Since a canine nose is equipped with some 200 million more olfactory receptors than a human’s, scientists are increasingly turning to dogs as field assistants to track and monitor populations of wild species.
Such “conservation dogs” can sniff out creatures as small as a lizard or as large as a gorilla, pinpoint where invasive plants are growing, and even guide marine biologists to fresh whale poop. (See pictures of scat research.) But can a dog smell the past?
Australian dog trainer Gary Jackson of Multinational K9 has trained a black lab mix named Migaloo as the world’s first “archaeology dog,” able to locate bones that are hundreds of years old. He spoke with National Geographic magazine’s Amanda Fiegl.
What gave you the idea to train an archaeology dog?
I like to experiment with things that have never been tried before. I’ve trained dogs to find cane toads, koalas, lots of unusual things. So I thought: Can you imagine the discoveries in archaeology that could happen around the world, if dogs could be trained to locate human bones? For years, people have been training cadaver dogs to find decomposed bodies. But the problem with that is at some point rot becomes the primary odor rather than the actual human odor. And many things are rotting throughout a forest. By training the dog on just human bones, you eliminate those distraction odors.