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Old 12-17-2012, 07:32 PM   #1 (permalink)
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I read this on National Geographic and thought you guys might be interested if you aren't familiar with it already...a dog trained to sniff out centuries-old human remains: Meet Migaloo, World's First "Archaeology Dog"

I did have some questions...at one point he mentions "rot" becoming the primary odor, but isn't that true of every stage of decomp? Bones are largely the same material regardless of species, but the dog can still distinguish between human bones and animal bones. Is it different with bodies that are still decomposing? Rot might be the primary odor, but the dogs can still distinguish human vs. animal. On the other hand, I know my team has a sample or two that are notoriously difficult for the dogs to pinpoint (our placenta sample is the really difficult one, prompting discussion about the relatively unusual nature of placenta--after all, if dogs can smell low blood sugar and oncoming seizures, you'd think they could tell that something that is supposed to be expelled at birth). I'd love to hear thoughts about this.

Also, he talks about using the dogs to find bodies in homicides and such. Is that any different from the state of things now? It's not like you'd just send a dog out willy-nilly into a huge national forest to search for bodies that may or may not be there, right? It seems like that would get extremely discouraging for the dog after awhile (I'm very familiar with negative searches and training for such; to be clear, I'm saying that's pretty much how we do it now--if there's any credible reason to suspect a body is there, we send the dogs out; but we don't just do it because it's a wilderness and there might be someone buried there maybe). It seems to me that the noteworthy thing here is the age of the remains he is training the dog to find (especially with the cultural implications of not requiring Native/Aboriginal peoples to dig up their grave sites in order to prove that it is one--I know that is a big thing in the US as well as Australia), but in general it isn't that different from what cadaver dogs are doing all over the world.

Anyway, I know it's a relatively vague article intended for readers who may not know anything about detection dogs, but I'd love to hear you experienced cadaver dog handlers' thoughts on it.
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Old 12-17-2012, 09:05 PM   #2 (permalink)
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A lot of folks are upset about the article because the institute for K9 Forensics has been fielding archeaological remains dogs for well over a decade what he is doing is nothing new. I even sent an email to Nat Geo suggesting they do better research.

Their page has a lot of information and discusses the difference between Historical Human Remains Dogs and HRD Dogs. Our dogs are HRD and Water Search Dogs. We have trained on some archeological remains (3000 year old bones, 700 year old tooth) but it is not our work. The most buried the typical HRD dog is looking for is something less than 50 years or so old buried in a shallow grave. For this we train on unmarked but known pre civil war graves. (also pre-embalming-the rich used arsenic then but the poor did not)

Institute for Canine Forensics, California, USA

Look at the Papers and News Articles Tab on the Left of the page.

Not sure why the placenta sample is difficult? We train with placenta. One thing I will say is that if you are using the fluid and not the tissue that kind of separetes from the fluid that fluids seem to put out a more light and volatile odor than tissue and bone do which tends to hang lower to the ground. It can also be hard to pinpoint if the dog has not worked with real large sources; usually placenta is the "big" source a lot of teams have.
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Old 12-18-2012, 11:59 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Thank you...now I feel like I should have done some Googling before I posted. I was a bit thrown for a loop the way he made it sound like dogs aren't being used to find homicide victims and such...kind of makes sense that it's just not a well-researched article.

I'm not sure what our placenta is exactly. That would make sense, I'll ask about it at training tonight. We have several other large and small samples, so the dogs are used to working on all sizes, but even some of the really experienced and skilled dogs miss it a lot in training. It's a newer sample (but again, we have had other fresh samples that they do fine with) and we're still trying to figure out why they have a problem with it.

When you say you train on pre-Civil War graves, is there a difference to the dogs between a 200-year-old grave and a say, 30-year-old one? Or once you get down to a skeletal level, is it all kind of the same (or at least seems that way from how the dogs work)? Hope you don't mind me asking these questions, I'm still very much learning about scent and how HRD dogs work.
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Old 12-18-2012, 04:52 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I honestly don't know other than I can tell you that there is still a large scent pool with odor that old which would be skeletonized. We don't even know what, specifically, out of the many odors coming off human remains what they DO smell that differentiates animal from human.
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Old 12-21-2012, 08:16 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Thank you for that. It always surprises me how little we know about how our dogs work! I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with me.
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