Can Dogs Smell DNA?

At the beginning of the year, the Institute for Forensic Medicine at the University of Leipzig, together with the University of the Saxon Police Force, presented a study in which the dog was given DNA obtained from the blood instead of a “normal” scent object. And the dogs in the study completed the search routes and found the people in question.

The amazing thing is that DNA has nothing to which aromatics could bind, so it can be assumed that DNA is odorless. Therefore, this study was questioned by many well-known dog handlers – including the team of the Mantrail Academy Austria (MAA) around Karina Kalks.

Austrian sleuths provide the evidence

In March 2018, the study from Leipzig has recreated in Vienna. 6 dogs took part in the experiment, all of which have the status of a service dogs. The search routes were designed in such a way that neither handlers nor accompanying persons knew where they had to go (double-blind). Each dog was given DNA extracted from saliva as a scent, based on which it had to find the hidden person.

The trails were documented via app and video. All dogs were able to complete their search successfully! The track lengths were between 300 and 500 meters. The age of the trails was between 6 and 8 hours.

Reliable search behavior with DNA traces

Three of the six dogs had no trouble making it to the end but had difficulty identifying and reporting the hiding person. The dogs’ search behavior was significantly safer than with conventional scented objects.

Dogs are therefore able to sniff out and track down missing persons simply by smelling their DNA. “But for the MAA, it was just an attempt. In reality, however, proven objects that smell of the missing person will continue to be used for possible reasons,” Karina Kalks is convinced.

Nonetheless, this new knowledge that dogs can locate and track an odor trail based on DNA as a “reference odor” raises many new questions! After all, no DNA building block binds aromatics, which means: Scientifically speaking, DNA cannot smell. So how can dogs sniff out DNA?

Detection dogs for cancer detection

Since the early 2000s, dogs have also been used in medicine for the early detection of life-threatening diseases, for example, to sniff out cancer cells before they can be seen in imaging procedures. In this way, the onset of cancer can be detected early, thereby increasing the chances of recovery.

The retired police service dog handler Wolfgang Gleichweit from the association for the training of working, research, and search dogs have been dealing with this unique ability since 2003 and trains cancer search dogs, among other things. “Dogs can be trained to detect almost any odorant,” explains Gleichweit. “It is important that they are involved with love, patience, and perseverance and that they have a pronounced drive to play and prey. To sniff out cancer, the dog is first attuned with diagnosed odor samples from cancer patients.”

Ava Williams

Written by Ava Williams

Hello, I'm Ava! I have been writing professionally for just over 15 years. I specialize in writing informative blog posts, breed profiles, pet care product reviews, and pet health and care articles. Prior to and during my work as a writer, I spent about 12 years in the pet care industry. I have experience as a kennel supervisor and professional groomer. I also compete in dog sports with my own dogs. I also have cats, guinea pigs, and rabbits.

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