Human Remains Detection - How to Begin

I've had several people contact me asking me how I start my dogs in HRD, so I decided to put together an easy step-by-step instructional for those interested in getting started. There are several different training systems out there, but I think this is the easiest and most cost effective to get started on. Below is a list of materials that you will need before you begin, the list corresponds with the numbered item in the picture above.

1 & 2. HR Scent can and distractor cans : Purchase 8-10 unused paint cans from a home improvement store or from the internet. Cut a 2x6 board into about 8-10 7" lengths. Using a screw, attach the can to the board. Designate one of the cans for the target odor, and DO NOT put any other scent into this can except the HR.

3. Purchase Clorox wipes for wiping down the cans before and after training.

4. Rubbing Alcohol to wipe down the cans before and after training.

5. Alcohol Prep Pads

6. Lint-free Make-up removal pads to use with the rubbing alcohol.

7. Latex-free surgical gloves to protect yourself from the biohazards of HR, and to keep your scent off the odor source and cans.

8. Various sized jars and tins to hold target and distractor scents.

9. Blood or other Human Remains material for training.

10. Sharpie for labeling

11. Hotdogs or some other high-value food reward.

STEP 1: Clean HR can with Clorox wipes.

Step 2: Wipe down HR can with rubbing alcohol and make-up pads.

Step 3: Repeat steps 1 and 2 and wipe down the scent tin or jar that you will be using for your HR.

Step 4: ALWAYS change gloves after cleaning your HR can, you do not want to transfer any residual odor to the distracter cans, nor do you want to handle the HR with cleaning residue on your gloves. The goal is to have the target scent as pure and uncontaminated as possible. I like to use food prep gloves over top of my surgical gloves because the surgical gloves can transfer the rubber smell to the HR. Unfortunately, I ran out of those gloves and due to the Corona Pandemic I have not been able to find any available. I don't think this is a major issue because I always use the gloves (both surgical and food prep) as a distractor later in training.

Step 5: Prepare your HR training material. I start off with a few drops of blood on a make-up pad, and place it in a small tin with holes in the plastic cover. Take great care when handling biohazards, this is my own blood, so I know it is clean. But if I am handling HR material from any other source, I always wear a double layer of gloves.

Step 6: Place your target odor (HR) into your HR can.

Step 7: Cut up your food reward (I recommend hotdogs) into small pieces.

Step 8: To begin, find a place inside your home in a small room that your dog is very familiar with and where there are no distractions. Remove kids, other dogs or animals, toys, etc. We did ours outside for better picture quality, but my dogs are already trained in this so we aren't as concerned with distractions. You can do this training on your own, but it is much easier to have a helper. Make sure you have the hotdogs ready in a bowl so that you can reward the dog easily and quickly. Put your dog in a crate outside of the area you will be working in, then place your HR can in the middle of the room and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Have your helper bring the dog into the room, or if you are alone, go out of the room and bring the dog in. Don't give the dog any commands, but just allow the dog to wander around the room. Eventually the dog will smell this foreign scent and want to check it out. Be ready! As soon as he/she puts his nose to the top of the can, give him/her the reward DIRECTLY OVER THE SCENT and mark the behavior by saying "yes!" The dog may now become disinterested in the can and start nosing your hands for more food, just simply pull your hands away and wait for your dog to turn his/her curiosity back to the odor in the can. It may take a bit but be patient, he/she WILL go back and as soon as he/she does offer the reward. The goal is to teach the dog that every time his/her nose is over the target scent he/she will get a reward. Again, be sure to reward the dog right over the can where the odor is most concentrated. Repeat this about 5-8 times and then put the dog back into his/her crate.

Some important notes: timing is critical. You need to reward the dog within a half second of his/her nose being over the top of the can. Also, try your best to not miss a reward opportunity, that's why it is important for you to have a handful of the food in one had as you reward the dog with the other. Make sure you have extra food easily assessable, maybe in a dish behind you where you can simply reach back and refill your hand. If you run out of food, pull the dog off of the scent and put him/her up, you don't want your dog just sniffing the target scent freely without getting a reward. We are trying to condition the dog to associate that scent with a reward. Lastly, try not to drop the food into the can- it's going to happen, but do your best to try and avoid it.

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