4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Cadavers?



4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Cadavers?


There are many things that dogs have become known for over the years. This includes their loyalty, their intelligence, and their companionship. Another thing that they are renowned for is their excellent sense of smell, which has resulted in them becoming a key part of many industries. They are used for all sorts of purposes from sniffing out rodents through to detecting gas or as sniffer dogs for drugs officers.

When it comes to their sense of smell, dogs are able to pick up on things that humans couldn’t possibly root out through their own sense of smell. This includes the smell of cadavers, which has resulted in them being used as specialized cadaver dogs.


Signs Cadaver Dogs May Display

The whole subject of dogs sniffing out dead bodies is a morbid and dark one, but they do play a crucial role in the world of crime detection. In fact, dogs have been used to sniff out cadavers in a number of high-profile cases over recent years and thanks to their hard work and sense of smell, a number of convictions have been made. These dogs are highly trained from puppyhood to pick up on the smell of cadavers, although this is done through artificial smells that are created especially for this purpose. This then sets them up for work as official cadaver dogs.

Signs that a dog has picked up on the smell of a cadaver can vary from one dog to another. However, the dog will do something that it would not normally do when it does sniff out a cadaver. 

For example, some dogs will get into a sitting position at the spot where the smell has been identified while others may start scraping at the area with their paws. Some dogs simply stare at the spot where they detect the smell and are very intense when they do this. Others may bark and whine when they pick up on the scent of a cadaver.  

As is the case with the general signs that dogs may display when they sniff out a cadaver, the body language that is used can also vary from one dog to another. Some will sit or lie at the spot where the smell is coming from and will be reluctant to move. Some will dig and scrape at the ground or in the event the body is in water, they may look down and in some cases may attempt to lick at the water. As soon as the dog smells that stench of death, as it were, its reactions will change and this is why they have proven so useful in investigations. 

Body Language

<p>Signs a trained dog will give if they have found a cadaver include:</p>

  • Staring
  • Barking
  • Digging
  • Whining
  • Sniffing
  • Paw Raised
  • Licking

Other Signs

<p>Dogs that are trained to sniff out cadavers may display a range of other signs to indicate they smell something untoward. This could include:</p>

  • Scraping The Floor
  • Sitting Or Lying At The Spot
  • Reluctance To Move
  • Circling The Spot

History of Cadaver Dogs


Throughout history, dogs have been known for their extremely keen sense of smell. In centuries gone by, dogs were largely used as working animals rather than domesticated pets and often their most valuable skill was their sense of smell. 

Even today, many dogs are used in industries such as the military, law enforcement, farm environment, and oil and gas companies because of their excellent sense of smell. With cadaver dogs, training begins when they are little and this enables them to become excellent assistants to law enforcement officers that deal with possible homicide cases.

The training of cadaver dogs began in earnest in the 1970s, although there is evidence to suggest that some dogs were known to sniff out cadavers in the 1800s. The first dog that was trained specifically to root out cadavers began its career in the mid-1970s. 

Since that time, many dogs have been trained to hunt out cadavers and, thanks to their excellent sense of smell, they are able to sniff out cadavers that are buried many feet underground or even those that are submerged in water such as victims of drowning. There is no doubt that these dogs have become an invaluable part of law enforcement and homicide detection over the years.  

Science Behind Dogs Smelling Cadavers


So, what makes dogs so good at sniffing out cadavers? Well, the first thing is their innate ability to sniff out things that we wouldn’t even be able to detect. With their noses to the ground, they can root out all sorts of things with their keen sense and this includes cadavers. 

The second thing is the level of training they receive from a young age, including synthetic cadaver smells that are created in a laboratory and designed to mimic the smell of a cadaver at different stages of death. With proper training, these dogs are then able to sniff out the same smells in the real world while on search and rescue missions or homicide investigations.

Training Your Pup to Smell Cadavers


As mentioned above, cadaver dogs are dogs that are specifically trained to sniff out cadavers that are at different stages of death. They are exposed to the stench of decaying and freshly dead bodies via synthetic means through training during puppyhood so by the time they are adult dogs, they already know and are familiar with these smells, allowing them to pick up on them easily. They can then alert humans and identify the spot where the smell is emanating from.

While official cadaver dogs are properly trained to do this, you should bear in mind that all dogs have this excellent sense of smell that seems to draw them toward unsavory odors. This means that while your dog may not be familiar with the smell of a cadaver due to having no training, it will still be able to pick up on a smell that it knows is not a normal smell. 

As such, your dog may also display certain signs and behaviors if it comes across the smell of a cadaver. Imagine walking in the woods with your pooch and it suddenly comes to a stop and starts scraping at the ground. This could be because it has smelt something untoward – it may be nothing to worry about, but you just never know. 

If you do notice your dog behaving strangely at a certain spot when you go out for walks, it may be worth taking a look around. Hopefully, there is nothing to worry about but you never know. Your dog may not be a trained cadaver dog but it does have an incredible sense of smell just like then trained dogs. This means that it can still smell the stench of a dead body but simply won’t have been trained to specifically look for that particular odor. 

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Written by a Boston Terrier lover Reno Charlton

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/04/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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