Working Dogs – Detection Dogs


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Detection dogs (or Sniffer dogs, Medical Detection dogs or Bio-detection dogs) are trained to use their sense of smell to detect things like drugs, blood, and even diseases or explosives. Cadaver dogs are trained to sniff out human remains. Police dogs are frequently used as detection dogs.

Detection dogs are working dogs that are bred to sniff out diseases, or to find missing persons, bombs and narcotics. The dogs are extensively trained from puppy-hood. These dogs can detect cancer, UTI infections, and there are even early stage trials today in training dogs to detect the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. The dogs that are chosen for this line of work are all considered to have a genetic makeup that results in a particular pup having a superior sense of smell, and are therefore not necessarily chosen by a particular breed.

Medical Alert Assistance Dogs

Medical alert assistance dogs are trained to notice even the tiniest changes in a person’s personal odour that is triggered by their disease. This alerts them that there is an impending medical event. These dogs are amazing in the way that they are trained to help patients who have life-threatening conditions.

Bio Detection Dogs

Bio-detection dogs are trained to detect the odour of diseases in urine and breath samples and swabs. The first Cancer Detection Dogs: It wasn’t until 1989 that scientists first put dogs and cancer together – a report in a British journal The Lancet reported that a dog repeatedly sniffed a lesion on its owner’s thigh. That lesion turned out to be early-stage melanoma. You can read more here.

Explosives Detection Dogs

The use of high-quality, specially trained scent-detection dogs is vital in detecting explosives efficiently. You’ll occasionally see these dogs in airports nowadays. Global demand for these dogs has skyrocketed within the past decade.

Cadaver Dogs

Cadaver dogs have been found to be 95% accurate at detecting smells on the job. They can even detect remains up to 30 meters underwater, just needing a drop of blood or a fraction of a bone piece to determine the location of the cadaver. They can also detect residual scents, which are scents left behind when a body part is placed somewhere and then moved. Cadaver dogs require roughly 1,000 hours of training for their jobs in the field.

Popular Breeds used as Detection Dogs

  • Bloodhounds
  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Belgian Malinois
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • Coonhounds
  • German Shorthaired Pointer
  • American Pit Bull Terriers
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
  • Border Collies

The most successful dogs are taken from field and working line breeds known to have enormous amounts of energy and drive, with the ability to work all day without losing either interest or energy. Additionally, the dogs are often chosen from highly intelligent breeds that have historically been bred over decades for working purposes. They need to have a good balance between being sociable and easy for their handlers to manage, and yet not so sociable that they are easily distracted by the presence of people around them while they work.

The puppies are usually chosen by government agencies for dog training programs when they are around a year old and ready to get into advanced training.

A dog’s sense of smell is up to 100,000 times better than a humans. The way their nose is made, they can sniff continuously with air streams into 2 areas – one for respiration and the other for smelling. They can detect substances at extremely low concentrations – as low as parts per trillion. Dogs can detect cancer, other sicknesses, and even viruses by sniffing at the following human odors:

  • skin
  • breath
  • sweat
  • urine
  • feces

Dogs are an excellent choice in detection chemical and biological agents due to their ability to work in a variety of environments, their portability, stamina, and their sense of smell. So, how far can a dog smell scents underground? They can smell things buried as far as 15 – 40 feet underground. In one experiment a dog was able to sniff out whale poop floating in Puget Sound from a mile away.

Got a working breed? Tell us what they’re like! Breed detection dogs? Let us know!

Interested in reading about military dogs? Click here!

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