By Arthur Jeon, Global Animal
In the trial of Casey Anthony, who stands accused of murdering her daughter, Caylee, in 2008, forensics are being used to piece together what happened.
Cadaver dogs are trained to ignore live human scent and animal scent and only “indicate” on human remains. These dogs are employed to find human remains at crime scenes and missing persons cases. As the Casey Anthony trial becomes increasingly focused on forensic evidence, the trial may very well go to the dogs.
Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Forge, who is the handler of the cadaver dog used in the crime scene investigation on the Caylee Anthony case, took the stand today. He gave testimony on the rigorous testing his dog, Gerus, underwent to scent-detect human remains.
According to testimony, Gerus was assigned to smell around Casey Anthony’s car. Upon sniffing the trunk of the Pontiac Sunfire, the cadaver dog sat down near the rear bumper, which is the “alerting” stance to indicate the presence of human remains. The dog also reacted strongly when the trunk was opened. On another occasion in the investigation, Gerus and Bones, another cadaver dog on the specialized K-9 unit, alerted investigators to spots in the backyard of the home where Anthony lived with her parents.
Another dog handler is expected to testify tomorrow.
Dogs’ noses are so sensitive that they’re even capable of detecting bodies under running water. According to a study published in the Journal of Forensic Anthropology, well-trained cadaver dogs have nearly 100% accuracy rates on human remains detection (HRD). This can make canines valuable contributors in the search for the truth, or at least, finding the clues on the path to the truth. Impressive indeed. But how do they do what they do? Read on…
How Cadaver Dogs Are Trained
Fide Canem. That is latin for, “trust the dog,” and is a fundamental rule in canine cadaver dog training and search and rescue. It’s usually the first thing a handler learns. The training of a new search dog begins early in the dog’s life and continues for the working life of the dog. It’s preferred that dogs begin training between 8 weeks and two years old. Volunteer dog handlers raise and train their own dogs, spending countless hours preparing for “mission ready” status.
Most of the search dogs are specifically selected as puppies for certain traits that will make them good search dogs. Some of the dogs may be dogs that were selected primarily as pets but were later found to have the necessary traits for this type of work. Dogs may come from breeders or they may come from shelters, pounds, or breed rescue organizations.
Regardless of where the dogs come from, all must possess certain traits or “drives” that show they can be trained and employed reliably on a search.
Like all search dogs, cadaver dogs go through extensive training before they can become certified and operational. Cadaver dogs are first trained to recognize a wide spectrum of odors associated with human remains, depending on their specific use. Cadaver dogs working in a disaster situation focus on more recent decomposition odors, while cadaver dogs that work with law enforcement are also trained to recognize older decomposition odors and smaller odor sources. Only actual human remains are used to train the dogs; no pseudo scent is used in the training process.
All K-9’s are first taught to give a trained final response or indication upon detection of the odor. They are taught to only give this response when they locate the strongest source of the odor. A large amount of time is spent on making sure that the indication is solid before the K-9 is ever taught to actually search for the odor in a scenario-based problem. Cadaver dogs that are trained in water recovery are taught to give this final indication while working from a boat on a body of water.
The dogs are trained in obedience, controlled agility, and to search for and alert their handlers to the presence of human scent in a given search area. Dogs may be taught several forms of trained indications depending on the profiles they are working in.
Through carefully planned steps, a dog is taught to work as an integral part of a team with its handler. Dogs are exposed to many distractions (both sight, sound and scent) and varying conditions while learning to be steady and dependable in any situation. Dogs are expected to work around other dogs, ignore “critters” such as livestock, rabbits, cats and deer, and are conditioned to accept transport in a variety of vehicles including helicopters, planes and various all-terrain vehicles.
Dogs are also expected to be able to work under control both on and off leash. The dogs are required to work in rural and wilderness areas as well as a wide variety of urban environments from residential alleys to industrial areas, to building interiors. The dogs are trained to indicate live finds (people), cadavers, as well as large and small articles (evidence).
Being a handler consists of a nearly constant learning process. The handler learns how best to guide the dog through the search area and learns how varying terrain, wind, temperature and other environmental factors can affect how a dog works.
Courses are taken in Scent Theory, Search & Rescue Fundamentals, First Aid, Radio Communications, Global Positioning System Operations, Evidence Handling and Courtroom Demeanor. Additional training may be taken in rescue techniques, visual tracking, repelling, wilderness survival and disaster search.
Over time, a new handler learns to “read” his or her dog. That is, the person learns to watch for subtle changes in the dog’s body language. And always adhere to “trust your dog,” since it’s the canine partner who’s depended upon to make the finds.
Both dog and handler are always learning and ideally, always striving for better performance. It takes one to two years to prepare a dog and handler team for certification.