These ‘Cadaver Dogs’ Stumbled Upon A Centuries-Old Remnant From The Past

How good is a dog’s sense of smell? When you find out, you’ll be even more disgusted than when you see them sniffing each others’ butts. But that’s what makes them such good detectives! When a group of specially trained canines was hired to sniff around an archaeological site, their noses made a history-defining discovery.

The term “cadaver dog” doesn’t conjure up the most appealing visual, but it’s certainly accurate. Their job is to literally “smell death.” How else do you think we find bodies in the middle of no where? They might have the strangest jobs of any animals.

Photo by Luke Anderson

Cadaver dogs are trained exactly the way you’d expect. Human remains are sent to dog trainers to help coach pups on finding the “right” scents. Sometimes, old graveyards are used with the fresh remains to train the dogs on spotting the difference between old and new decomposition. Grossing you out? We’re just getting started.

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These dogs are so reliable, they have a 95% accuracy rate. They even know the difference between human and animal cadavers! They undergo over 1,000 hours of training (which is, like, 10,000 in human years) and have smelling abilities 10,000 times greater than our own. Their sense of smell runs really deep.

Photo by Carlos Lucas

Cadaver dogs can smell a decomposing body up to 15 feet underground and 30 meters underwater! But sorry, mass murderers, that doesn’t mean you can bury a body 16 feet deep and call it a day. A single drop of blood or piece of bone is enough for these dogs to discover any body.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Yarnall

When it comes to completing the mission, these pups never give up. Seriously. All they want is to impress their master by tracking the scents they’ve been training for. Forget Liam Neeson — we want to see a dog save a little kid from certain danger! They can even help with medical dangers.

Photo by Peder Lundkvist

Thanks to their ability to detect lightweight compounds and evaporated odors, dogs can sniff out melanoma cancer and even pregnancy complications. They can differentiate between bodily fluids, tissues, bones… you name it, they smell it. That’s how researchers got the idea to bring cadaver dogs along for archaeological digs.

U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Zachary Wolf

Typical surveillance for archaeologist sites requires techniques like fielding the area, using photos from above, or infrared imaging through satellites. However, none of these processes utilize the power of scent, which one field worker pieced together.

Photo by Peder Lundkvist

An archaeologist named Vedrana Glavaš from the University of Zadar in Croatia had heard all about the wonders of cadaver dogs. With an interest in studying Croatia’s centuries-old past, she decided to bring in the trained pups for a very promising excavation.


In 2014, Vedrana and her team uncovered something remarkable. They were working on Velebit Mountain and came upon an old hill fort estimated to be 3,000 years old! To see what was inside, Vedrana called in the cutest experts she knew.

Photo by Boro 1

After spending time excavating the old-fashioned way, Vedrana asked trainer Andrea Pintar and her crack team of police cadaver dogs to assist. “Some of the police cases Andrea had worked on are 30 years old,” said Vedrana. “We both wondered how far back in time her dogs could smell.” Turns out, very far.

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Andrea brought four dogs on for the search using both a blinded and a double-blinded study. When the dogs were let into the 3,000 year old fort, they started searching the only way they knew how.

National Geographic

At first, it didn’t seem like the dogs were making headway. They each seemed to be tracking different scents and wanted to go in opposing directions. Vedrana thought perhaps any human remains left to discover were far too decomposed by now. Still, they kept looking.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Yarnall

Vedrana’s team was thrilled when the dogs finally began making headway. However, it took Andrea’s persistence with her well-trained canines for them to get to the best part of the excavation. What they found had everyone’s tails wagging.

Photo by halfrain

The dogs had stumbled on five prehistoric tombs from 800 BC! How did they know where to look if there weren’t any fully-formed corpses inside? Panda, one of Andrea’s dogs with a particularly sensitive nose, revealed the answer. When Panda’s nose pointed at an old burial chest, Andrea froze.


“I was skeptical, and I was like, ‘She is kidding me,’” Andrea told the New York Times. The hairs on her arms were standing on end as she called over the rest of the team. When they opened up the chest, it was obvious what Panda and the other dogs were picking up on.

Photo by Eli Duke

The dogs were smelling the smallest, oldest remnants of human “leftovers” possible. If you’re ever wondering what part of your body will decompose last, the answer is apparently your finger and toe bones! This meant the dogs were detecting human remains that had been decomposing for thousands of years.


Forget cold cases from 10 years ago. Dogs could be sniffing out ancient murders or long-lost historic figures! Where was Princess Anastasia buried? Where did Amelia Earhart go? Who really let the dogs out? Leave it to the dogs themselves! As Vedrana’s team continued their extraordinary dig, they noticed that the dogs weren’t quite done.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Yarnall

While the archeologists were knee-deep in tombstones, the dogs kept on barking. Eventually, the researchers followed them, though they seemed to be heading to the middle of no where. Remarkably, the dogs came across a sixth tombstone!

NPS Photo

Were there more fingers and toes inside for the pups to chew on? Not quite. Despite the team’s excitement, this sixth tombstone turned out to be the same as the others. And yet, Vedrana’s excavation still managed to inspire archaeologists from around the world to add cadaver dog to their teams!

Photo by Natalie Maynor

Thankfully, these pups are happy to do their jobs to the delight of their trainers. At home, these doggos are as cuddly as a golden retriever. On the field, they’ll sniff out enough guts to make any vulture jealous. And their talents have many more applications too…

U.S. Air Force photo by Cynthia Griggs

All over the world, dogs and their keen senses of smell have become major tools in the field of law enforcement. These detection dogs are trained to recognize and seek out all manner of potentially dangerous contraband — illegal drugs, weapons, and even people.

People’s Daily Online

But even with all the necessary skills, not every dog is cut out for a job like this. Being a detection dog takes patience and self-control. In a way, these pooches have to behave more like humans than animals.


For Train, a Chesapeake Bay retriever rescue, trading in a life of abuse for one as a drug detection dog seemed like a perfect fit. But Train struggled to find his place at the training academy: he was far more interested in being a dog than a police canine.

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“He failed out of narcotics school because he was too energetic,” said Train’s owner, Karen DeMatteo. “He was like a bull in a china closet.” But Train still had one heck of a nose on him, one that DeMatteo wasn’t ready to see go to waste.


At the time, DeMatteo, a conservation biologist, was looking to gather a team of dogs for a research project in the Argentine province of Misiones. With a sniffer like Train’s on her side, she’d surely find what she was looking for…


Scat! Also known as poop, it actually plays a major role in the work of conservation biologists. Using droppings, researchers can gather valuable information about an animal, including their species, sex, and living environment.


“Everybody leaves poop behind in the forest,” said DeMatteo. “You can figure out which habitats they like and which habitats they avoid.”

National Geographic

More specifically, DeMatteo and her team were looking to pinpoint the habitats of endangered animals such as jaguars and oncillas. However, this task is not an easy one if you can’t track down these creatures in the first place.

That’s where Train came in. DeMatteo hoped that the former drug-dog-in-training could use his highly sensitive nose to pick up scat scents and lead them to the elusive animals. And as soon as the team released Train onto the trail, they got their answer.


Though the dog’s excitability had hampered him at the academy, Train proved that he was more than capable of excelling at his new job. Not only was he quick to pick up the scents of the animals, but his high energy helped them collect results at breakneck speed.

Omaha World-Herald

The group spent the next year tracking animals through the Argentine wilderness, Train always happily bounding along at the head of the pack. By the time this first collection effort had wrapped, Train and his incredible nose had covered over 600 miles of forest.


“Train was just a machine,” DeMatteo recalled of the dog’s first year of sniffing scat. “We just switched him to use all that energy and search really big areas and find this poop for us.”

Omaha World-Herald

Using the data collected from the scat, DeMatteo and her team can pinpoint which forest areas should be prioritized in their conservation efforts. They can also determine if any of the animals are being affected by humans encroaching upon their land.

National Geographic

“Everywhere, people are expanding,” said DeMatteo. “We can try to figure out areas of potential overlap between humans and wildlife. We can identify areas that need more work, areas that are great corridors, or areas that are kind of lost to the cause.”


In the past, conservationists like DeMatteo would employ cameras and sensors to photograph and track animals. However, this method proved inefficient, as the creatures needed to actually pass in front of the cameras for researchers to document them.

High Country News

These cameras also proved to be a huge deterrent for the Argentine farmers on whose land some of the animals lived. Many of these landowners were hesitant to allow camera traps on their property, fearing that their privacy and livelihood were at risk.

Small Farmers Journal

But with Train and a border collie named April, the farmers were much more receptive to allowing DeMatteo and her team onto their land. After all, who wouldn’t want to watch two adorable pups frolic and play?

Omaha World-Herald

“They’re afraid you’re going to take their land or do something funny,” said DeMatteo, “and we explain that we just want to look for poop and find out where animals are moving. And they’re like, ‘Oh, cool, can I come?'”

Omaha World-Herald

Even though Train just celebrated his twelfth birthday, he and his one-of-a-kind nose show no signs of slowing down. Next, it’s off to Nebraska for DeMatteo and her dog, where their team will be tracking mountain lions.

Omaha World-Herald

Pups like Train are changing the world with their 9-5 careers. Piper, for instance, a Border Collie from Michigan, chases thousands of birds, foxes, and groundhogs off the runway at Cherry Capital Airport. Clad in noise-canceling headphones and protective goggles, he keeps planes and animals safe — a dream job for any dog.

2. You may not have considered it, but dogs can work in tech now, too. This dog helps develop video games, providing designers with realistic movements for digital puppers. We hope they copy his look too because we’d play anything to see this cutie.

3. Gigantic Saint Bernards were once bred in the Alps by monks to rescue people in the snowy mountains. They carried a barrel around their necks filled with brandy to keep people warm. These days, they prowl the mountains as more of a tradition, but you might still be able to enjoy a cocktail or two if you find one!

4. In today’s fight to protect bees, Bazz the Australian Labrador was a legend. While protected from head to toe to avoid any stings, Bazz smelled the bees and detected which ones were sick and thus a threat to the hive. He sniffed those hives like nobody’s beeswax.

5. Airport security pups have to smell all kinds of people and their belongings. Your unwashed clothes, your sweaty butt, and that Swiss cheese sandwich in your bag will all be checked by hard-working security snouts. Not to mention the drugs in your luggage…

6. Does this little guy look familiar? Uggie the Jack Russel was rejected by his first two owners but was rescued and became a star. He was famous for woofing and waggling in Water For Elephants, The Artist, and an episode of Key & Peele.

7. While Uggie was of course not ugly, neither was Handsome Dan! He was the mascot of none other than Yale University, attending sports games and other school events to raise the spirit. The original Dan appeared in 1889, and the gig has since been transferred from one bulldog to the next. What an honor!

8. It’s not just humans who need to protect their heads when they get down to work! This pooch who inspected holes on construction sites made sure he donned his hard hat every time he ventured forth. They don’t call him a very good boy for nothing!

9. Perhaps one of the oldest dog jobs is being a sled dog —they’ve been around since the 10th century! Getting through deep snow by car, train, or even horse is rough, so these fit pups help people get from A to B in places like Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia. Mush, mush!

10. Just when you think you’ve seen it all at Walmart, an overweight corgi rings you up while you’re buying your weekly groceries. Better keep an eye on Courtney while she’s bagging you up — especially if you’re buying any puppy snacks!

11. Of course, there is also the most famous dog job: the K-9 position. Many tough canine officers help the police by searching for people, dogs, weapons, and bodies, by bringing down runners, and by keeping their human partners safe.

12. Dogs may not have any fins, but they usually love being in the water and are pretty good swimmers. For those who aren’t as skilled in the water, these pooches can come to your rescue and bring you back to shore. Being on the beach is not the worst way to spend the day for a dog!

13. A less physically exhausting gig for dogs is being a therapy animal. Playing with these pooches can help relieve stress and even treat anxiety or depression. As colleges become more focused on their students’ mental health, they bring these pets to the school during exam week. Now everybody can rest easy and ace those tests.

14. While these two might look like an odd duo, they actually get along like a house on fire! Why? Because this dog spends his days protecting this chicken and several others from any potential threats, like mean ol’ coyotes!

15. This tiny pup does a really big service for humanity. When humans or pets go missing, especially during a disaster, search and rescue pooches like this one make it their mission to find and save them. This cutie is definitely up for the job.

16. Similar to the K-9 police squad, there are also plenty of dogs in the military. They can smell bombs and landmines, track enemies, and protect wounded soldiers — or even drag them to safety.

17. The Durian isn’t a simple fruit to nosh on, and it isn’t easy on the nose either. Famous for its strong, stinky odor, it should probably not be sold by someone with a great sense of smell. Then again, dogs sniff butts too, so maybe they’re not so picky.

18. Some people get an electronic alarm system, and others get a guard dog. Most home-protecting dogs are big and strong, but these little guys might be just as intimidating. Have you ever had a Pomeranian snarl at you? Better stay out!

19. Some dogs only serve their owner, but it’s still a lot of work. They can guide the blind, warn the deaf, aid the disabled, avoid injury during seizures, or even calm down people with psychological disorders like PTSD or OCD. These pooches really are a human’s best friend.

20. Lil’ Grandpa was one of many, many office dogs residing in New York City. When he wasn’t accidentally peeing in the corner, he gave cuddles and morale boosts to everyone at the swanky media office he worked at.

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