The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Sniffing out decomposition: Investigating the reliability of human remains detection dogs


Anthropology, Humboldt State Univeristy

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

The purpose of this study was to investigate the reliability of trained Human Remains Detection (HRD) dogs (Canis familiaris). HRD dogs are trained to locate deceased individuals, typically in conjunction with law enforcement agencies, by using their enhanced olfactory systems to detect scents and alert their human handlers. Limited research has been conducted on the strengths and weaknesses of these dogs and their abilities to locate human skeletal remains. This study focused on a North Carolina organization that trains HRD dogs. Data were collected by observing training exercises and documenting canine behavior and human-canine interactions. An experiment was conducted in July-August 2018, which tasked five dogs with locating human bone samples buried under four common regional North Carolina soil types. It was hypothesized that even though a canine may not have been previously exposed to a specific soil through training, their enhanced olfactory abilities and adaptability to new environments would enable them to quickly increase efficiency, suggesting that dogs trained in one environment can be widely deployed. The teams had a 20% success rate (8/40 correct indications) and results indicated that canines responded quicker and more reliably to the soil most local to their training region but were sometimes able to readily locate remains in unfamiliar soils. The variation in response time for each canine could relate to breed or training. Additional research is needed to fully evaluate training needs of the appropriate deployment of HRD dogs, especially during disaster situations when forensic teams may be called to unfamiliar areas.


Slides/Poster (pdf)