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HRD Canines: Using the Tool

Human Remains Detection Dogs (commonly known as Cadaver Dogs) are trained to detect and indicate the odor of actively decomposing or decomposed human remains. Unlike live human beings which each have their own scent like a fingerprint, bodies become generic human cadaver odor when they pass into biological death. This odor, in various stages of decomposition (from immediate death to many years post-mortem) is used to train HRD dogs that work for Canine Search Solutions. 


CSS does not now, and will not ever use or approve of using pseudo scent training aids due to legal obstacles in the court, and to avoid the possibility of training an incorrect scent. CSS firmly believes that the best and correct way to train an HRD dog is with the real thing.

The dog is trained to provide a clear and controlled indication at the source of the odor upon detection. Common indications can be a bark, a down, a touch or a sit. To preserve the crime scene, the indication must not disturb the human remains. HRD dogs are methodically proofed off of animal remains and methane.


HRD dog handlers must also be trained. Ideally, a dog handler who is also sworn LE is preferred during any criminal investigation due to their knowledge of search and seizure issues, evidence collection, crime scene investigation, report writing and testifying in court. Non-sworn CSS handlers have been carefully selected and have passed background investigations. These handlers have demonstrated knowledge of confidentiality aspects, crime scene preservation, report writing and sound judgement. While an HRD dog can differentiate between animal and human blood, they cannot assist in determining if the blood at a crime scene came from a victim who was alive or a victim who was deceased. If there is any uncertainty as to whether your victim is alive or deceased, we can provide recommendations to handlers with dual-purpose search dogs that will alert on both live and deceased victims. A dog trained in HRD only will not alert on live victims unless, for example, blood is present on their clothing. If you think your victim is alive and relatively uninjured, a dual-purpose dog is a better option. Please contact us for more information if you may require assistance with any of these scenarios.

Missing Person

HRD dogs are often more effective than humans at searching wooded areas and waterways as well as large land areas. Dog teams are also useful in the elimination of area. CSS can and will provide search strategies for law enforcement based upon the type of missing person case. Consider using an HRD team sooner than later.

Water Recovery

Nearly immediately after death by drowning, a body will begin to decompose and release gases which rise to the water's surface. It is these gases that the HRD dog is trained to detect. The same is true for human remains that are maliciously deposited, either intact or in pieces, into a waterway. CSS has had indications in depths of up to 100 feet. The deepest recorded find by an HRD dog was in Idaho, in water over 300 feet deep. When requesting a water search, CSS will need to be provided with a boat and driver. The handler will utilize GPS and record areas of indication. Coordinates and a map of the area will be provided, along with further information on tools available to assist law enforcement in the event of a difficult or challenging recovery.

Burned Remains

Burned remains detection is an advanced skill. Dogs that have not been properly trained to detect the specific odor of burned remains can completely miss a burned corpse or bones. A properly trained HRD dog can very quickly determine if a body is present in a burned structure, and can also help define a more specific search area within the debris. 

Scattered Remains

Remains, especially skeletal, that are left undiscovered outdoors are often disturbed by scavengers such as bears, coyotes and rodents.  As a result, some remains that may provide valuable clues to a professional assigned to determine cause of death or identity may be missing from the recovery site. An HRD dog can locate scattered remains much more efficiently than human searchers.

Buried Remains

Buried remains detection is arguably the most advanced area for an HRD dog and handler, and are a valuable step in the process to recover a buried body. The dog can effectively eliminate and/or narrow the area to be searched. Please contact us for more information if you are considering utilizing an HRD dog on a case involving suspected buried remains.

Homicide Cases

When a homicide is suspected but the body is still missing, an HRD dog can be invaluable. When CSS is requested to assist on such a case, we will need to be given as much information as possible to more accurately complete a search profile and strategy. Remember, preserving confidentiality is of extreme importance to CSS, and our team is professionally trained to ensure that our operations never compromise an ongoing investigation.


In the case of a homicide, CSS most often recommends a dog trained exclusively in HRD but, CSS does have several cross-trained dogs - HRD detection and scent specific trailing for a live person. Current research supports that there is no less reliability by a cross trained dog and a single purpose HRD dog. What is more helpful is using a dog that has had past confirmation of their work in the field in addition to training and certification.


Issues of search and seizure will need to be reviewed prior to searching an area. CSS has a significant amount of experience on suspicious missing persons cases - both recent and cold cases. CSS will provide an individual plan for your case and provide prosecutors to consult with on how to properly utilize an HRD dog.

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