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Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Tuesday, 26 February 2008

How can a dog sniff through concrete?

The Magazine answers...

Enhanced victim recovery dog Eddie
Eddie has worked with the FBI

A child's remains were discovered under several inches of concrete at a former children's home in Jersey after police bought in dogs to search the site. But how can they sniff through concrete?

For Eddie, it's all in a day's work.

When police suspected human remains were buried on the site of a former children's home in Jersey, the springer spaniel was part of the specialist team brought in to investigate.

Jersey Police said the seven-year-old dog located parts of a child's body even though they were buried under several inches of concrete. So how did he do it?

The dogs are highly trained using scientific techniques which look into how they smell

Eddie is an enhanced victim recovery dog and is specially trained to detect the scent of human remains. He is able to smell through solid materials, like concrete, because of scientific training techniques.

It's this training that sets him apart from standard police sniffer dogs, which are able to detect human remains in shallow graves. The springer's nose is more sensitive and he is called in on more complicated cases.

Super sensitive

The specialist training techniques - which are highly confidential - were developed by Eddie's handler Martin Grime, along with the UK's National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) and America's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

They are scientifically based and rely on how dogs smell and the chemicals involved.

Hunting dogs
Dogs are used in hunting because of their sense of smell

Canines are known for their outstanding sense of smell, estimated to be 10 times stronger than a human's. Like us they smell using special receptors in the nose, which react to tiny chemical scent particles in the atmosphere and send a message to the brain.

Dogs can smell so well because they have an estimated 200 million such receptors, compared to five million in a human nose. The extra receptors mean canines are able to distinguish between different smells much more acutely.

"We don't discuss what the training involves, but it's a lot more than putting bits of meat on the ground for them to hunt out," says Mr Grime, a retired South Yorkshire Police officer who now works as an independent consultant.


"A standard sniffer dog is like a basic tool. An enhanced dog goes through much more training and is a lot more discriminating about smells, basically its nose is super sensitive. It's also about getting the dog to really focus on a task."

While rare, Eddie and partner Keela are not the only enhanced victim recovery dogs in the UK. The Metropolitan Police and forces in Surrey and Greater Manchester have them. But what sets these two springers apart is that they work exclusively in this field, says Mr Grimes.

A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
"Other dogs have to do other police duties but mine work full-time in this area, making them very sharp and highly skilled."

The dogs have been used by police forces across the world and were called in to help with the Madeleine McCann investigation.

Both are springer spaniels, but the breed is no better suited to the job than any other. A dog just needs to show a keen sense of smell and it's the training that makes them good enhanced victim recovery dogs, says Mr Grime.

Eddie was bred by a specialist search-dog breeder and Keela came from the West Midlands Police breeding programme.

Both live with Mr Grime and have a normal life outside of work. He is currently training two new dogs, Morse and Lewis.

In the Jersey case, parts of a child's body were found on Saturday. The remains are thought to date from the early 1980s. Police have yet to say whether they are male or female.

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