May 27, 2024

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A person is missing and there is no trace of the perpetrator. Human search dogs, so-called man trailers, are increasingly being used. Experts warn against unrealistic expectations.

Written by Alina Leimbach and Nasir Mahmood, hr

In February 2021, Abdulaziz D., 41, was shot dead in his car in Fulda. Investigators soon suspect the victim’s former best friend, and he is arrested. Police so-called man-trailer detection dogs are also used to re-enact crimes. The dog confirmed investigators’ initial findings and also provided clues as to where the murder weapon might be located.

Reports such as these have led police forces in various German states to increase their use of human detection dogs in recent years. Unlike area search dogs, which are generally trained to pick up the scent of a living person, mantrailer dogs can search for missing people individually, for example by obtaining worn socks of the person they are looking for. The purpose is

What exactly does a dog smell like?

Families of missing people in particular always have high expectations for their dogs. In extreme cases, individuals may pay private organizations out of their own pocket in hopes of finding new clues months after the disappearance.

But how exactly these search dogs work, and how long they can actually sniff, is not as clear as is often made out in the media. “When a dog puts its nose to the ground, we don’t know what it’s actually perceiving. Is it perhaps the smell of coffee? Or the smell of prussic acid? Or is it actually the smell of cyanide in the air? “Do they sense things?” says dog cognition expert Julian Breuer. , heads the canine research research group at the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology in Jena.

poor study status

So far, little research has been done internationally on this, Breuer said. Breuer is considered one of Germany’s leading scientists in this field. It’s also unclear whether we understand exactly what we want from our dogs when we walk them. “We don’t want to rule out the possibility that dogs can smell and follow humans, but this is still largely unproven scientifically.”

On the other hand, there are other factors that are very well researched but can certainly influence a dog’s success rate. “Dogs are very good at reading people’s emotions and learning to respond to them,” says Breuer.

human factor

For example, when using mantraling, the police dog handler will typically know the current status of the investigation. And even if the handler is specially trained, a police dog may be able to recognize from the handler’s actions where they believe the criminal may have fled. Do it for the sake of it. This can lead to hits, but Breuer says it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the dog’s own effort, the handler’s instincts, or both.

As an example, she cites a study that showed how quickly dogs, despite their excellent noses, can be led down the wrong path. “For example, in one study, trained dogs were used to find hidden explosives. In the experiment, cupboards were marked with clearly visible marks, which of course only humans could understand, and dogs ”, says the canine researcher. Dogs mainly attacked there. “But the explosives we were looking for were never there. It was a false lead, and we interpreted it as the influence of the dog trainer,” says Breuer. .

Odors are often only noticeable for a few hours.

There is also another limitation. How long can human odor be detected? Kai-Uwe Goss, a renowned environmental chemist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research, has great knowledge on this point. He is often invited to court as an expert on the limitations of mantrailing from a biochemical perspective.

“Mantrailing by dogs is effective for very new footprints that are several hours old,” Goss said. However, depending on weather conditions, it may be difficult to find the trail in one day. “From a scientific standpoint, I think it’s very questionable to try to find traces days or even months later,” Goss says. “If it works, it’s either by chance or by the influence of the dog owner.”

cells dry quickly

The problem: “We believe that dogs can detect our scent through the microbiome of tiny pieces of skin. We lose them without realizing it, leaving a sensory imprint on the dog.” ” However, this smell is short-lived and the skin flakes dry quickly. And when the skin flakes dry, the fungi and bacteria that produce our individual odor cocktails on the flakes are no longer active. Goss said the dogs just don’t have the right materials for a real truck.

Additionally, certain odor components of the microbiome are more volatile than others, and it is currently unknown which components dogs can smell to identify humans, so this could also be a potential This could be a problem.

Saxony state police emphasizes the importance of dogs

Mantrailers have long been used for police work in Saxony. And the locals seem to be very happy with this. “The use of man trailers and tracking dogs is very important in locating people,” explains the Saxon Home Office in charge.– Request: Area demarcation with man trailers and tracking dogs is all that is required to allow volunteer area search dogs to work in a targeted manner and find people quickly.

The Home Office reports that Saxon Police service dog tracking is “absolutely guaranteed” to last up to 24 hours, even in bad weather. However, Saxon Home Office emphasizes that in some cases they have been discovered after quite a long period of time.

“The sooner you use a mantrailer, the better.”

When asked, the Federal Rescue Dog Association said it was cautious about the exact time frame. The motto here is “The sooner you use a mantrailer, the better.” Experience has shown that under optimal conditions, such as dry and windless weather, people can be found even after several days. However, the organization emphasizes that searches are unlikely to be successful if several weeks have passed or if it is completely unknown where the missing person disappeared.

At the request of the Federal Rescue Dog Association, it said the success rate for mantrailing was 26 percent to 34 percent for operations conducted last year. The slightly higher success rate is due to rescue dog teams, which have a particularly high number of tasks. However, that person is not always found immediately. In some cases, area search dogs were able to continue their work after a pursuit, and the person they were looking for was found.

For dog researcher Breuer, “There is a lot to study. So far, we have received only a small amount of funding for that research. But we are just at the starting block.” ” is obvious.

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