From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
…ALL THEY’RE DOING IS LOOKING FOR THE TENNIS BALL
MALAYSIAN PIRATES PUT HIT OUT ON DOGS TRAINED TO SMELL DVDs
By HEIDI SINGER / August 29, 2007
Movie pirates, mad that DVD-detecting dogs were taking such a big bite
out of their booty, have put a failed hit out on the hounds.
Lucky and Flo, two energetic black Labradors, sniffed out so many
counterfeit movies in DVD-pirating hot spot Malaysia earlier this year
– $6 million worth – that they had to be spirited out of the country
in the face of death threats by criminals.
“Because they were so successful, the pirate guys put out a bounty on
their heads,” said Michael Buchan of the Motion Picture Association of
But the $29,000 price tag was cheap because the pooches are
“priceless,” Buchan quipped.
The dogs are trained to detect the unique polycarbonate scent of a DVD
when it’s hidden in other materials.
And they got a snoutful during a visit to New York yesterday.
The canine crusaders successfully sniffed out boxes of bootlegs at
City Hall, rooting out rip-offs of “Harry Potter,” “Rush Hour” and
The dogged duo has been working airports and office buildings all over
the world for the past six months, in an effort by the MPAA to root
out pirated films.
One of their first jobs was at an airport in Britain, when they
enthusiastically uncovered a suitcase full of canned meat – with one
DVD under it.
The 4-year-olds were selected for their love of preying and playing –
possibly troublemaking traits in a regular household, but essential
for a sniffing dog.
“Lucky had created mayhem in her home environment and was going to be
put down,” said her trainer, Neil Powell, from Northern Ireland. “The
dog had eaten the Christmas cake and stand, the curtains, candles and
candle holders. She’s just destructive unless she’s working.”
Training took several months and mostly involved isolating the unique
scent on a typical DVD. After finding it, Powell rubbed the plastic
smell on tennis balls and taught the dogs to look for them – and,
therefore, the scent of DVDs – on command.
“In their own little minds, all they’re doing is looking for the
tennis ball,” said Powell, adding that the pair can’t distinguish
between legitimate and pirated films.
The MPAA is showcasing Lucky and Flo, hoping to convince governments
to get their own DVD-sniffing dogs. Malaysia has already agreed, and
talks are also happening with South Africa, said MPAA officials.
After a few covert sniffing jobs in New York, the pooches will head to
Dogs Excel on Smell Test to Find Cancer
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. / January 17, 2006
In the small world of people who train dogs to sniff cancer, a little-
known Northern California clinic has made a big claim: that it has
trained five dogs – three Labradors and two Portuguese water dogs – to
detect lung cancer in the breath of cancer sufferers with 99 percent
The study was based on well-established concepts. It has been known
since the 80’s that tumors exude tiny amounts of alkanes and benzene
derivatives not found in healthy tissue.
Other researchers have shown that dogs, whose noses can pick up odors
in the low parts-per-billion range, can be trained to detect skin
cancers or react differently to dried urine from healthy people and
those with bladder cancer, but never with such remarkable consistency.
The near-perfection in the clinic’s study, as Dr. Donald Berry, the
chairman of biostatistics at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston,
put it, “is off the charts: there are no laboratory tests as good as
this, not Pap tests, not diabetes tests, nothing.”
As a result, he and other cancer experts say they are skeptical, but
intrigued. Michael McCulloch, research director for the Pine Street
Foundation in Marin County, Calif., and the lead researcher on the
study, acknowledged that the results seemed too good to be true. (For
breast cancer, with a smaller number of samples, the dogs were right
about 88 percent of the time with almost no false positives, which
compares favorably to mammograms.)
“Yes, we were astounded, as well,” Mr. McCulloch said. “And that’s why
it needs to be replicated with other dogs, plus chemical analysis of
what’s in the breath.”
He is applying for National Science Foundation grants to try just
that, he said. The fact that the study was carried out by a clinic
supported by the Pine Street Foundation that combines traditional
chemotherapy with acupuncture and herbal medicine raised suspicions,
as did the fact that it is to be published by a little-known journal,
Integrative Cancer Therapies. (The journal published it online last
But experts who read the study could not find any obvious fatal flaw
in its methodology, and the idea that dogs can detect cancer is “not
crazy at all,” said Dr. Ted Gansler, director of medical content in
health information for the American Cancer Society. “It’s biologically
plausible,” he said, “but there has to be a lot more study and
confirmation of effectiveness.”
Dr. Berry, too, was interested but suspicious. “If true, it’s huge,”
he said. “Which is one reason to be skeptical.”
Dr. Berry noted, half-jokingly, that Gregor Mendel, the 19th-century
discoverer of the laws of genetics, also reported data on his
crossbreeding of green and yellow peas that was too good to be true:
he repeatedly came up with the perfect 3-1 ratios he predicted. “But
we’ve forgiven Mendel and his gardener,” Dr. Berry added, “because his
theory turned out to be right.”
In Mr. McCulloch’s study, the five dogs, borrowed from owners and
Guide Dogs for the Blind, were trained as if detecting bombs. They
repeatedly heard a clicker and got a treat when they found a desired
odor in many identical smelling spots.
The clinic collected breath samples in plastic tubes filled with
polypropylene wool from 55 people just after biopsies found lung
cancer and from 31 patients with breast cancer, as well as from 83
The tubes were numbered, and then placed in plastic boxes and
presented to the dogs, five at a time. If the dog smelled cancer, it
was supposed to sit.
For breath from lung cancer patients, Mr. McCulloch reported, the dogs
correctly sat 564 times and incorrectly 10 times. (By adjusting for
other factors, the researchers determined the accuracy rate at 99
For the breath from healthy patients, they sat 4 times and did not sit
Experts who read the study raised various objections: The smells of
chemotherapy or smoking would be clues, they said. Or the healthy
breath samples could have been collected in a different room on
different days. Or the dogs could pick up subtle cues – like the tiny,
unintentional movements of observers picked up by Clever Hans, the
19th-century “counting horse,” as he neared a correct answer. But Mr.
McCulloch said cancer patients who had begun chemotherapy were
excluded, smokers were included in both groups and the breath samples
were collected in the same rooms on the same days. The tubes were
numbered elsewhere, he said, and the only assistant who knew which
samples were cancerous was out of the room while the dogs were
“The fact that dogs did this is kind of beside the point,” he said.
“What this proved is that there are detectable differences in the
breath of cancer patients. Now technology has to rise to that
The next step, he said, will be to analyze breath samples with a gas
chromatograph to figure out exactly which mixes of chemicals the dogs
are reacting to.
Even if the dogs are accurate in repeat experiments, Dr. Gansler of
the American Cancer Society said, it will be useful only as a
preliminary scan. “It’s not like someone would start chemotherapy
based on a dog test,” he said. “They’d still get a biopsy.”
The Fake Smell of Death
Teaching dogs to sniff out corpses or drugs or bombs has traditionally
been more craft than science. But some novel synthetic substances may
soon change that.
by Jessica Snyder Sachs
Four years ago, standing under the Arizona sun, Detective Mark Green
thought about the search ahead and felt a little queasy. Four
eyewitnesses had each told the police a similar tale of young children
murdered, eight years earlier, on a moonlit desert night. On this day
the Phoenix police would search for their remains, reportedly buried
somewhere on this desolate plateau southwest of the city.
His partner, Green remembers, was far more enthusiastic–his shiny
brown coat was twitching with excitement, his tail whacking against
Green’s leg as they stood side by side. Judge, a chocolate Labrador
retriever, was accustomed to sniffing out dope, but recently he’d been
learning a new scent, that of a human corpse. His education, though,
was somewhat experimental: he had learned this scent not from real
bodies but from an artificially concocted perfume that purportedly
captured the smell of death. Green now broke open an ampoule of that
perfume and gave Judge a whiff. Back! he commanded–as in, Here’s what
I want; now bring it back!
Judge traced a switchback pattern across the baked red earth, his nose
jumping like a rabbit’s. He paused to smell the flattened remains of
something furry, then moved on. After 30 minutes, he slowed, swept his
snout back and forth, and started furiously digging. Good boy! said
Green, bouncing a red chew-toy in front of his partner’s nose. The
Labrador bounded away with his reward.
Green brushed over Judge’s scratch marks and took the dog several
hundred yards downwind to repeat the search. Within a few minutes
Judge returned to the same spot, again scratching and barking. Now the
humans dug. They found old diapers and shreds of rotted clothing.
Unfortunately, the site was ground zero for an overpopulated pack-rat
colony. It looked as if any flesh and bone, had it been here, had been
eaten or carried away. Still, the human odor remained, according to
Judge, who returned to claw, bark, and bite at the unearthed clumps of
A forensic pathologist from the University of Arizona in Tucson
arrived and pointed out a subtle depression in the desert floor. Not
natural, he said, but more like the settling that would follow the
filling of a wide hole. The digging continued with backhoes, and the
police combed through the clay for more evidence. One of the alleged
victims, a preschooler, had been described as wearing cowboy boots.
Even if the leather was gone, the metal shanks should have remained.
The police found nothing, but by finding those scraps of cloth, Judge
became one of the first dogs in the ranks of the pseudoscent-trained.
In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing and the Kobe earthquake,
sniffing dogs have become a common sight on television. What the
pictures don’t communicate, though, is how difficult it is to train a
dog to track a given scent. The dogs have to be worked at least once a
week, and if the scent in question is that of a corpse, the trainer’s
life can get complicated. Carrying around the odor-laden ooze from a
corpse is not a great way to win friends. When I’m on a three-day trek
in the desert, the real stuff will get me kicked out of camp pretty
quick, says Green. Even training a dog to recognize a drug like heroin
is problematic. To acquire and use illegal drugs, a trainer has to
plow through mountains of paperwork; moreover, a dog can easily
overdose if it gets a snoutful of the stuff.
Trainers have therefore tried to replace the real stuff with
substitutes. For heroin and cocaine, we mixed up a paste of powdered
milk, vinegar, and a little quinine, says Texan Billy Smith, who began
training drug-sniffing dogs in the 1970s. Similarly, dogs slated for
search-and- rescue missions are trained on everything from roadkill to
hair and nail clippings to their trainers’ own blood. Sometimes the
substitutes work. But just as often, they don’t.
A small cadre of chemists and biologists believe that science can make
the training of dogs easier and more reliable. Their most visible
handiwork, commercially available pseudoscent, is manufactured by the
Sigma Chemical Company in St. Louis. Over the past five years, Sigma
has developed a unique product line that now includes Pseudo Corpse I
(for a body less than 30 days old), Pseudo Corpse II (a formulation
designed to mimic the dry-rot scent cadavers attain after a month),
Pseudo Distressed Body, and Pseudo Drowned Victim. Pseudo Burn Victim
is in the planning stage. Sigma also sells a pseudo powder explosive
and a line of pseudo illegal drugs.
In theory, the pseudoscent is the way to go, says Larry Myers, a
sensory biologist and veterinarian at Auburn University in Alabama,
because the truly difficult thing about training a dog to a scent is
stimulus control. The ideal compound, he says, should capture an odor
signature common to everything you want a dog to find, but nothing
else. You don’t want a dog trained to find explosives hitting on a can
of shaving cream. Even given the amazing sensitivity of a dog’s sense
of smell, such things do happen. For example, Myers tells of a
narcotics officer who had trained his dog on drugs kept in plastic
storage bags. I’ll be damned if that dog didn’t start alerting to the
scent of Ziploc bags, says Myers. A dog trained on street drugs can
likewise get distracted by cutting agents, homing in on baking powder
in the fridge and ignoring uncut cocaine in the pantry.
Reliability is crucial, says Myers, because today search dogs are
being used in life-and-death situations. Among those who rely on such
dogs is the Federal Aviation Administration, which deploys roughly 100
canine search teams to check suspicious-looking air cargo for
explosives. The faa might be interested in using pseudoexplosives in
the future–one reason being that real explosives have a nasty way of
actually exploding– and so it sponsors research on dog olfaction,
including Myers’s. But before he or anyone else is going to be able to
come up with a reliable pseudo bomb scent, Myers says, there’s a lot
of basic science that needs to be discovered.
Researchers know that when a dog sniffs deeply and odor-carrying
molecules flow into its nasal cavity, the shape of the cavity changes
so that the molecules are focused onto a yellow, rippled, mucus-
covered membrane, called the sensory mucosa, toward the back of the
snout. So convoluted is the canine mucosa that if it were smoothed
flat it would be several times larger than the dog’s head. Because it
has so much surface area, the mucosa can carry a vast number of odor-
sensitive, hairlike cilia- -ten times more than are found in a human
But beyond that, researchers know very little. They have yet, for
instance, to define the limits of a dog’s sense of smell. A dog may be
able to track the day-old trail of a fugitive, yet when it comes to
certain smells, such as that of acetone (the sweet smell of nail
polish), a dog’s nose is no better than a human’s. No one has yet
systematically sorted out just what a dog can smell and exactly how it
Against this background of meager knowledge, Sigma chemists Thomas
Juehne and John Revell created their first pseudoscents in 1989. Dog
handlers working for federal agencies had come to Sigma asking for
compounds for training narcotics dogs. Revell began with heroin and
cocaine, each of which consists of a single big complex molecule. With
such pure, large compounds, he explains, we knew we had to find some
outer piece to work with, a little active site that might break off
from the main molecule. Such a piece would probably be safe–that is,
nonnarcotic–yet present in the air around the drug, so a dog could be
trained with it to recognize the drug.
Fortunately, U.S. Customs had already done a lot of Revell and
Juehne’s work for them, analyzing the gases that float above both
heroin and cocaine and isolating a variety of alcohols, alkanes,
esters, and acids. All were readily available in Sigma’s catalog of
35,000 laboratory chemicals. Revell and Juehne could proceed directly
to a game of mix and match: they developed several test batches for
each drug and sent them to six handlers with dogs already trained on
real narcotics. Each handler was asked to try to have their dogs find
a hidden sample. The dogs completely ignored some samples while
showing keen interest in others, and from these Sigma created refined
After a confirmation round with the veteran dogs, Revell sent the most
promising signature for each drug to a second set of handlers, asking
them to use it to train new dogs not yet exposed to the scent of
actual drugs. Reports came back that these pseudo-trained dogs were
then able to locate the real stuff. Voilà: Sigma had its first
Developing a pseudomarijuana has been more complicated, says Revell.
Instead of a single pure compound, now we’re working with a whole
plant. To isolate the molecules in marijuana and determine their
abundance, he uses both gas chromatography, which can separate
chemicals based in part on how quickly they evaporate from a liquid,
and mass spectrometry, which identifies compounds according to their
atomic mass and charge.
Revell looks in particular for substances that will become gaseous
even at low temperatures, since these would be the compounds most
likely to waft from a hidden stash. Unfortunately, we discovered that
not all dogs alert to the same thing, he says. Though all the dogs had
been trained on whole marijuana, they had apparently selected
different signature chemicals to use for identification. Revell was
able to produce a commercial pseudomarijuana by taking several of the
most popular compounds and combining them in a scent cocktail, on
which all the dogs hit. Still, he wants to tinker with the formula
more, since Sigma has received occasional reports of the cocktail’s
not working. The first came from Saudi Arabia, says Revell. My hunch
is there may be differences between marijuana varieties worldwide.
In 1990 dog handlers let Sigma know about the troubles they had
training their dogs on corpses. Because this type of work comes in
irregular spurts, handlers need to train their dogs continually–at
least once a week, preferably more. Their substance of choice is dirt
collected from under a corpse, which becomes infused with its putrid
smell. Reflecting the callousness probably essential to the job, the
handlers refer to this training aid by a number of names: dirty dirt,
Mr. Sousa, or Fred, as in Fred B. Dead. Nobody likes handling the
stuff. Trainer Carl Makins, of the Greenville, South Carolina,
sheriff’s office, keeps his double wrapped in plastic and locked
inside a vapor-proof munitions cache. When he opens the box even for a
second, he saturates the room with a sickeningly sweet smell. (Think
skunk meets Montezuma’s revenge.) But that’s the least of a trainer’s
worries–there’s also the threat of infection associated with hiv,
hepatitis, and other diseases transmitted through body fluids.
Hearing such complaints, Patricia Carr, Sigma’s liaison to the dog
handlers, went to Revell and Juehne and said, Give me body in a
bottle. At first they looked at Carr as if she were crazy, but
eventually they warmed to the idea. That’s not to say that they
allowed any ooze in their lab, let alone in their gas chromatograph.
That would have been difficult for me, Juehne says with an audible
shudder. Instead he searched through scientific journals and found
that the human body had been well quantified in various states of
Five to fifteen minutes after death, protein synthesis in the body
grinds to a halt. With nothing to maintain the protective lining of
the gut, digestive enzymes eat the body from the inside out, splitting
proteins into amino acids. At the same time, the body’s resident
bacteria, unhindered by an immune system, feast on the amino acids and
skyrocket in number. As the bacteria produce chemicals such as ammonia
and ptomaines (with such apt names as putrescine and cadaverine), they
produce the distinctive smell of decaying flesh. Each stage of
decomposition produces distinct peaks and ebbs in the levels of
various chemicals, including the ptomaines, which is a great help to
both the pathologist who wants to determine the time of death and the
chemist trying to emulate the smell of it.
Juehne cataloged the chemicals most likely to be in the air or soil
around a decaying human body–both fresh (Pseudo Corpse I) and well
aged (Pseudo Corpse II). Among these, he looked for chemicals that
might set the smell of a human corpse apart from that of an animal. I
needed something unique about the human body versus a dead animal,
Juehne’s preliminary guinea pig was Revell. Revell had joined up with
Sigma after seven years in a forensics lab, where he often worked
alongside coroners at autopsies and crime scenes. Basically, says
Revell, once Tom had a list of potential compounds, he began running
them by my nose and asking, ‘Does this smell like a corpse?’ I’d say,
‘Yeah, that’s close,’ and he’d disappear back into his lab to refine
Juehne diluted his scents to a level indiscernible to humans and sent
them to a half-dozen dog handlers. The first batch was well received;
a more refined brew drew raves. I started out their biggest skeptic,
says Billy Smith, but as soon as we hid this stuff in a sandbar, the
gators stole it. Then we put some in a tree, and the coons stole it;
in a log stump, and the buzzards stole it.
Another tester was Caroline Hebard, a New Jersey mother of four who
has been honored internationally for her canine search-and-rescue
work. Yes, this works, she told Sigma. Now give me something for live
But not just ordinary live folk. Over the years, as Hebard and her
dogs sifted through the rubble of earthquakes and explosions, she saw
that she needed to train her dogs to tell her if they were smelling
buried trauma victims or the workers around them. There’s a certain
scent, kind of sour and sweaty, around someone in shock, she says.
Anybody who’s familiar with the smell in an ambulance knows what I
mean. To fill the request, Juehne hit the journals again. There he
found detailed analyses of compounds our bodies secrete onto the
surface of our skin. I needed to find a universal human scent,
something nondiscriminatory with respect to a person’s diet, sex, or
age–from that baby-fresh smell of a newborn’s head to the musty odor
of Grandpa in the nursing home.
After another game of chemical mix and match, Juehne sent Pseudo
Distress for field-testing. It reportedly sailed through all trials,
with claims that dogs trained on the stuff were proving their worth in
actual rescue situations. And not only did Pseudo Distress help dogs
track people in shock: handlers report that it’s good for finding
frightened children in the wilderness and adrenaline-charged escapees
in prison air ducts.
The company added its most recent pseudoscent–Drowned Victim–by
reformulating its corpse tinctures into a granulated capsule that
sinks in water. The first batch was like Alka-Seltzer, comments
Hebard. It had the dogs jumping to bite overhanging branches. What
trainers needed was a scent that would collect in a thin film just on
top of the water’s surface- -as true cadaver scent does–so dogs could
follow its concentration gradient to the source. Accordingly,
researchers at Sigma made a slower- dissolving capsule and filled it
partly with salt grains to make it sink. That did the trick, says
For all the testimonials to the pseudoscents’ effectiveness, there is
still plenty of room for skepticism. There are no statistics from a
controlled test of pseudoscents with large numbers of handlers who
themselves did not know where the samples were hidden. Nor has the
accuracy of dogs trained on pseudos been reliably compared with that
of dogs trained on the real thing.
We need to separate the science from the mumbo jumbo, says Myers. To
begin with, he says, nobody yet knows what a dog is physiologically
capable of smelling. A simple analysis of a drug or a decaying body
won’t tell you which chemicals are of canine interest.
That question is among those Myers is trying to answer at Auburn’s
Institute for Biological Detection Systems. Myers founded the
institute in 1989 to study everything from actual canaries in coal
mines to microbes that glow when exposed to pollutants. But for now,
90 percent of his grant money arrives earmarked for studying canine
The work begins in the sensory lab: wrapped in a baby-blue blindfold,
a tan cocker mix lies on a padded table. Two students murmur
reassuringly as they clip to the dog’s scalp electrodes that will pick
up general patterns of brain activity when she is presented with a
test smell. They also focus an overhead camera on her head. One
student then lifts a test tube suspended from a two-foot glass handle.
As the tube nears the cocker’s nose, an electroencephalograph across
the room traces eight jagged lines to record a spark of brain
activity. The overhead camera captures the slight movements of a
Myers’s students are determining the limits of the cocker’s sense of
smell with a dilution of eugenol, one of the odor-producing molecules
in cloves. Myers employs eugenol as a standard for determining whether
his test dogs are having an off day, since dogs, like people,
experience a range of colds and allergies that can interfere with
If the cocker’s sense of smell is up to snuff, the students test her
ability to detect vanishingly small amounts of an explosive and then
several of its volatile ingredients. Ultimately, Myers would like to
isolate just one or two key chemicals that dogs can use to recognize
the entire explosive. The result could be a safe, reliable pseudo.
Enlisted in the effort are two men that Myers admiringly calls the
institute’s control freaks: chemist Mark Hartell, an eager young
doctoral student with a passion for ferreting out contaminants, and
experimental psychologist Jim Johnston. Skinnerian to the bone,
Johnston is likewise obsessed with purging contaminants–the type that
creep in when humans bring subjectivity to the study of dog behavior.
To begin with, says Hartell, what’s in the list of ingredients is not
necessarily what’s in the air around an explosive. If the guy down the
hall is wearing Polo, that doesn’t mean the explosive you’re studying
is made by Ralph Lauren. Today Hartell is fueling his gas
chromatograph and mass spectrometer with air drawn from the explosive
under study. He’s already identified dozens of airborne compounds,
many of which were contaminants from the institute’s house air. (Dirty
stuff, he comments.) Many of the other compounds break down too
quickly for a dog to notice. That leaves a dozen or so worth
The researchers use conditioning experiments to test these remaining
chemicals. Their subject dogs do their work in the isolation of six
wooden chambers–oversize Skinner boxes–in a room slung with computer
wires and plastic air tubes. No human handlers here. Uncontrollable
variable, says Johnston–humans have a habit of unconsciously
affecting the response of dogs by subtle changes in their appearance.
Johnston prefers the objectivity of a computer program. Each chamber
is equipped with a nose cup attached to an olfactometer, a glorified
air pump that delivers a precisely calibrated flow of clean or scented
air. Inside the chamber, slightly above the cup, are three levers. The
dogs have been trained to press the right lever when they smell the
explosive under study, the left lever when they get a puff of clean
air, and the middle lever when the air contains a scent other than the
In chamber two, a white shepherd named Columbus begins her eight-
hundredth session. (Each dog works one hour a day.) At the sound of a
tone, she inserts her snout in the cup. At a second tone, she removes
it and paws the middle lever: in other words, she smells something,
but not one of the explosives she has been trained on.
So far, admits Johnston, none of the dogs trained to recognize the
explosive have responded to any one isolated ingredient. But only a
few chemicals have been tested as yet. If no one ingredient evokes a
response, they will try two- or three-chemical mixtures. Developing a
pseudoscent in this way is time-consuming, Myers admits, but it may
help reveal the classes of chemicals to which dogs are most sensitive.
To know whether dogs are indeed more attuned to certain compounds, and
to identify which ones, would elevate canine training to a new and
Till then, 1,850 dog handlers will continue to use Sigma’s fascinating
but sketchily tested perfumes. According to the company’s customer
logs, sales have more than doubled in the last three years. Often the
trainers who buy them use them in combination with more traditional
materials. I like to mix it up, says Smith, who trains dogs initially
with corpse pseudoscent, then graduates them to dirty dirt. Hebard
combines pseudoscent with human hair for a very strong response.
Many handlers, though, steer clear of the scents. Using pseudos is
like going to the firing range with blanks, argues David Frost, canine
training supervisor for the Tennessee Public Service Commission. The
strongest thing we have going for us is the dog’s amazing power to
discriminate one thing from another. So why muck that up with anything
but the real thing? Using real drugs means leaping over a long series
of bureaucratic hurdles, he admits, but sometimes to do something
right isn’t convenient.
Still, the stories of success linger and tantalize. Out in Arizona,
Detective Frank Shenkowitz, who inherited Green’s grisly case, remains
haunted. I still go back there fairly often, he says of the plateau
where the pseudoscent-trained Labrador Judge uncovered the decayed
clothes. You never know what the desert is going to toss back at you.
A while ago, not far from Judge’s find, Shenkowitz came across a tiny
faded cowboy boot–the size a four-year-old might wear. It doesn’t
prove murder, he says. But I know Judge is reliable.
“Scat Dogs” Sniff Out Endangered Species Feces
Maryann Mott / October 1, 2003
Dogs are being used to sniff out the scat of endangered species like
wolves, kit foxes, grizzly bears-even right whales. The feces of these
animals are a treasure trove for researchers, yielding valuable
information about the animals, including population size, fertility,
gender, stress, and extent of home range.
Before scat-sniffing dogs were trained, researchers visually searched
areas for droppings. It was a time-consuming job that wasn’t always
easy. Some animals defecate conspicuously but others try to hide their
dung. Even when found, some scat, such as black bear and grizzly bear,
look so similar that they are easily confused.
Dogs make the process easier. They cover larger areas, faster and more
accurately, using their powerful sense of smell. Canines can detect
poop from hundreds of yards away, and find four times more samples
than using other methods, such as visual observation or hair snags,
said Samuel Wasser, director of The Center for Conservation Biology at
the University of Washington in Seattle.
“It’s really a powerful tool, and we do all this without ever seeing a
single animal,” he said.
When dealing with conservation issues, Wasser said it’s important to
monitor as many animals in as large of an area as possible to make the
Field studies in the United States and Canada have utilized scat dogs
and soon they may be employed in Brazil for large-scale carnivore
Wasser came up with the idea of using dogs for this type of job six
years ago and contacted Barbara Davenport, owner of Pack Leader Dog
Training in Washington, for help.
So far, she has trained about 20 dogs, most of which came from humane
societies or city pounds.
Davenport said she selects large, energetic mutts with a strong desire
to play-the very same characteristics that cause them to end up in
shelters in the first place.
“In most cases dogs that excel in scat-detector work are not adoptable
to the general public,” she said. “We’re frequently the last stop for
some of these dogs because they are so high energy, high drive”
It takes about six weeks from the time the dogs come out of the
shelter to the time they go on assignment. A reward-based training
method is used, and the dogs are taught to work independently,
allowing different people to handle them in the field.
The canines can detect up to 18 species and differentiate between two
animals with similar looking feces.
By Land and Sea
While most scat dogs work on land, a pilot study in August placed the
pooches in a new environment-on boats.
Roz Rolland, senior scientist at New England Aquarium in Boston,
Massachusetts, conducts population, health, and reproduction studies
on North Atlantic right whales.
The 50-ton creatures live along the east coast of the United States
and are among the most endangered whales in the world, totaling 350.
Unlike southern species of right whales that have rebounded since
being protected, she said the North Atlantic population has not
To find out why, Rolland runs tests on their bright orange excrement.
Researchers locate the foul-smelling feces, which floats briefly
before sinking, by following their noses. But the problem, she said,
is not enough samples were being collected.
Last month Rolland, who is also a veterinarian, got help from some
four-legged friends. Fargo, a three-year-old rottweiller, and Bob, a
four-year-old beauceron mix, were sent on assignment to the Bay of
Fundy in Maine, where a lot of the right whale population resides
between July and October.
The canines worked on the bow of a 21-foot (6.4-meter) boat, searching
the sea for floating feces. Handlers read the dogs’ body language for
clues on which direction to take the vessel.
Each dog has a unique change in behavior that is consistent whenever
it smells a specific odor, says Davenport, the trainer. By looking for
those changes in ear set, tail movement, breathing rate, and facial
expression, as well as taking into account tide and wind direction,
researchers were able to figure out where to go.
The 30-day study, funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service,
worked “incredibly well,” said Rolland, who declined to reveal the
results until they are published in a scientific journal.
“The dogs really are impressive,” she said. “They know their
Wasser hopes others will feel the same way. He and Davenport are
opening a facility in Washington state within the next several months
to train and certify scat detection dogs.
” The dogs are an incredibly valuable tool for gathering information,”
he said. “It’s so much better than anything else I’ve seen out there
by a long shot.”
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many astounding revelations came to
light about the Stasi, the East German secret police. One of the more
bizarre activities the Stasi was found to have engaged in was the
collection of Geruchsproben – smell samples – for the benefit of the
East German smell hounds. The odors, collected during interrogations
using a perforated metal “smell sample chair” or by breaking into
people’s homes and stealing their dirty underwear, were stored in
small glass jars. Many of the remaining East German smell jars are on
display at the Stasi Museum in Berlin. They are also described in
Stasiland by Anna Funder.
Terror-Hunters’ Human Scent Collectors
By Noah Shachtman / May 11, 2007
Armpit Terrorists: You can run. But with that body odor, you can’t
That’s the idea behind a new program from the Technical Support
Working Group, or TSWG. The research arm of the government’s anti-
terror fight is looking to for someone to build “a rugged, reliable,
and compact system for canine handlers to collect human scent for
future use to track a specified target.”
There are similar systems around today, the group notes. But they’re
“too large and fragile to be used in an operational environment.”
TSWG wants a handheld, rugged device to do the job, instead. And the
group has laid an exhaustive set of criteria for any contractor
looking to build the thing:
The system shall be able to withstand extreme environmental
conditions and temperatures and will meet the following standards:
· Shall be a polished surface, anodized aluminum housing
(Black color) that contains a fan motor, power supply, and
· Shall be housed in a cylinder that measures no longer than
15 inches in length and 2.5 inches in diameter;
· Must have an independent holder that permits the unit to
stand upright on its own; and
· Shall have two on/off switches:
o One timed switch that can be externally adjusted, and
o One standard on/off switch.
· Shall have the exhaust diffused around the circumference of
the unit housing; shall not be a directional exhaust;
· Shall be able to maintain constant rpm within +/- 5 percent
throughout the duty cycle of the battery;
· Shall be capable of running at variable speeds; and
· System battery shall be able to sustain a minimum of 30
minutes of continuous operation at the highest fan setting.
· Shall be standard C cell or D cell batteries;
· The system must provide low battery indication; and
· The system shall prevent continued operation as well as shut
down if available amperage is below operating level.
Scent Pad Holder:
· Shall include Teflon-coated surgical pad holders that attach
to the end of the unit body;
· Shall provide surgical pad holders in the following sizes:
o One – 2 inch by 2 inch surgical pad holder, and
o Two – 4 inch by 4 inch surgical pad holders
· Must be easy to clean; and
· Shall be hinged on one side with a simple latching mechanism
for easy insertion of scent collection material.
Case – two cases are required:
· First, shall be a portable and watertight case that form
fits the Scent Transfer Unit (STU), one replacement battery, and one
surgical pad holder; and
· Second, shall be a portable and watertight case that form
fits the portable STU case, batteries, battery charger, pad holders,
and an empty section of the case to hold alcohol swabs, one box of
nitrile gloves, disposable forceps, and scent pad material.
· Shall be no more than $2000 for each system.
The big thinkers at Darpa are developing a more far-reaching program,
to figure out exactly which genetic markers in “human emanations
(urine, sweat, etc.)… can be used to identify and distinguish
specific high-level-of-interest individuals within groups of enemy
troops.” At the University of Buffalo, researchers a working on “a
little chemical lab analyzes the sweat, body odor, and skin flakes in
the human thermal plume — the halo of heat that surrounds each
Of course, dogs know how to do that already.
Detector Dog FAQs
Q: How long has CBP been using dogs to search for narcotics,
currency, smuggled agriculture products, and dangerous materials?
A: Detector dogs were introduced on a wide scale in April 1970 as
part of a major effort, by the then U.S. Customs Service to interdict
narcotics being smuggled through major air/sea and land border ports.
Q: How are detector dogs used?
A: Teams consisting of a dog and officer are used to screen arriving
aircraft, cargo, baggage, mail, ships, vehicles, and passengers.
Q: What types of dogs are used for this work?
A: The CEP uses a wide variety of dogs including, Labrador
Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and
many mixed breeds. The Agriculture side of the canine program uses
Beagles as well. The most important factor in selecting detector dogs
for training is not its breed, but the extent of enthusiasm the dog
displays toward retrieving a given object. All potential CBP dogs are
tested to see if they possess the inherited traits that make them a
likely candidate for detection training. Many dogs are tested, but
relatively few are procured. Dogs used by the CEP can be of either
sex, but must be between 1 and 3 years of age.
Q: How does the CEP obtain its dogs?
A: Dogs that are selected for training are obtained from animal
shelters, humane societies and rescue leagues, primarily in the
Eastern and Midwestern part of the United States. Many of these dogs
are unadoptable and would have to be destroyed. Dogs meeting the
entrance qualifications are also taken as donations from private
owners. Some dogs are purchased through contract vendors. Several
years ago, the CEP began breeding program to provide additional
detector dogs to the program. As the CEP detector dog program grows,
we continue to look for new and better ways to recruit dogs.
Q: Where are the dogs trained?
A: OFO canines are trained at the Canine Enforcement Training Center
and occasionally satellite facilities, when warranted. The Agriculture
dogs are trained at the National Detector Dog Training Center.
Q: What are the dogs taught to find?
A: The CEP narcotic detector dogs are taught to detect concealed
narcotics, such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy,
methamphetamine, and other dangerous substances. Some dogs are trained
to detect either currency, concealed humans, agriculture products or
dangerous materials that could be used by terrorists. While the dogs
are trained to detect specific odors, the officers are trained how to
effectively utilize the detector dogs, and to enhance the detection
capabilities. Officers are also instructed in the various areas of
Customs law, Immigration law, agency regulations, policies and
procedures, proper firearms techniques, use of force issues and non-
lethal control procedures.
Q: What is the typical workday for an OFO canine team?
A: Canine teams work a full 8-hour day. Teams assigned to airports
and seaports alternate between examining aircraft, vessels, baggage,
cargo, mail, as well as passengers. Teams stationed at land border
crossings devote their time to examining vehicles and merchandise
entering the United States. Canine teams can be utilized to search for
a trained odor in most any area imaginable. During every workday,
canine teams conduct training exercises to enhance the dog’s
performance in the work environment. Officers also respond to requests
for detector dog services from other agencies and off-sight sources on
a limited basis. CBP Officers are also responsible for the general
health and care of their assigned detector dog.
Q: How do dogs compare with people in examining vehicles, cargo, or
A: At border ports a canine team can examine a vehicle in 5 to 6
minutes. Even a cursory search by a CBP Officer without a canine would
require at least 20 minutes. Canines can check packages in a fraction
of the time needed by mail examiners. A canine team can process 400 to
500 packages in approximately 30 minutes.
Q: How many years does the CEP keep dogs on the job? What happens
after they retire?
A: The CEP employs dogs as long as they can successfully perform and
meet workload requirements. The service career of a detector dog will
typically last no longer than eight years. Upon retirement, their
handlers usually adopt the dogs or a good home is found for the
Q: Can a civilian law enforcement agency acquire detector dog
training from CEP?
A: Yes, on a limited basis. For information on courses, availability,
costs, etc., contact the Canine Enforcement Training Center 1-888-USA-
DOG1, or the Program Manager, Canine Enforcement Program (202)