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Is Forensic Science Going to the Dogs?

NCJ Number
Forensic Magazine Volume: 5 Issue: 5 Dated: October/November 2008 Pages: 33-34,36,38,40
Douglas Page
Date Published
October 2008
5 pages
This article discusses the controversies surrounding the growing use of canines in the field of forensics.
Utilizing the 1969 Charles Manson murder case and the Barker Ranch (Death Valley National Park) where the Manson family lived and where for decades rumors swirled of buried bodies of Manson victims, this article describes how 40 years later human remains detector (HRD) dogs detected human remains on the Ranch. However, even though human decomposition was confirmed and detected by instrumentation, no remains were found upon excavation. This left HRD canines with a bad reputation that is considered unjustified due to scientific knowledge and evidence suggesting that the odor of a decomposing body can migrate outward, not upward, with the actual location of the body only meters away. Forensic canines’ ability to detect human decomposition sites though impressive is also poorly understood, uncharacterized, and unstandardized. The current lack of strict standards and training protocols is one of many controversies surrounding canine forensics. In addition, poor certification or no certification, sloppy training, and agency misuse of dog resources are noted as some of the problems identified. However, today, canine forensics continues to build on its reputation within the scientific and legal communities.


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