Our four-legged best friends are more than just household companions; many dogs have very serious jobs that help society every single day.
Cadaver dogs are one such sect of working canines; although their job is rather morbid, it is extremely necessary. Cadaver dogs help solve crimes, bring closure to families, and perform a needed duty that humans simply cannot do.
Some training facilities use real (legally obtained) cadaver parts, while others use chemicals to mimic the scent of decomposition to train dogs. Human cadaver dogs find the deceased remains of people for law enforcement, emergency crews, and more. Cadaver dogs are trained in specialized facilities, associating the decomposing scent with a reward to condition the dogs. Cadaver dogs is a volunteer-based program.
In this article, I will answer all of your burning questions about cadaver dogs, their training, and how these incredible canines help law enforcement every day.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Well, yes and no.
Why the vague answer? Because it depends on the training program!
Acquiring cadaver (deceased) parts for purposes such as cadaver dog training is legal. Some facilities will work with medical centers and law enforcement schools to access these materials.
The dogs must be able to differentiate the smell of a decomposing human corpse (especially decomposition of various stages) from other smells. One of the ways to do this is to allow a dog access to the smell of human decomposition.
Some trainers actually start by offering the dog a smell of their own blood, so the dog becomes aware of the fact that they are apt to find humans exclusively.
Other training facilities use chemical concoctions to mimic the various smells of decomposition to avoid using deceased human body parts. This also does the trick, but some dispute it may be less reliable because you cannot accurately mimic decomposition scent to perfection.
To be specific, human cadaver dogs are taught to do exactly what you would expect: find deceased bodies.
As morbid as this may sound, human cadaver dogs are a crucial and fundamental part of crime-solving workflow and emergency aid workflows.
When trying to solve a case, cadaver dogs can be sent in to find murder victims, which results in finding evidence of a crime and bringing closure to their families. Cadaver dogs can locate crime scenes even if the corpse has been relocated. Depending on the situation, they could also direct search teams to the new location of the corpse.
During natural disasters, cadaver dogs find humans that have passed and can reunite them with their families for a proper burial. For example, during the tragic attacks of 9/11, cadaver dogs were sent in to find those unable to survive the fall of the towers.
As much as this is a dark side to dogs with jobs, it is one that is very important for our society.
Cadaver dogs are trained in specialized facilities, teaching the dog and the human how to perform their important duty.
A scientist by the name of Mary E. Cablk at the Desert Research Institute of Nevada chimes in perfectly on how cadaver dogs are trained: “You don’t want a really smart animal, she says; its curiosity might lead to distraction. Instead, look for a mid-sized dog that never tires of playing with a tennis ball or pull toy.” She says.
“Eventually, you will teach the dog to associate the smell of death with its toy by making the toy smell like death. Your dog should be exposed to, and trained to find, all sorts of dead bodies — on varied terrain, day or night, rain or shine. You have the whole gamut, from old dry bones to somebody who dropped dead from a stroke an hour before you showed up. Coach your dog to calmly sit or lie down when it locates a scent’s source. Digging, peeing, and frolicking can destroy evidence.” continues Cablk.
Cadaver dogs are trained in two very specific techniques: trailing and air scenting. With trailing, the dog must be able to detect odors that have dropped to the ground, such as when a body has been dragged. With air scenting, the dog must do similar but in the air. It entails sniffing airborne residues of decay and tracking the smell to its source.
As each dog must receive a minimum of 1,000 hours to pass the training facility, you can be assured that these dogs (and their handlers) know what they are doing. These canines can distinguish between human and animal remains in the region they have been tracking.
They can go through the woods, ignoring the decaying squirrels and birds while focusing particularly on the aroma of a dead person, thanks to their keen sense of smell.
Believe it or not… cadaver dogs are a volunteer-based program! If you feel like your dog has what it takes (and you have the time to invest), seeking out a local cadaver dog training facility would be the way to go. Enroll your pup and see how well Fido does.
After graduating from the facility, get to know your local police enforcement to get involved in a real-life case.
Aside from being in good physical shape, cadaver dog operators must also be able to pass background checks, be familiar with maps and GPS, be brave in the dark, and be indifferent to the type of death a dog may unearth.