Ringo Begins Cadaver Training

Ringo Begins Cadaver Training

The Beginnings of a Cadaver Dog

A cadaver dog specializes in finding the remains of expired persons and pets. 

That’s right… They find dead things. It’s an unfortunate but necessary job, and when there’s a call for recovery efforts to begin, the team needs to know a dog is trustworthy and reliable. After all, we’re counting on them to guide us in the right direction.

There’s power in the nose.

RIngo and Ginny

I’m not a scientist, but I do know that generally speaking humans have about six million olfactory receptors in our noses while a dog on the other hand has upwards of 300 million! The additional receptors combined with the dog’s innate curiosity make their overall sense of smell thousands of times better than ours. They can smell what humans struggle to even perceive, and leaning into this superpower is what being a cadaver dog is all about.

Training consists of harnessing that power and teaching the dog to key in on a particular smell, specifically the chemicals that human bodies produce while they decompose.

One chemical that stands out and is easy to remember is “Cadaverine” which produces the notoriously unpleasant smell of death. It may be an oversimplification, but essentially Cadaver Dogs are trained to seek out cadaverine. 

Training, like all good things, is built on consistency and repetition. You have to spend time with your dog, and there’s no replacement for time spent in the field. 

Ringo’s first day at training was a field test to measure his aptitude and discernment.  Each dog has a natural disposition, so before you start training any animal rigorously you should take time to learn about their personality and character. This not only helps understand what will be required in training to keep the dog engaged, but it helps create a bond between handler and pooch. 

The day began with warm ups and some socialization exercises where the new recruits were guided around one another, but encouraged to stay focused on the handler, not the other dogs. In search and rescue situations, there are a lot of unknowns in the field. One thing that we look out for early on is any sign of aggression. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something that you want to get on top of extremely early and curb those tendencies. If aggressive behaviors persist through maturity, the animal won’t be functional in the field. There will never be a situation where one rescue dog bullying another will be tolerated. 

Ringo passed with flying colors. He’s been intentionally socialized well before today, and this walk was nothing new.

Next it was time for the first test, the search and rescue. 

Ringo on the hunt.

 

When there is a chance of survival the dynamics in the field can change. For example, what if the person being rescued doesn’t want to be found and is constantly on the move? Also, the starting scent is unique to that individual, meaning the training of search and rescue dogs starts with a unique scent of that individual, and the dog is taught to find the living.

Ringo just did just okay in this exercise. To say he was a little distracted is an understatement, the scent of the individual just wasn’t enough to hold his attention. Ringo was more interested in playing in the tall grass and chasing butterflies than in keeping his nose to the ground and on the scent of a dirty sock. The search was more like a walk in the park, where he got to meet a new friend at the end.

The cadaver test however was another story. 

When there’s no longer a reasonable chance of survival, efforts go from being search and rescue, to search and recovery. This is where the unique smells of decomposition become the primary target. Remembering the olfactory receptors in the dog’s nose, all 300 million of them lit up when Ringo caught his first wind of cadaverine! The moment Ringo smelled the target, I did not have time to get his working vest on him. He became excited with one goal and one goal only: To find the source of the smell that he had been introduced to. He was given a command to go find Earl, and that he did. 

It was amazing to see Ringo work at such a young age. There were three targets placed in the field, with the middle target being placed off-course on purpose. The course was set where a dog following the scent would have to have an especially keen nose to divert towards the second marker. The natural trail for the dog would be to flow from the first marker, to the third marker as a more direct route. Every single dog in the trial missed the second marker, except for Ringo.

Now to be fair, Ringo did follow the same path as the previous dogs, but the difference was he didn’t stop. After finding the first and third markers, there was another marker out there, and he could smell it. He kept his head to the ground, and came back to the second, and hardest marker in the field.  He was only 3 months old, so I am excited to see what he’s like when he matures. This came so naturally to him. His grandparents on his mother’s side which were Malinois were cadaver dogs.

It was official, Ringo is a Cadaver Dog.

Ringo on the job