Lesson of the Day: ‘When Cadaver Dogs Pick Up a Scent, Archaeologists Find Where to Dig’

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Have you ever watched a dog follow a scent? What have you noticed how they move? They might have their tail alert while advancing quickly along the ground using their nose as a guide. If it’s a pet dog — rather than a working dog — they could be following the smell of leftover food or looking for the perfect place to go the bathroom. However, did you know that some dogs are trained to use their powerful sense of smell to detect human remains?

In this lesson, you will learn about cadaver dogs that are now being trained to support archaeologists searching for ancient human remains. Then, you will observe a dog or learn more about how a dog’s nose works.

Watch the first 1:15 of this video, created by the author of the featured article, as she trains a cadaver dog. Then answer the following questions.

Section 1: On the scent of new tombs

2. What research and tests did Vedrana Glavaš, an archaeologist, and Andrea Pintar, a dog handler, have to conduct before moving forward with using human-remains detection dogs at the necropolis of Drvišica?

3. Why was Adee Schoon, a scent-detection-animal expert, skeptical about using cadaver dogs in searching for ancient human remains?

Section 2: Archaeological cold cases

4. How did Paul Martin, a dog handler and trainer, become interested in using dogs to find older human remains?

5. How did rodents help Mr. Martin confirm the accuracy of alerts made by cadaver dogs?

Section 3: Passing sniff tests

6. What are some of the questions that remain about using human-remains detection dogs as a noninvasive archaeology tool? What are the advantages of using H.R.D. dogs?

7. What are some of the ongoing uses of human-remains detection dogs in the United States?

If you have a dog, or can be a socially distant observer of someone else’s dog, watch how it moves and uses its sense of smell. Set a time limit for how long you will observe the dog. Then, write down the dog’s age and if it has any previous training. Also, record the context of your observation: Is the dog walking on its leash with its owner or is it off leash?

Then, write down your observations about the dog’s movement:

  • Does the dog always move at the same pace? What seems to change about how quickly or slowly it is moving?

  • How does the dog seem to determine the direction it’s moving in? What body part does the dog lead with when it changes direction?

  • Based on your observations, how does the dog use its nose along with the rest of its senses to move around and interact?

Watch this four minute video about dogs’ noses and answer the following questions.

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