Birgit Hilsbos & Blaze: Cadaver Dog Team Training in Canada


Cadaver Dog Team Birgit Hilsbos & Blaze.

Birgit Hilsbos & Blaze. Courtesy of Birgit Hilsbos.

Cadaver dog teams break missing persons’ cases

Finding the body provides crucial evidence in a missing persons’ case. Was it a natural death or a murder? If the former, the find helps bring closure to the family of the deceased. If the latter, clues on or around the body can offer valuable leads to law enforcement.

So often, it’s a pair of canine nostrils that break a case.

Detectives have used human remains detection dogs since the 19th century, but only during the 1970s has law enforcement standardized training. Different countries have different regulations and training procedures for cadaver dog teams.

Meet the cadaver dog team Birgit Hilsbos & Blaze

This week, the cadaver dog team of Birgit Hilsbos and Blaze are checking in to tell about their training in Canada.

  1. You have lived in both Switzerland and Canada. Which country are you from and how did you come to live and work in the other?
Birgit Hilsbos & her dogs.

Birgit Hilsbos & her dogs. Courstey of Birgit Hilsbos.

Birgit Hilsbos: I am from Switzerland and lived almost four years in Alberta. Last December we returned to Switzerland.

  1. How did you get started as a cadaver dog handler?


A dog nose at work.

A dog nose at work. Courtesy of Birgit Hilsbos.

Training with the Canadian Search Dog Association

Well, I had quite a few detours. I began my canine career as a dog walker 22 years ago. I got my first dog in 1998 and trained him in competition tracking. My second dog arrived four years later, and I competed with her in obedience, tracking, and air scenting. I apprenticed with Assistance Dog International and worked with Assistance Dogs before my third dog, Blaze, came into my life. Because of some old Swiss friends, I started doing SAR [search and rescue] with her, and became a member of the Canadian Search Dog Association. Aside from searching for human scent (missing people & evidence), the CSDA also has the cadaver profile.


  1. You have read my interviews of the U.S.-American cadaver dog team Cat Warren & Solo and the German team Michael Müller & Gerry. How does cadaver dog training in Switzerland and Canada compare to the United States and Germany?

The “real stuff”

The hidden prize: a container containing cadaver odors.

The hidden prize. Courtesy of Birgit Hilsbos.

In Canada we started with the “real stuff” right from the beginning. Because members of the CSDA are certified by the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] and tasked only by law enforcement, we had a strict policy on handling cadaver material. We received parts of a burial shroud from the police, as well as other material from hospitals. I soaked a 2 x 2 cm piece of gauze with the material and put it into little tubes, sealed them – the lid has a 2 mm hole – and then introduced the scent. As soon as Blaze made the connection between the command and the scent and mastered the passive alert, I put it somewhere in the open, first in a small area, and then increased the size of the area, and either buried it or hung it in trees.

  1. Has your dog’s sense of smell ever surprised you?
The cadaver dog team in training: the dog finds the hidden sent.

Found it! Blaze successfully locates the prize. Courtesy of Birgit Hilsbos.


When I first saw her doing hard surface tracking I was totally amazed. Properly trained, she will find everything I ask her for, just for the fun of a game, some treats, or simply my affection.


A good cadaver dog team is also trained to search in trees.

A good cadaver dog team is also trained to search in trees. Courtesy of Birgit Hilsbos.

Thank you Birgit, for participating in this interview, and thank you Blaze, for all your hard work!

Could you imagine doing this kind of training with your dog? Why or why not?

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Ravens as Partners for Cadaver Dogs?

Raven in Yellowstone

Raven in Yellowstone National Park by Christopher May; shutterstock_283227410

Germany shocked the law enforcement world in 2010 with an ingenious idea: Why not use turkey vultures to search for dead bodies in murder investigations? Turkey vultures hunt with their sense of smell and scientists say they’re the best sniffers among the raptors. They’re naturally attracted to carrion. They can detect a dead mouse from a mile away and aren’t hindered by rough terrain. Could they be trained to distinguish human from animal bodies, be fitted with GPS devices, and help law enforcement solve cases?

Turkey vulture.

Turkey vulture. Morguefile free photos.

As great as the idea was, it met its demise in the sharp talons of the vulture’s biology. Vultures aren’t sociable. They’re all beaks and claws. They use projectile vomiting to defend themselves, spewing the rancid, corrosive mess up to ten feet. The German researchers couldn’t get them to cooperate and the project was quickly abandoned.

Should Germany have looked at ravens instead?

It’s not that vultures can’t be useful on cadaver searches. Cadaver dog handler Cat Warren admits to keeping an eye on turkey vulture kettles during her searches. But other wild birds offer clues, too. Hanns Gross, the Austrian father of criminology, kept his eye on European vultures and kites, but also on a different carrion-eating genus: the corvids. Ravens and crows. Here’s an example from his 19th century handbook on criminology:

Flying raven.

Flying raven. Morguefile free photos.

“The body of a murdered woman was once found in the following way: The teachers of the surrounding schools told the children to let them know if they noticed a flock of many crows, ravens, etc., anywhere; some of them made such a report, with the successful result that the murdered person was found.”

I say the Germans were experimenting with the wrong bird species. Shall we take a closer look at the raven?

 Ravens are sociable and super smart

Scientists consider corvids the most intelligent birds. They’ve even documented corvids using tools. They’re trainable. A big plus is that they’re affable to humans.

Raven totem pole.

Raven in Native American art. Morguefile free photos.

It’s no accident that the raven plays such a prominent role in Norse and American Indian mythology. Ornithologist Bernd Heinrich devotes three chapters in his book, Mind of the Raven, to the raven’s cooperation with other hunters: wolves, polar bears, cats, and humans. There are anecdotes of ravens spotting prey and leading predators to it. Ravens probably learned that large prey, in combination with a hunter, translated into food. As a reward, the ravens got a chance at the leftovers.

In fact, man’s first best friend might not have been the dog. It could have been the raven.

 A corvid, canine, and homo sapiens hunting triad?

Odin with his two wolves and ravens.

Odin sits atop his steed Sleipnir, his ravens Huginn and Muninn and wolves Geri and Freki nearby. By Lorenz Frølich (1895), public domain.

It may not be an accident, either, that the Norse god Odin took two ravens and two wolves with him on the hunt.

In order to track down the bases for raven mythology, modern anecdotes of interspecies hunting cooperation, and rumors that Eskimo hunters “talk” to ravens, Bernd Heinrich traveled to Inuit villages on the Canadian tundra. He found ravens everywhere, often in close association with the Eskimo dogs.

The Inuit told stories of hunters’ ability to communicate with overflying ravens in bygone times. They used incantations and called out the raven’s name, “tulugaq!” Ravens, they said, indicated the direction of the prey by wing tipping. “And after [the hunters] killed the caribou or the polar bear,” said one elderly Inuit, “they always left the raven the choicest tidbits of meat as a reward.” It wasn’t always the faithful dog, then, that accompanied the ancient hunter. The raven may have been there too.

Wolves are one of the raven's traditional hunting partners.

Wolf. Morguefile free photos.

Where they don’t have humans to help them, ravens are just as happy to work with canines. Research from Yellowstone National Park indicates that ravens are dependent on wolves to kill and open carcasses for them. Heinrich says that points to a relationship with an ancient evolutionary history.

Given that ravens also eat carrion and can spot it from the air, could they be trained to search for human bodies and work in cooperation with cadaver dogs and their handlers? Humans and canines are, after all, two of the raven’s traditional partners.

It’s an idea worth exploring. And it’s a more pleasant one than working with vultures.

Literature on point:



Cat Warren, What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013)


Bernd Heinrich: Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds (New York, Harper Collins, 1999). The quote appears on p. 252 of the Harper Perennial paperback edition.

Hanns Gross, Handbuch für Untersuchungsrichter (3rd ed., Graz: Leuschner & Lubensky’s 1899) p.124.

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Interview with Michael Müller, a German cadaver dog handler

German cadaver dog handler Michael Müller

Michael Müller, the first cadaver dog handler in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Private photo, with permission.

Gespräch mit Michael Müller, einem der ersten Leichensuchhundführer in Deutschland (Deutscher Text unten)

One month ago I interviewed Cat Warren, an American cadaver dog handler in America whose book, What the Dog Knows, has since hit the bestseller list. Germany trains and uses its cadaver dogs a bit differently. Please meet Michael Müller, a German cadaver dog handler and the first in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, along with his dog Gerry, who once solved a murder just in the nick of time.

German cadaver dog

We may be thinking that’s a beautiful dog, but the dog’s thinking, “Where’s my toy?” Play instincts are an important prerequisite for cadaver dogs. Photo courtesy of Michael Müller.

Ann Marie: Most cadaver dog handlers in the United States work on a volunteer basis. How does it work in Germany?

Michael Müller: I first have to draw some distinctions. There are cadaver dogs and rescue and avalanche search dogs.

Cadaver dogs are specially trained to search for bodies. So they are used in investigating crimes. Such procedures are led by a public prosecutor’s office and its investigative team – the police. For that reason, external volunteers can’t be used. Because there are numerous K9 squads in Baden-Württemberg, dogs are continually trained there and employed for appropriate assignments.

Rescue and avalanche search dogs are trained to locate persons who are missing or buried under an avalanche. Their handlers are volunteers who are usually members of certain organizations (Red Cross, mountain patrol, K9 squads, technical assistance organizations, etc.).

Because they help in disasters that may or may not be under police control, volunteers can be used. These missions, however, serve to locate living people. Of course it happens that these dogs also find bodies (in cases like earthquakes or collapse of dwellings).

Here the difference in training is also apparent. Cadaver dogs are trained to find decomposed flesh, whereas rescue and avalanche search dogs are trained to find living persons. Many learn using the living person, and evaporation from sweat and urine that every person in a helpless position secretes, as the basis for training.

You were the first cadaver dog handler in Baden-Württemberg. When and how did you start?

German K9

German K9s just might be the coolest in the world. Photo courtesy of Michael Müller.

After cadaver dogs in the other German states had already proved their success, the police in Baden-Württemberg also received an order in 1980 to start training cadaver dogs. This order was first given to the K9 squad in Stuttgart. Together with two other colleagues, our police dogs were trained as cadaver dogs. The training lasted 10 weeks.

The police dogs were already all successful narcotics sniffer dogs and what they received now was additional special training.

A prerequisite for the selection of a cadaver search dog was whether the dogs exhibited pronounced play instincts. As early as the spring of 1981, we had our first case for these three dogs. Within the scope of a murder case, a garbage dump was searched. The actual body couldn’t be found (as it later turned out, the body had been disposed of at a different site); nevertheless, our police dogs alerted at various places where we could find diverse [animal] carcasses and hospital waste. Some of it was buried several meters deep.

How were your dogs trained?

Like I already said, a prerequisite for this special training is the presence of pronounced play instincts.

Police dog

Portrait of Working Police Dog, Rob Hainer,

Because decomposing pork smells similar to decomposing human flesh, a small portion of pork was first shrink-wrapped and packed into hard plastic (tubes). We first used this “toy” in relaxed games of fetch in which the dog chased the toy and retrieved it for its handler. With time we increased the difficulty and hid the “toy,” but at first so that the leashed dog could see it. At the next level of difficulty, the toy was hidden so that the dog could no longer see it, forcing it to switch from visual performance to olfactory performance when ordered to search.

After the dog could search with its nose, we continually increased the difficulty. Of course the dog received gushing praise whenever it found something. It was important to always break down the territory before the search. For every dog, an area about 100m long and 30-40m wide was cordoned off. The area was cordoned off depending on the wind direction so that the dogs always searched against the wind. In the course of training, it became apparent that the dogs could sometimes hit the scent 50m from the hiding place and run directly to the buried hiding place. There they tried to dig out their “toy” to show their handler that something was there.

During the course of training pork was replaced with human body parts so we could be sure that the police dogs were actually searching human flesh. Pork was buried as a distraction, but the dogs now ignored it.

Your dog once played a decisive role in an investigation and made it possible to apprehend the criminal at the last possible moment. Please tell us what happened.

With the help of my police dog, I was able to solve a murder case.

The case began in December 1987. A wife disappeared without a trace from a city in southern Germany. Based on the investigation, her husband became the prime suspect. But without a body it was difficult to prove the man committed a crime.

The investigation was very difficult. Military airplanes from the German army were used to take special photographs. In these photographs, you can see where something has been recently buried or where the soil was disturbed. The pictures offered no leads. But because the accused husband worked in construction, operating an excavator, we next investigated where he had been working at the time his wife disappeared.

Investigation indicated he had been working on building a new street. On the basis of this lead, portions of the new street were removed, but no body could be found. Further investigation revealed that the excavator operator had also been working at a dumpsite. A large, several-story building had been torn down and the rubble was dumped at a special dumpsite.

The detective decided to search the dumpsite and contacted the K9 squad in Stuttgart. Because the area to be searched was so large, we decided to use all the cadaver dogs in Baden-Württemberg together.

Over the next few days, following the necessary preparations, this huge mission started. The search area was so large and difficult that at the beginning, we weren’t sure if we could finish in one day, even though 14 dogs were deployed.

The nose of a police dog is a service to society.

A dog’s nose is capable of amazing performances. Auttiedot, morguefile photos.

Indeed, the mission had to be terminated in the evening because even the dogs had reached their limits and urgently needed a break.

Because only a small remaining portion was left to search, I received the order to search it on the following day. The reason for that was that my residence and workplace were not far away.

So on the next day I drove to the site. I also have to add that the accused husband had already been in jail for almost a year.

The deployment of all the cadaver dog handlers was on a Wednesday in November 1988 (the woman had been missing since December 1987). On the following Thursday I was deployed to search the remaining area. On the following day, on Friday, the accused was scheduled to appear in court for a decision on the procedural justification for his custody and would have most certainly been released without discovery of the body. But it didn’t go that far thanks to my police dog, Gerry.

On that Thursday I drove to the site in the morning and subdivided the remaining search area. I noticed that afternoon, as we continued to search, sudden, pronounced reactions in my dog, despite our having taken breaks. I could see how he began searching with greater concentration and narrowing it down to a smaller area. We took breaks several times, but he always returned to the same place and began to dig. Because I trusted my dog, I was certain he wanted to show me something there. Whether it was the missing body or something else he wanted to show me, however, I couldn’t tell right away.

Because several excavators were available to us, I had one dig at that spot. In the meantime, a large hole was created at the location and the dog was once again deployed. Gerry began to dig further in the hole and showed me he’d definitely hit a scent. This hole was then dug deeper and wider. Nobody thought it would be possible for us to really find a body 5-6m deep. But it did lie there, under a concrete slab. The clay in the soil had preserved the body in a good condition. Next to the body were also drainage pipes in which the odor had accumulated.

Proud of my K9 Gerry, I reported the find of the body to the detectives. After lots of handshaking and dog petting for my Gerry, we could drive back home.

Have your dogs ever surprised you with their sense of smell?

Police dogs deserve our thanks.

Thanks to all police dogs for your incredible crime-solving capabilities! dlogue, morguefile photos.

There have been so many situations in which my dog’s sense of smell has surprised me. One was during his deployment as a cadaver dog in the garbage dump. Among the plethora of diverse and overlapping odors, he was actually able to find [animal] cadaver and hospital waste material.

I’ve been most surprised, however, when my dog was used for narcotics sniffing. Once my dog was able to find ca. 0.2g (0.007 oz) of heroin. This tiny wafer was in a record collection, stuck in a wrapper.

For the K9 handler, this is a greater success than finding several kilograms. Because it’s precisely the process of finding the tiniest amounts through which one learns to trust his dog. The dog senses that trust and that gives it further confidence.

Well-rehearsed teamwork between the K9 handler and his police dog can only be built on trust.

Thank you for the interview, Herr Müller! All of Baden-Württemberg can be grateful to your dogs.



Gespräch mit Michael Müller, einem der ersten Leichensuchhundführer in Deutschland

Vor einem Monat interviewte ich Cat Warren, eine U.S.-amerikanische Leichensuchhundeführerin, deren Buch What the Dog Knows inzwischen auf der Bestsellerliste steht. Deutschlands Ausbildung und Einsatz für Hünde sind etwas anders. Ich stelle Michael Müller vor, den ersten Leichensuchhundeführer Baden-Württembergs, und seinen Hund Gerry, der einen Mordfall aufgeklärt hat, nur Stunden bevor es zu spät geworden wäre.

1. Die meisten Leichensuchhundeführer in den USA arbeiten freiwillig. Wie funktioniert es in Deutschland?

Hier muss man zunächst unterscheiden. Es gibt Leichensuchhunde und Rettungs- und Lawinensuchhunde.

Leichensuchhunde werden speziell ausgebildet, um Leichen zu finden. Deshalb kommen diese zum Einsatz bei Straftaten. Diese Verfahren werden geführt durch eine Staatsanwaltschaft und deren Ermittlungsbeamten – also der Polizei. Freiwillige externe Personen können deshalb hier nicht zum Einsatz kommen. Da es in Baden Württemberg mehrere Diensthundestaffeln gibt, werden dort immer entsprechende Hunde ausgebildet und bei möglichen Einsätzen entsprechend eingesetzt.

Rettungs- und Lawinensuchhunde sind ausgebildet um vermisste oder verschüttete Personen aufzufinden. Hier handelt es sich um freiwillige Helfer, die aber überwiegend bestimmten Organisationen angegliedert sind (Rotes Kreuz; Bergwacht, Rettungshundestaffeln, THW usw.).

Da diese bei Unglücksfällen zum Einsatz kommen, die möglicherweise auch unter polizeilicher Leitung stehen, können hier freiwillige Helfer eingesetzt werden. Diese Einsätze dienen aber zum Auffinden noch lebender Personen. Natürlich kommt es immer wieder dazu, dass diese Hunde auch Leichen finden (Einsätze bei Erdbeben, Einsturz von Wohnhäusern).

Hier ist auch der Unterschied der Ausbildung deutlich sichtbar. Leichensuchhunde sind ausgebildet verwesendes Fleisch zu finden, während Rettungs- und Lawinensuchhunde darauf ausgebildet werden, lebende Personen zu finden. Viele nehmen hier zur Ausbildungsgrundlage die lebende Person an sich und Schweiß- und Urinausdünstungen, die jeder normale Mensch in hilfloser Lage ausscheidet.

2. Sie waren der erste Leichensuchhundeführer in Baden-Württemberg. Wann und wie haben Sie angefangen?

Nachdem es in anderen Bundesländern bereits schon Leichensuchhunde gab, die auch schon erfolgreich waren, erhielt 1980 die Polizei von Baden-Württemberg ebenfalls den Auftrag Leichensuchhunde auszubilden. Dieser Auftrag ging deshalb zunächst an die Polizeihundestaffel Stuttgart. Gemeinsam mit zwei weiteren Kollegen wurden deshalb unsere Diensthunde zu Leichensuchhunden ausgebildet. Diese Ausbildung dauerte 10 Wochen.

Alle Diensthunde waren zu diesem Zeitpunkt schon erfolgreiche Drogensuchhunde und erhielten hier nun eine weitere spezielle Ausbildung.

Voraussetzung für die Auswahl zum Leichensuchhund war auch ein extrem ausgebildeter Spieltrieb,

den die Hunde vorweisen konnten. Bereits im Frühjahr 1981 kam es zum ersten Einsatz dieser drei Hunde. Im Rahmen eines Mordfalles wurde ein Mülldeponie abgesucht. Die eigentliche Leiche konnte nicht gefunden werden (wie sich später herausstellte wurde diese an anderer Örtlichkeit beseitigt), allerdings zeigten die Diensthunde an verschiedenen Stellen an und hier konnten verschiedenste Kadaver und Krankenhausmüll aufgefunden werde. Teilweise waren diese mehrere Meter vergraben.

3.Wie wurden ihre Hunde ausgebildet?

Wie bereits berichtet war Voraussetzung für diese spezielle Ausbildung ein extremer Spieltrieb.

Da Schweinefleisch bei der Verwesung ähnlich ist wie das menschliche Fleisch, wurde zunächst eine kleinere Portion dieses Fleisches eingeschweißt und in Hartplastik (Röhren) verpackt. Dieses „Spielzeug“ wurde zunächst anfangs in einem lockeren Spiel immer fortgeworfen und der Hund sprang seinem Spielzeug hinterher und brachte es seinem Hundeführer. Mit der Zeit wurde der Schwierigkeitsgrad angehoben und das „Spielzeug“ wurde versteckt, allerdings zunächst noch so, dass es der angeleinte Hund sehen konnte. Als nächste Schwierigkeit wurde es versteckt und zwar so, dass es der Hund nun nicht mehr sah, allerdings aus Suchbefehl nach seinem Spielzeug umschalten musste von anfangs seiner Augensuchleistung nun auf Nasensuchleistung.

Nachdem nun der Hund gezielt mit seiner Nase suchte wurden die Schwierigkeiten immer weiter angehoben. So wurde nun sein „Spielzeug“ vergraben und auch mehrere Tage im Versteck belassen.

Durch gezielte Suchbefehle wurde nun das betreffende Gelände abgesucht und der Hund sucht ja nur nach seinem „Spielzeug“. Bei Auffindung dessen wurde er natürlich überschwänglich gelobt. Wichtig war auch immer vor der Suche das Gelände einzuteilen. Hier wurde für jeden Hund Bereiche abgesteckt, die ca. 100 m lang waren und 30-40 m breit waren. Je nach Windrichtung mussten das Gelände abgesteckt werden, damit man immer gegen den Wind suchte. Im Rahmen der Ausbildung war hier deutlich sichtbar, dass die Hunde teilweise schon 50m vor dem Versteck Witterung hatten und gezielt zur Vergrabungstelle rannten. Dort versuchten sie ihr „Spielzeug“ auszugraben, um seinem Hundeführer zu zeigen, dass hier etwas liegt.

Im Rahmen der Ausbildung wurde das Schweinefleisch durch Leichenteile ausgetauscht, so dass man auch sicher war, dass die Diensthunde tatsächlich nach menschlichem Fleisch suchten. Zur Ablenkung nun vergrabenes Schweinefleisch wurde jetzt durch die Diensthunde ignoriert.

4. Ihr Hund spielte einmal eine entscheidende Rolle in einer Ermittlung und hat ermöglicht, dass der Täter gerade rechtzeitig erwischt wurde. Erzählen Sie uns bitte, was passierte?

Mit Hilfe meines Diensthundes konnte hier ein Mordfall geklärt werden.

Dieser Fall begann im Dezember 1987. Hier verschwand in einer süddeutschen Stadt eine Ehefrau spurlos. Ein dringender Tatverdacht ergab sich aus den Ermittlungen gegen den Ehemann. Allerdings ohne das Auffinden der Leiche war es schwierig das Verbrechen dem Ehemann nachzuweisen.

Die Ermittlungen waren sehr schwierig. So kamen Kampfflugzeuge der Bundeswehr zum Einsatz, die spezielle Bildaufnahmen machten. Auf diesen Bildern sollte zu Erkennen sein, wo frische Grabungen oder Erdveränderungen sichtbar waren. Dies führte nicht zum Erfolg. Da der beschuldigte Ehemann als Baggerfahrer bei einer Baufirma arbeitete, wurde zunächst ermittelt, wo er zur fraglichen Zeit arbeitete wo auch seine Ehefrau spurlos verschwand.

Diese Ermittlungen ergaben, dass er bei einem Neubau einer Straße eingesetzt war. Aufgrund dieser

Ermittlung wurden deshalb Teile dieser neuen Straße wieder entfernt, aber auch hier konnte keine Leiche gefunden werden. So führten weitere Ermittlungen dazu, dass man in Erfahrung bringen konnte, dass der Beschuldigte auch zur fraglichen Zeit als Baggerfahrer arbeitete bei einem Auffüllplatz. Ein großes mehrgeschossiges Gebäude wurde abgerissen und dieser Bauschutt wurde auf einem speziellen Auffüllplatz gelagert.

Die Ermittler kamen nun zu dem Entschluss auch diesen Auffüllplatz absuchen zu lassen und nahmen Kontakt mit der Diensthundestaffel in Stuttgart auf. Aufgrund der großen Fläche, welche abzusuchen war, entschloss man sich alle Leichensuchhunde von Baden Württemberg zu diesem Einsatz zusammenzuziehen.

In den nächsten Tagen nach erforderlicher Vorarbeit kam es zu diesem genannten Einsatz. Die Suchfläche war derart groß und schwierig, so dass man zu Beginn des Einsatzes fast sicher war, dass dieser Einsatz nicht an einem Tag zu bewältigen war, obwohl ca. 14 Suchhunde eingesetzt waren.

Tatsächlich musste der Einsatz in den Abendstunden eingestellt werden, da auch die Diensthund an ihr Suchlimit herangebracht wurden und dringend eine längere Pause brauchten.

Da nur noch eine kleinere Restfläche abzusuchen war, erhielt ich den Auftrag dies am nächsten Tag durchzuführen. Grund dafür war, dass mein Wohn- und Dienstort sehr ortsnah zum Einsatzort lag.

So fuhr ich also wieder am nächsten Tag zu meiner Einsatzstelle. Einfügen muss ich noch, dass der beschuldigte Ehemann nun fast ein Jahr sich in Haft befand.

Der Einsatz mit allen Leichensuchhundeführer war an einem Mittwoch im November 1988 (Vermißtenzeitpunkt Dezember1987) . Am nächsten Donnerstag war mein Einsatz mit der genannten Restsuche. Am nächsten Tag, also am Freitag, sollte der Beschuldigte zur Haftprüfung und wäre mit Sicherheit ohne Auffinden der Leiche auf freien Fuß gekommen. Dazu kam es allerdings nicht, dank meinem Diensthund Gerry.

An dem genannten Donnerstag fuhr ich morgens zur Einsatzstelle und teilte mir das Restgelände ein. Mit entsprechenden Pausen bemerkte ich nachmittags beim weiteren Suchen plötzlich auffallende Reaktionen bei meinem Diensthund. Ich konnte erkennen, wie er immer konzentrierter suchte und einen kleineren Bereich eingrenzte. Nach mehrmaligen erneuten Ansetzen kehrte er immer wieder zu der Stelle und begann nun zu graben. Da ich meinem Hund vertraute, war ich mir sicher, dass er mir hier nun etwas anzeigen wollte. Ob es sich allerdings um die gesuchte Leiche handelte oder ob er mir sonst etwas anzeigen wollte, war zunächst nicht zu erkennen.

Da mir mehrere Bagger zur Verfügung standen, veranlasste ich, dass an dieser Stelle entsprechend gegraben wurde. Mittlerweile ist nun in diesem Bereich ein größeres Loch entstanden und der Diensthund wurde wieder angesetzt. Gerry begann erneut in diesem Loch zu graben und zeigte mir sicher an, dass er Witterung hatte. Dieses Loch wurde nun tiefer und breiter ausgegraben. Was niemand für möglich hielt war aber, dass wir in 5-6 m Tiefe tatsächlich die Leiche fanden. Diese lag dort unter einer Betonplatte zusätzlich vergraben. Bedingt durch einen Lehmboden war die Leiche noch in einem guten Zustand. Unmittelbar über dem Leichenfundort waren noch Drainagenrohre, in denen sich der Geruch staute.

Mit Stolz auf meinen Diensthund Gerry meldete ich bei den zuständigen Ermittlern das Auffinden der Leiche. Nach vielen Drücken mehrere Hände und vielen Streicheleinheiten für meinen Gerry konnten wir zufrieden nach Hause fahren.

5. Haben Ihre Hunde mit ihrem Geruchsinn Sie je überrascht?

Hier gab es verschiedene Situationen wo mich der Geruchsinn meines Hundes mich mehrfach überraschte. Zum einen war es im Einsatz als Leichensuchhund auf der Mülldeponie. Gerade bei

einer Vielzahl von verschiedensten vorhandenen und überlagernden Gerüchen, tatsächlich noch den Geruch zu finden um Kadaver oder Krankenhausmüll aufzufinden.

Am meisten allerdings war ich überrascht, wenn ich mit meinem Hund im Einsatz war um Drogen aufzuspüren. Hier konnte es sein, dass mein Hund in einem Haus in der Lage war ca. 0,2 g Heroin aufzufinden. Dieses kleine Briefchen war zum Beispiel in einer Schallplattensammlung in einer Hülle eingeklemmt.

Für den Hundeführer ist dies als größerer Erfolg zu werten, als wenn man mehrere Kilogramm gefunden hätte. Denn gerade beim Auffinden kleinster Mengen lernt man seinem Hund zu vertrauen. Dieses Vertrauen spürt der Hund und es gibt ihm auch wieder Sicherheit.

Ein gut eingespieltes Team zwischen Hundeführer und seinem Diensthund kann nur auf Vertrauen aufgebaut werden.

Danke, Herr Müller! Und in Namen von ganz Baden-Württemberg, danke an Ihre Hünde.



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Volunteer Cadaver Dog Handlers: Might You and Your Dog Make a Good Detective Team?

Cat Warren, cadaver dog handler, courtesy of her website

Cat Warren is a cadaver dog handler.

Interview with Author and Cadaver Dog Handler Cat Warren

CAT WARREN is a professor and former journalist with a somewhat unorthodox hobby: she works with cadaver dogs—dogs who search for missing and presumed-dead people. What started as a way to harness the energies of her unruly, smart, German shepherd puppy, Solo, soon became a passion for them both (though Solo thinks it’s simply a great game, with the reward of a toy at the end). They searched for the missing throughout North Carolina for eight years. Cat is the author of What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World. You can visit her website at What the Dog Knows.

Ann Marie: Most cadaver dog handlers work on a volunteer basis. Why is that?

Cat Warren, cadaver dog handler, and Solo. Courtesy of her webiste.

Cat Warren and Solo

Cat Warren: It’s mostly about budgets. The fact is, cadaver dogs aren’t needed every day in the same way a patrol dog is needed every day. One of the founders of the field, Andy Rebmann, started the first cadaver dog program in the late 1970s with the Connecticut State Police. That program has survived up through the present. Other programs spun off from Andy’s founder effect—Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine. And a couple of large cities, New York and Chicago, have cadaver dogs and handlers. There are a few larger departments in the United States that still have cadaver dog and handler teams, and some small ones scattered across the country, especially sheriff departments, partly because their work can tend to be more rural. But increasingly, law enforcement depends on volunteers for this function. A good volunteer dog-and-handler team can produce some excellent results.

Let’s get the big question out of the way first. I can imagine that the biggest objection most people would have to cadaver searching is the shock and horror of finding a dead body. What would you tell them?

Cadaver Dog Handler Cat Warren's book, What the Dog Knows.

Simon & Schuster is launching the paperback version of “What the Dog Knows” this month.

I have a harder time watching a show like Bones or any Hollywood version of death and decay than I do looking at a dead body out in nature. I think we media-saturated Westerners are now hardwired to replay all the worst possible film and television scenarios in our heads. But decomposition, even human decomposition, is usually a quieter phenomenon. The human violence or tragedy that brought the victim to that spot is past, and I have trained myself not to focus on that, especially when we are searching. It’s important that the dog have a good time; that’s how they do their best work: in happy mode. Any dread the handler feels, as trainers note, goes right down the leash. It’s the handler’s job to let the dog do his best work. Besides, for me and — I expect, for the majority of searchers — finding the person who is missing and dead represents success. Absolutely, it’s sad that someone has died, but it’s not a surprise. We usually know going out to search that the outcome probably won’t be finding someone alive. Finding the victim is the beginning of a resolution for those who knew the person, and for law enforcement. I do understand it when people think I must do this work as a dutiful public service. No. It’s a challenging puzzle, it pushes dogs and handlers to their mental and physical and scent limits. Plus, I get outside, often in the woods, and I get to watch dogs use their noses — one of the most pleasurable sights on earth.

What are the qualities that make a good cadaver dog?

The nose knows. MorgueFile free photo.

The nose knows. MorgueFile free photo.

The same qualities that make any good scent detection dog make a good cadaver dog. Good cadaver dogs love to hunt. They have what trainers and handlers call “drive,” which is a complicated and often misunderstood term. To oversimplify, a dog with drive has a lot of engine underneath its hood, even if it doesn’t have that engine revved in every situation. Often, with scent detection dogs, trainers look for dogs who are toy- or ball-obsessed because that obsession can be transferred over to the hunt for the particular scent the dog is being trained to find.

A beagle tracks a scent. Soloviova Liudmyla, shutterstock.

A beagle tracks a scent. Soloviova Liudmyla, shutterstock.

A good cadaver dog needs to have a good nose, an ability to focus, the desire to work long and hard for a reward, and be in good physical, and mental condition. Good cadaver dogs need to be both deeply bonded to their handlers, but also be independent and able to make decisions on their own. It’s a strange combination when you think about it — but you want dogs that are experts, in a way. You want to work with a dog that says, “let’s go this way, not that way.” And finally, a good cadaver dog is trained on a spectrum of human decomposition scent: from teeth and old bone up to material that is much fresher.

And a good handler?

Human remains detection team Cat Warren and Solo at work.

Human remains detection team Cat Warren and Solo.

Ah, I wish I were capable of doing all the things that make a good handler. Then I would be a better one. It takes an enormous amount of talent, time, dedication, imagination — and patience! When I watch good handlers work, here is what I see: They have great timing, so that they are rewarding their dogs at the exact moment necessary. Too soon or too late on the reward, and the dog doesn’t understand what it just did correctly. Good handlers are able to push their dogs by challenging them to learn more and do better, but not so much that their dogs lose their sense of security. In other words, it’s a delicate balance to create independence and expertise in dogs without throwing too much at them. But good handlers are always setting up increasingly difficult puzzles in training. Good handlers get out of the way of their well-trained dogs and let them work without interference. They set the dog up for success on searches. That means paying a great deal of attention to terrain and weather conditions, and what else is out in the environment. When I see good handlers work with their dogs, the process looks effortless and easy. Of course, it’s not.

How do you train a dog for cadaver searches?

This is what a cadaver dog might look like when seeking a scent.

William Henry Jackson, “Seek Dead,” 1902; public domain. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

That’s such an interesting question — and a complicated one. You train them both to be environmentally “hard” that is, to ignore and work past distractions, such as weird surfaces, rubble, fallen trees, the scent of other animals, traffic (cars and people). You also train them to recognize the whole spectrum of human decomposition. Bombs, drugs, and landmines are chemically simple in comparison to human decomposition. Yet, we do know that solidly trained dogs can tell the difference between deceased human, a dead deer, or aged goat cheese. But it’s not straightforward. Forensic anthropologist and research chemist Arpad Vass and his colleagues have identified nearly 480 different volatile compounds coming off of decomposing bodies. It’s just a start. He thinks it will be closer to 1,000 organic compounds, though not all of them volatiles, by the time they are finished creating a DOA database — which stands for Decomposition Odor Analysis, not Dead on Arrival.

Where do you obtain the scent for training?

This what a cadaver dog might look like at work.

Dogs can read scents we can’t. And that helps law enforcement. TorriPhotos,

It depends on what state or country you live in, and what the regulations are for that state or country. It’s really important to know the laws, exactly, before you obtain scent. For some countries, you can only use what we call “pseudoscent,” which is a company’s effort to get as chemically close to the scent of human decomposition as possible. Having diverse materials to train on is ideal, and “decomp,” as it’s called, comes in all varieties, from bone and teeth, to recent blood, to dirt that is harvested from beneath a body that has spent a good amount of time in the woods before being found. Dogs also need to be exposed to what they might find out on a search — a whole body. It can be confusing and even intimidating to some dogs, who are not trained on a daily basis with that much scent. We are fortunate in North Carolina to have a forensic anthropology research facility that helps train cadaver dogs on a small research plot where donated bodies decompose. That facility helps train forensic anthropologists — and cadaver dogs and handlers.

Even if a dog owner isn’t sure about training a dog for cadaver searches, what are some other scent games an owner can play with a dog?

A human remains detection dog at work might look like this.

Nose work is dog play. Morguefile photos.

There are so many things that one can do these days with dogs and their noses, from work to sport to just playing in the yard and house. Besides cadaver dog work, there’s conservation dog work — helping count and find either invasive or endangered species. There’s search and rescue for finding live victims. But many dog owners are finding their dogs love to do canine nose work. It’s a relatively recent sport, just like agility, only using many dogs’ inherent love of sniffing to get them engaged and confident. And I love to do simple games when it’s hard to get the dogs outside. Hiding a particular toy in the house and asking the dogs to go find that toy (and not the others) is great mental stimulation for the dogs. They work together, and get enormously competitive and interested in being the first one to find the hidden toy.

Whom should a dog owner contact if he or she wants to find out more about the possibility of cadaver search training?

Solo signed my copy of What the Dog Knows with his nose print.

Solo signed my copy of “What the Dog Knows” with his nose print.

It depends on where they live — the first step is to contact their area search and rescue groups, to see what they are doing. In the United States, we have several national groups that are a good place to start: the American Rescue Dog Association, the National Search Dog Alliance, or The North American Police Work Dog Association, which allows non-law enforcement handlers to be associate members, with some restrictions.

I also highly recommend a book entitled Cadaver Dog Handbook: Forensic Training and Tactics for the Recover of Human Remains, by Andrew Rebmann, Edward David, and Marcella H. Sorg. More than any other book, it gives you everything you need to know about the discipline.

 Thank you, Cat! Please give Solo a hug from me and tell him I said “bravo!”

What scent games does your dog enjoy? And if you have any questions for Cat Warren, you may post them in the comment section.


Interested in Cat’s book, What the Dog Knows? It hit the #7 spot for bestselling paperback nonfiction. Check it out on Amazon!


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Cadaver Dogs in the 19th Century

A beagle tracks a scent. Soloviova Liudmyla, shutterstock.

A beagle tracks a scent. Soloviova Liudmyla, shutterstock.

A landscape of odors….

Compared to canines, humans smell in black and white. We live in a world of sight and sound, words and letters. If you wrote a novel for dogs, you’d have to use smells – it would be a scratch-and-sniff book. Dogs find their literature on the ground, on trees, and under bushes; a stroll in the woods is to browse through a library. They “see” the world as an aromatic landscape colored with scents we can’t even imagine.

The nose knows. MorgueFile free photo.

The nose knows. MorgueFile free photo.

It’s precisely that facility that makes dogs so useful to law enforcement. Their olfactory perception complements a detective’s visual perception and can offer critical clues in a criminal investigation.

Cadaver dogs begin their careers

Father of the murder bag.

Hanns Gross, father of forensic science in Austria. Public domain.

Systematic training for cadaver dogs began in the 1970s. Modern human remains detection dogs learn to distinguish the odors of human decomposition from those of animal decomposition and track them through varied terrains. But that doesn’t mean that no one ever used dogs for finding dead bodies before the 1970s. One of the first recorded instances of a court purposely using a dog to search for a murder victim occurred during the investigation of the Bavarian Ripper in 1809.

Hanns Gross, an Austrian criminologist and the father of modern forensic science, wrote about the need for cadaver dog searches as early as 1899:

Hanns Gross recommended this breed as a cadaver dog

Johann Elias Ridinger, Leithund, 18th c.; public domain

“Undertaking outdoor [searches] is difficult under any circumstances. Systematic searching is almost always impossible due to the size of the territory; success is due to chance. Only in one circumstance is outside assistance advisable: searching for a human body. For that purpose, a good tracking dog can be used. Not every bloodhound or Leithund [a 19th c. German breed similar to the Weimaraner] can be used, however; only a few dogs possess the right facilities for the task. But if the investigating magistrate needs help in such a case, it won’t suffice if he just orders: “Get me a tracking dog.” He most certainly won’t obtain any help in this manner. He must, as discussed above, prepare for war during peacetime. This is all the more necessary because you often find such dogs in completely unexpected places, and can’t find one on the spot when you need one.”

A watchdog breaks the case

Gross managed to find a good dog and described how it found a body quickly enough to exculpate the suspect:

William Henry Jackson, "Seek Dead," 1902; public domain. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

William Henry Jackson, “Seek Dead,” 1902; public domain. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

“A tanner in my district had a garden-variety watchdog that didn’t have a bit of hunting dog in him, but (I think it merely due to his voraciousness) could find every single piece of carrion within a huge perimeter. For that reason, the local hunters borrowed him to find all the game they shot that their hunting dogs couldn’t find. The tanner’s dog found everything that was animal and dead. He would come to a standstill for wounded deer as well as a long-dead cat, but he found both. Once, when we needed to search for a missing cretin, presumed to have been murdered by his brother-in-law, this dog found the cretin’s body deep in the woods. At that point it was still possible to determine that the cretin had died as a result of an epileptic seizure, but a few days later, it might not have been possible to make a postmortem finding that no violence had occurred, and the suspicion would have followed the brother-in-law for the rest of his life.”

A landscape of scent. Morguefile photos.

A landscape of scent. Morguefile photos.

The dogs in this case and the Bavarian Ripper investigation proved their worth. One discovered the bodies, providing the crucial piece of evidence to convict a murderer, and the other found the body quickly for investigators to prove there was no murder, and exonerated an innocent suspect. Hats off to cadaver dogs and their forerunners in the 19th century!

What are some of the unusual things your dog has found with its nose?

Literature on point:

Hanns Gross, Handbuch für Untersuchungsrichter (3rd ed., Graz: Leuschner & Lubensky’s 1899) pp. 122-124 (translation mine).

Cat Warren, What the Dog Knows (New York: Touchstone 2013)

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