Fire investigation dogs

UMES

The number of fire investigation or hydrocarbon detection dogs continues to grow in the UK, as it does in the rest of the world. These dogs are trained to help the police and fire services in their investigations into blazes, making use of their ability to detect products used by arsonists. They can also be used as part of a prevention programme in places susceptible to forest fires, such as Australia and the United States.

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These dogs are trained to detect various fuels as well as fire starters used to ignite hearths and barbecues, including acetone, methylated spirits, surgical alcohol, brake fluid, solvents, turpentine and naphthalene. They are taught to mark a find by scratching. The flammable substances are then taken away or sampled for testing in the laboratory.

These crime scenes present a lot of difficulties for dogs, as they will have already been trampled by a large number of people. An additional obstacle is that fires destroy some odours but actually release many others, which are problematical and sometimes toxic. Smoke is another complicating factor.

Again, training is play-based, taking advantage of the dog’s attachment to a particular object by associating a specific odour or range of odours to that object. Fundamentally then, the dog’s remarkable work is driven by its desire for a reward.

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