Can Dogs Smell Through Water

There are over 7,000 deaths each year from accidental drowning. When the sad reality is that there may be no hope and death is likely, Search and Rescue Dogs are switched to Cadaver Dogs to locate the victim’s body. Cadaver Dogs are trained to locate drowning victims underwater and usually find them. Can Dogs Smell Through Water?

According to Scientists, they believe when a body is underwater, skin particles and gases rise to the surface, due mostly to decomposition. Cadaver Dogs sitting high in the boat can detect those chemicals released into the air after death & locate the body’s general vicinity.

Cadaver Dogs are also known as Human Remain Detection Dogs and are trained to smell death. More specifically they have the ability to locate body parts, tissue, bone, and even blood. For most of these canines, it is a natural ability but there is an incredible amount of training that goes along with it.



Can Dogs Smell Through Water


Most Cadaver Dogs are trained for about 18 months to 2 years before they are up to the title. The majority of Dogs that take the training and have the ability are Labradors Retrievers or German Shepherds. What the Trainers look for in a candidate Cadaver Dog besides a strong sense of smell is Confidence, Good Hunt Drive, and strong nerves.

The dog breeds with the strongest sense of smell like the Blood Hound breed, might not be cut out for this kind of work even though they have more than 300 million scent receptors. This is more than any other breed. Compared to the German Shepard which has 225 million scent receptors, human beings have 6 million scent receptors.

Labs are found working in many scent-related jobs, from arson, drug, and bomb detection to search and rescue. They have amazing qualities that make them the best candidates for Cadaver Search and Rescue work. They are the easiest dogs to train and can be used in service areas with special needs children and adults. They can rationalize and discriminate and most important, they desire to please their handlers.

A dog’s sense of smell can be up to 1000 times stronger than a human’s but that would depend on the breed. These dogs no matter what type of breed still need this extensive training and handling to reach their full potential.

Dogs Smell and Hear through Special Training


In the training exercises, chemicals are used known to be produced from the decomposition process. Alongside these tests, chemicals were “positive controls” associated with human cadavers, such as human bones that were found in archaeological sources and pork at various stages of decomposition. Pork meat is used for training such dogs, due to the ethical and legal problems associated with obtaining human material.

Pork is thought to be the closest example of human flesh for decomposition studies. There were also “negative controls” like smelly chemicals not associated with decomposition, such as clove oil. These types of controlled testing are used to enhance the dog’s ability for identifying scent and making is the ability to smell stronger than it already is.

At The Penn Vet Center in Philadelphia, different training programs are set up for “Casualty” or ambulance dogs that are the precursors to our modern search and rescue branch of human remains detection. Sometimes called Cadaver Dog.

Once the dogs are trained and certified they are sold to Police Departments Fire and Rescue, Homeland Security, TSA, or The Border Patrol to begin their careers.

Here the puppies are picked from the beginning to examine what attributes they can bring to the table. Then from there, they will be classified in what type of work they will do by the strengths they exhibit, including Scent Detection which is valuable in different Specialized Programs.

Puppies testing their future working dog skills


Search and Rescue Dogs Use Scent to Smell Underwater


Cadaver Dogs and Water Search Dogs are the only types of Dogs that are trained specifically to track human remains, although Search and Rescue Dogs will alert if they find human remains.

This has caused problems during horrific events and disasters like 911, the Oklahoma Bombing, and the Pakistan Earthquake. This was because Search and Rescue Dogs that were used were air-scent rescue dogs that were trained and used to find live bodies.

When these dogs were only finding dead bodies they became noticeably upset and discouraged. Firemen and Rescue personnel actually hid in the rubble to put the animals at ease and end this dramatic situation. With Cadaver Dogs specially trained to find deceased victims, there was no drama and disappointment because the Dogs were locating exactly what they were trained to look for and find.

A Rescue Dog is a Pet First


In countries like the United States, trainers, and Handlers knew the importance of the Cadaver Dog and separated the types of work they do. Search and Rescue Dogs are trained differently. When a body is on land it will stay in one place as opposed to a body underwater that would move according to currents.

Even so, a well-trained Cadaver Dog can detect the presence of a body within a meter or so. The Cadaver Dogs will use confirmation indicators like tasting the water at the spot or near where the body is.

According to research one on a Cadaver Dog’s ability to Smell, done at the University of Huddersfield in England, “Like snakes, dogs have a sensory trigger called the Jacobson’s Organ, which can collect chemicals from the air, and also from the water, and the dogs may use this to confirm the indication of a body.”

“It is absolutely fascinating watching the dogs work,” she said. “I have seen dogs locate bodies within a meter and they have been quite accurate in depths of about 15 meters of water.”

Dogs can detect tiny amounts of smell diluted in air, released from water, or far beneath the ground. The smell can be diluted 1 or 2 parts per trillion Which allow them to smell things buried as far as 40 feet underground  The Whole Dog Journal website which deals with Dogs and their health, states that dogs have picked up the scent of people who had drowned in over 80 feet of water.

Their ability to pick up on tiny traces of a particular scent is what allows them to follow trails that are a week old and, some have even been able to detect cancer cells within humans.


A Cadaver Dog Trains with Smells and Scent of Chemicals


Dogs sense have the uncanny perception to detect the scent of human bodies that have been dead for quite a while, using more than their nose. A Canine pet animal trained can detect chemicals emitted through water and a scent through earth and rubble.

Well-trained Cadaver Dogs can also determine the difference between an animal corpse and a human one. There are different chemicals that are found in the decomposition of human bodies and animal bodies, and apparently, Dogs can tell the difference. It is possible for them to sniff out scents in water with their noses with this community training.

These chemical compositions are different between man and animal, and even pigs are supposed to be the closest in comparison and are used in training early on when the Dogs are puppies.

Highly trained AKC canine Cadaver dogs armed only with dog sense are used in investigations of bodies at crime scenes that have been moved. These dogs can smell underwater, search for an illegal drug or read areas and find a lost child. They can do it anywhere using the dog’s smell and dog training and a gifted nose.

There is no doubt that these are amazing animals and are able to trace the tiniest pieces of skin that are buried deep in the ground but Scientific evidence shows they can’t smell death thru water but instead are able to pick up the slightest minute form of gas from decomposition and pieces of the body that rise to the surface of the water. Which is totally amazing in itself.

That victim has family members and friends that are waiting for one step closer to closure. Whether it’s foul play or not, they need reasons or closure for a sad event. This wonderful trained animal has a nose to answer sometimes a horrible event with noses that are gifted.

Cadaver Dogs are dog breeds that are specially trained and even bred for this special purpose and are worth every dollar of training. They are proving their importance every day in Natural Disasters and accidents that occur around the world. It’s just one more way a Dog proves himself every day as “Mans Best Friend”


That victim has family members and friends that are waiting for one step closer to closure. Whether it’s foul play or not, they need reasons or closure to a sad event. These wonderful animals with amazing gifts can do that!

Cadaver Dogs that are specially trained and even bred for this special purpose are worth every dollar of training. They are proving their importance every day in Natural Disasters and accidents that occur around the world. It’s just one more way, a Dog proves himself every day as “Mans Best Friend”


JimGalloway Author/Editor


Related Questions:

 How do cadaver dogs work?   Cadaver Dogs are trained to follow the scent of decomposing human flesh. These dogs work both on and off-leash and are trained to detect the scent of decomposition that rises from the soil, the same as when a dog knows where he last buried his bone.

 Do dogs smell death? They provide comfort not just in death but in other difficult times, whether it’s depression or a move across the country. Dogs know when people are dying or grieving, through body language cues, smells only they can detect & other ways.




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