A Kooikerhondje On The Road to Becoming A Human Remains Detection Dog in California

  • February 18, 2013

What is a Human Remains Detection Dog (HRD)?


This type of Detection Dog is a specialist in locating human remains. These dogs have been trained to exclude fresh human scent along with all other animal scents. Human Remains Detections dogs are best used for cases like buried bodies, aged disarticulations, old homicide or suicide cases, bone searches, blood evidence, residual scent, crime scenes, building searches, and vehicle searches. The Human Remains Detection Dog is trained to alert on residual scent along with other faint scent sources like dried blood. The dog is taught not to disturb the crime scene by digging or retrieving evidence. An important skill the dog is taught is how to search homes or vehicles without causing harm to property. The dogs usually work more slowly and more methodically.


Toni von Chicostein in Northern California

Toni von Chicostein in Northern California

What are the requirements?

The first time handler will take from 1 1/2 -2 years to train their first dog. At the same time the handler will also be taking classes on learning map and compass, first aid, crime scene preservation, hazmat, as well as learning how to train their dog. The more time to train the faster the training goes. It is recommended to train 2-3 times a week at least. Many breeds are capable of doing detection and search work, but the working, herding, sporting and hound groups have the best track record. Some mixed breed dogs have also been successful doing detection and search work.


How does one train or certify an HRD dog?

The initial phase of training involves teaching the dog a specific command that it can associate with finding human decomposition odor. The dogs learn to have a certain response – such as sitting, lying down, barking or scratching – when they get as close as they can to the odor. The dogs must learn to detect human remains that can range from being fresh to completely skeletonized, and that can amount to just a few drops of blood or an entire body. As the dog matures and learns the scent work, longer and more difficult training problems will commence. The dogs are rewarded using food, a favorite toy, or praise from the handler. As the dog continues to advance in their training, multiple scent sources are used in a single training session.
Human remains detection dogs are trained using scent sources in all stages of decomposition. The scent sources are located above and below ground. Training scenarios emphasize crime scene situations. Prior to being deployed on actual searches, each team must pass a unique set of certification tests that is lines out by the organization they are working with.


Is a Kooiker a good fit?

I personally have not heard of a Kooiker being certified in HRD in the US or elsewhere but I might be wrong. Since this breed is such a great working dog in other areas, I feel that HRD work is just another discipline they could thrive in. Since they are not required to cover a large area in a short amount of time and since they are allowed to work methodically and closely with their handler, I feel that it is a very useful job for a Kooiker.


Kooikerhondje in Human Remain Detection Vest

Toni in his HRD Training vest.


Toni is an intact almost 4 year old male Kooikerhondje. He is doing a very nice job as a therapy dog. But being a therapy dog mainly means patience, behaving well and getting touch A LOT! We are training our female Kooiker Amica in Wilderness Search and Rescue and are going to trainings every weekend with all three dogs. We felt that Toni needed another job that fits his eager personality and allows him to be close to me. Within our squad (Monterey Bay Search Dogs), we have several dogs that are training or are certified in wilderness searches or HRD. Since Amica’s training progresses nicely, we felt that we are ready to see if Toni showed potential in HRD.


He was evaluated on October 2012 and we are training with him since in HRD. He is still at the beginning of his training  but has learned a clear alert (downing at the source). He is able to alert on sources like human blood only and mixed into different carriers like cloth, grave dirt, cement. He alerts on human tissue and human bones. He is still a little hesitant to down in uncomfortable terrain like brushes. Well, he is a true Kooiker! We will continue training with him. It would be wonderful to go on real searches one day!