Substance Detection Golden Retrievers: Arson

The idea of utilizing dogs to detect flammable accelerants came from Robert Noll, a Detective for the NYPD Bomb Squad, and an Explosives Enforcement Officer for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). He suggested that if canines could be trained to detect drugs and explosives, they could also be trained to locate the accelerants used in arson fires.

In a 1984 pilot program, the bureau trained Nellie, the first Accelerant Detection Canine. In May 1986, the first operational canine, Mattie, began training in conjunction with the Connecticut State Police and was field operational by September 1986. During her training, Mattie learned to detect 17 different odors, even if only miniscule quantities of the flammable liquids were present. Mattie never failed to amaze her handler, Connecticut State Police Trooper Douglas Lancelot. Often as Mattie and Lancelot waited on scene for a fire to be extinguished, she would identify the arsonist in the crowd of onlookers. Mattie retired in1997 after 11 years of service.

ATF's study of the feasibility of imprinting a canine with an accelerant odor determined that canines: can be conditioned to respond to accelerant odors; can respond to an accelerant odor with greater sensitivity than current, field accelerant detection devices; and, can differentiate between accelerants and similar chemical gases normally present at a fire scene. Currently, their Accelerant Detection Program has trained and certified over 50 accelerant detection canines for use by police and fire departments across the United States.

Misty at workAccording to renowned forensic chemist, John Lentini, in his laboratory practice "investigators who submit samples collected with the aid of a canine have about twice the percentage of positives as those who do not use a canine." The use of an arson dogs helps pinpoint the location of accelerants and reduces the number of samples that need to be collected and tested, thus saving time and money.

Arson Dogs are trained to work around physical obstacles and discriminate scents of various accelerants used to set fires. All arson dogs are trained in the passive response, i.e., to sit on the odor, so as not to disturb any evidence at the scene. The arson dog is trained to discriminate the scent of hydrocarbons, the substance most commonly found at an arson fire scene. Substances that an Arson Detection Dog can detect include gasoline, lighter fluid, charcoal starter, diesel, kerosene, acetone, Coleman fuel, brake fluid, paint thinner, turpentine, and naphtha.

Accelerant detection dogs, also known as arson dogs, can be instrumental in the conduct of an effective fire investigation. Trained to detect and alert to the presence of even the smallest trace of petroleum-based fuel, FSI’s scent detection canines can easily be the difference between finding the cause of the fire and/or catching the criminal. Presently the CADA (Canine Accelerant Detection Association) have standards and perform certifications in North America.

Learn more about these uniquely trained dogs by exploring the resources below.

   Arson/Accelerant Detection Dog Articles

Web Arson/Accelerant Detection Resources

  Arson Dog Skill Tests

     The Secrets of K9 Nose
     The Use of Canines in Accelerant Detection
     Why You Should Use an Accelerant Detection Canine
     Accelerant Detection Canines: Uses and Misuses
     Arson Dogs (Kelly Andersson)

   State Farm Arson Dog Program
   Arson Canine Training Scholarship Application
   The Fire Dog Discussion Group
   Arson Canine - Hydrocarbon Detector Dog
   Canine & Detection Research Institute
   Accelerant and Explosives Detecting Canines

     CADA Practical Skill
     CADA Proficiency
     Accelerant Detection

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