Canine Crime Walks: An Interview with Author Eva Pretscher

This book offers tips for setting up canine crime walks.

Krimiwanderung mit Hunden book cover, courtesy of the Kynos Verlag.

People love crime stories. They also love their dogs. Why not combine the two?

That is exactly what German dog trainer and author Eva Pretscher has done with her new book on canine crime walks. Krimiwanderungen mit Hunden (Kynos Verlag, 2017) will appear at the end of September, but you can learn more and pre-order it at the link above.

Frau Pretscher has developed a series of walks in which dogs and their owners have to work together to solve a fictional crime – a murder mystery, a missing person or animal case, and the like. She sets up scent trails for the dogs and leaves clues for the humans along the trail.

I haven’t seen a more entertaining idea for canine-human activities in a long time.

These canine crime walks have proved so popular in Germany Pretscher is publishing her canine crime walks manual in October. She joins us today to talk about dogs, sleuthing, and having fun. If you prefer to read German, scroll down to the bottom to read the original interview.

Wenn Sie lieber auf Deutsch lesen, finden Sie das ursprünglische Gespräch auf Deutsch ganz unten.

Welcome, Eva Pretscher!

Author Eva Pretscher with her own dog.

Author Eva Pretscher with her own dog. Courtesy of Eva Pretscher.

Why is it good to engage a dog with its sense of smell?

Because it’s the most natural activity and occupation for a dog. A dog has fun sniffing and uses smell to perceive its world – when I look at my dog, he would prefer to sniff uninterrupted on a walk.

Your canine crime walks simultaneously engage the dog’s owner with a murder mystery. How does that work?

Exactly. The people have to solve a case following a short introduction to the story, and then it starts. The dog sniffs out the trail and the clues that are necessary to solving the case and the people have to logically connect them to solve the case. Without the olfactory performance of the dog, it would be hard to find the clues, so the people have to rely on the dog’s talents.

With your book, can a dog owner put together canine crime walks him- or herself?

 Well, not exactly. There should be a third person to set up/plan the canine crime walks. Otherwise the fun factor would get lost, because if I myself would set up the clues, then there would be no challenge in finding them.

The boxed set of canine crime walk clues you'll receive when you purchase Eva Pretscher's book

The boxed set of clues you’ll receive when you purchase Eva Pretscher’s book. Courtsey of the Kynos Verlag.

What kind of murder mysteries do you use? Can you give us an example?

 They are completely different cases. In the book you’ll find instructions and all the material for 10 cases. They are similarly structured. It always starts with a description of the crime; then comes an inspection of the crime scene, and then the relevant clues that solve the case must be found in the vicinity. And there are various additional puzzles (anagrams or questions to consider…) that always fit to that particular case.

 What do you use as an odor to lay the trail for the canine crime walks?

 The simplest solution is liverwurst water – it’s easy to prepare and even “inexperienced” noses can smell the trail and follow it well.

Do the dogs also learn something?

 Well, of course!  🙂 Even just walking in a group and additionally (in spite of the distraction of other people and dogs) focusing on one person and concentrating on a search task is a challenge for many dogs. Because the individual canine crime walks always take place in different terrains/surroundings, environmental experiences offer another canine highlight.

This dog just found a clue!

This dog just found a clue! Courtesy of Eva Pretscher.

If a dog proves to be exceptionally talented, are there opportunities to train it further, e.g. for search and rescue?

That opportunity always exists, but is not paramount and isn’t the goal. Many dogs whose owners have noticed that the dog has fun sniffing and searching come to me in my training courses (man-trailing, scent trails, sniffing hours….) and have even more fun with their dog.

Thank you, Eva Pretscher!

Would you like to see Eva Pretscher’s book translated in English? If so, please comment. I’ll be asking the German publisher to check your reactions and if it’s positive, we just might be able to convince the Germans to put a translation on the English-speaking market.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Volunteer Cadaver Dog Handlers: Might You and Your Dog Make a Good Detective Dog Team? This is an interview with Cat Warren about her NYT bestselling book, What the Dog Knows, and her feisty cadaver dog, Solo. It will appear on the German market next month, and to celebrate that, I’ll be posting a new interview with her in September. Stay tuned!

Archaeology Dogs: Cadaver Dogs on a 700 BC Site is one of my most popular posts ever. I interviewed one of Europe’s foremost cadaver dog handlers on the new field of dogs in archaeology. Andrea Pintar discusses how far back in time a dog’s nose can go. It will amaze you.

Cadaver Dogs: Aiding Law Enforcement throughout History looks at law enforcement’s first intentional use of a dog to search for a dead body. That dog cracked a serial murder case in early 19th-century Germany.

Dogs and owners both have a blast when they can solve mysteries together.

Dogs and owners both have a blast when they can solve mysteries together. Courtesy of Eva Pretscher.

Gespräch mit Eva Pretscher auf Deutsch


Warum ist es gut, einen Hund mit seinem Geruchssinn zu beschäftigen oder spielen zu lassen?

 Weil es die natürlichste Beschäftigung und Auslastung von einem Hund ist. Der Hund hat Spaß am Schnüffeln und nimmt darüber seine Welt wahr- wenn ich mir meinen Hund anschaue, schnüffelt er  unterwegs am Liebsten ununterbrochen.

Ihre Krimiwanderungen beschäftigen gleichzeitig den/die Hundebesitzer/in mit einem Krimirätsel. Wie funktioniert das?

 Genau, die Menschen haben einen Fall zu lösen, nach einer kurzen Einführung in die Story, geht es auch schon los. Der Hund “erschnüffelt” den Weg und die Hinweise die zum Lösen des Falls nötig sind und die Menschen müssen logisch kombinieren um den Fall so zu lösen.

Ohne die Nasenleistung des Hundes wäre es schwer die Hinweise zu finden, somit müssen sich die Menschen auf die Talente des Hundes verlassen.

Mit Ihrem Buch, kann das Herrchen/Frauchen selber eine Krimiwanderung veranstalten?

 Naja, nicht ganz. Also es sollte eine dritte Person die Krimiwanderung vorbereiten / auslegen. Denn ansonsten geht der Spaßfaktor verloren, da es, wenn ich selbst für mich selbst die Hinweise auslege, ja keine wirkliche Herausforderung mehr ist, die Hinweise auch zu finden.

Was für ein Krimirätsel benutzen Sie? Könnten Sie uns ein Beispiel geben?

Es sind ganz unterschiedliche Fälle. In dem Buch findet man die Anleitung und das komplette Zubehör für 10 Fälle. Sie sind ähnlich aufgebaut, es geht immer mit einer Beschreibung der Tat los, dann folgt eine Begehung des Tatorts und dann müssen eben genaue Hinweise in der Umgebung gefunden werden, die sachdienlich sind um den Fall zu lösen. Und zusätzlich gibt es auch verschiedene Rätsel (Buchstabenrätsel, Anagramm, oder auch Denkfragen zum Knobeln,…) – immer passend zu dem jeweiligen Fall.

Was verwenden Sie als Geruchsmittel?

Die einfachste Art ist Leberwurstwasser – das lässt sich leicht herstellen und auch “unerfahrene” Schnüffelnasen riechen die Spur und können ihr gut folgen.

Lernen die Hunde auch etwas dabei?

Na klar 🙂 schon alleine das Laufen in einer Gruppe ist für viele Hunde eine Herausforderung und sich zusätzlich (trotz der Ablenkung von anderen Menschen und Hunden) auf seinen Menschen zu fokusieren und sich auf Suchaufgaben zu konzentrieren.

Da die einzelnen Krimiwanderungen immer in einem anderen Gelände / Umgebung stattfinden, kommen Umwelterfahrungen auch noch hinzu.

Wenn ein Hund wirklich gut abschneidet, gibt es Möglichkeiten, ihn weiter zu trainieren, z.B. für Such- und Rettungsdienste?

Die Möglichkeit gibt es immer, dies steht aber nicht im Vordergrund und ist auch nicht das Ziel. Viele der Hunde, bei denen Frauchen/Herrchen gemerkt haben, der Hund hat Spaß am Schnüffeln und Suchen, kommen zu mir in Beschäftigungskurse (Mantrailen, Fährte, Schnüffelstunden,…) und haben hier weiterhin Spaß mit Ihrem Hund.

Danke, Eva Pretscher!

Möchten Sie mehr wissen? Ein Link zum Buch, Krimiwanderungen mit Hunden (Kynos Verlag, 2017).

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Robert E. Lee’s mystery letter connected to a record-breaking cold case


Robert E. Lee's mysterious letter

Detail of Robert E. Lee’s letter. Robert E. Lee to George Washington Custis Lee, 11 Apr. 1847, deButts-Ely family papers. (c) Virginia Historical Society, with permission.


A national mystery

The Virginia Historical Society inherited a national mystery in 1981. That’s when it obtained the deButts-Ely family papers. The collection contains Robert E. Lee correspondence, and among it, a surprising letter from the Siege of Veracruz. In that letter, Robert E. Lee praised an unknown hero. But no one suspected that man was an assassin – the perpetrator in a record-breaking German cold case.

Lee at the Siege of Veracruz

General Winfield Scott masterminded the siege in March 1847 as the opening gambit to his campaign in the Mexican-American War. While General Zachary Taylor remained in northern Mexico, far from the capital, Scott planned an amphibious landing near Veracruz. He wanted to capture the Mexican port city and then march inland, following Cortez’s route from centuries before, to sack Mexico City.

The Siege of Veracruz was Robert E. Lee’s first battle. He directed the fire at an onshore naval battery. A German company from Pennsylvania’s first regiment was assigned to defending it. Eight Americans died at the battery before the U.S. won the siege, and one of those deaths made a profound impression on Lee. On April 11, he put his feelings on paper in a letter to his son Custis:

Robert E. Lee’s mystery letter

There was one poor fellow that behaved nobly. His thigh was broke by a cannon ball & he was laid in a trench at the rear of the battery for security, the balls & shells were flying so thick that he could not be borne away. A bush was stuck over him to keep the sun out of his eyes & all that we could give him was occasionally a cup of bad warm water. The men at the guns were hot & thirsty & drank up the water as fast as it could be brought. It was at some distance & the balls swept over the field & at such a furious rate that the officers would not let the men go for water except when they could not do without it. There the poor fellow lay till evening; when they got a litter & was bearing him off, when a shell fell & burst & a fragment killed him. He laid the whole day with the balls & bombs flying over him without uttering a complaint. His sufferings must have been very great, for the battery kept up a constant & brisk firing & the concussion from the 32 [pounders] & Paixhan guns shook the whole ground & must have pained him terribly. I doubt whether all Mexico is worth to us the life of that man.*

This unknown hero has been a discussion point in the literature. Why would Robert E. Lee balance American military objectives against the life of one man and find them lacking?

But no one, until now, has asked who that man was.

Naval battery at the Siege of Veracruz

Naval battery at the Siege of Veracruz, ca. 1848. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain.

The unknown hero turns out to be a long-sought criminal

A careful comparison of the American casualty list against descriptions of the deaths at the naval battery in primary sources such as logbooks, letters, and a newspaper account from an embedded journalist all point to a German volunteer in the 1st Pennsylvania.

Robert E. Lee couldn’t have known the man’s background. It would have shocked him. The man was the assassin in a record-breaking German cold case – 19th-century Germany’s coldest case ever solved and its only murder ever solved in the USA.

For the first time, Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee (Kent State University Press, September 1, 2017) brings these two stories together. It offers American history packaged in international true crime wrapping. You can order the book here on Amazon.

Next week we’ll look at the German case and the letter from America that provided the crucial clue.

Literature on point:

*Robert E. Lee to George Washington Custis Lee, 11 Apr. 1847, deButts-Ely family papers, Virginia Historical Society.

Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters (New York: Penguin Books, 2009; discusses the letter on p. 173).

Bernice-Marie Yates, The Perfect Gentleman: The Life and Letters of George Washington Custis Lee, Vol. 1 (Xulon Press, 2003; discusses the letter on pp. 92-94).

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