor rather than a scent picture, may not be the best way to train a dog.
One single odor does not exist in a natural environment, rather there are a collection of odors. When you consider that it is impossible to isolate a single odor in a natural environment, this discovery makes sense. Of course it is possible and often likely that a single odor is stronger than the surrounding odors, but still it is not the only odor present.
Professor Nowotny suggests that animal and human olfactory systems may not be made to do analytic smelling of pure odors. He uses the example of how an animal will give off pheromones, a complex set of odors, as a form of communication and that it is important that an animal recognize the entire chemical message and not a single element in the chemical message.
For years I have maintained that when teaching a dog scent work that there is no such thing as an uncontaminated scent article. Professor Nowotny has confirmed this with his latest research. Although more studies need to be done, and we should still train our dogs as we have in the past, it does open the door for a less narrow view of what dogs detect and how they detect it and may lead to new training methods.
A new test conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Department for General Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience (Institute of Psychology) at Friedrich Schiller University of Jena illustrated that dogs have a mental picture or an expectation of what they will find at the end of a scent trail based on the scent of the object.
The test was conducted on dogs (police and search and rescue dogs) trained to follow a scent as well as pets not trained to follow a scent. Both groups showed surprise when the object that they found was not the one used to lay the scent trail.
Although this test was not intended to illustrate the mind of the dog, this is further evidence of the mental abilities of dogs showing that they anticipate what will happen in the future based on their surroundings. Many dog owners have seen this behavior in relation to other events. An example is the dog who can anticipate the arrival of a family member when that person comes home at about the same time every day.
It is exciting to anticipate what future studies will show us about the mind of animals.
Dogs are increasingly being trained to detect unusual things. The latest job is detecting the very difficult to find, Hermit beetle and its larva which live for up to three years hidden in places such as hollow trees in wooded areas.
The use of dogs was the brainchild of Dr. Fabio Mosconi of the Italian Agricultural Research Council and Spienza University of Rome. They have successfully trained Teseo, a Golden Retriever, to detect the endangered beetle.
Beetle detection is another job to add to the growing list of things dogs have and are being used to detect. Besides finding the commonly known things, such as drugs, bombs, humans, and agricultural items at airports, dogs have been used to find such items as Wolf scat, Bird nests, toxic mold, old money, lost pets, and gold ore just to name a few. Dogs are also able to alert people to oncoming seizures, low blood sugar and cancer.
Although scientists are still trying to develop a machine that can equal the scenting capabilities of dogs, they have yet to succeed. Dogs are truly man’s best friend performing so many jobs other than detection work.
K9 Fraud! Fraudulent Handling of Police Search Dogs, by Resi Gerritsen & Ruud Haak; Publisher, Detselig Enterprises LTD Alberta, Canada; ISBN: 978-55059-393-8, $27.95, 216 pgs.
This is a very interesting book and one of the most unusual books that I have reviewed. While book is primarily about police dogs and scent specific work, it is very applicable for SAR units. Each chapter has a number of real cases which are reviewed. The lessons in this book can be applied to all SAR disciplines.
The authors refer to studies and tests that have been conducted over the past hundred plus years to verify how and why dogs work. For example they address the studies done to determine if dogs follow human scent or the disturbance on the ground.
Each chapter reviews actual cases and why there was fraud or not. Although the book points out flaws in handling and training, it is not done in an accusatory manner. The authors explain the common mistakes that dog handlers make which lead to fraud.
The case studies covered in this book are from around the world including some better known USA cases and are lessons for the SAR dog handler. They are also interesting to read for everyone else.
What is most important about this book are the lessons that the SAR dog handler can learn about how to properly handle cases that will hold up in court as well as how to properly train and handle their dogs. I highly recommend this book. An added benefit of this book is as a guide for lawyers and other people who are involved in legal cases that use canine evidence.
The chapters are:
Chapter 1: Fraud with Scent Identification Line-ups
Chapter 2: Dog’s Responsiveness to Human Gestures
Chapter 3: Fraud with Tracking Dogs
Chapter 4: Scent Research and Tracking Experiments
Chapter 5: Fraud with Mantrailing
Chapter 6: Human Odor and Dog’s Scent Perception
Chapter 7: Scent Problems and Training Problems
Chapter 8: Avoiding and Preventing Fraud
Section 1: Scent Identification Line-ups
Section 2: Management Attention: Intentional Fraud
Section 3: Civilians in Criminal Investigations
Section 4: Contamination of Scents
Section 5: Improper Training
Section 6: Insurance Fraud