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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Canine Nose Is Before The U. S. Supreme Court

Photo of Franky, a retired narcotics detective dog, courtesy of  The New York Times

The primary question that the nine justices will hear tomorrow is whether a dog's nose is "essentially infallible". In earlier decisions, the Florida Supreme Court decreed that Franky's nose was playing tricks on him, and threw out the evidence put forth to convict the defendant of a drug offense. It did the same with another trained drug-sniffing dog, Aldo, in a separate case, and both cases will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, starting tomorrow.

The trend of scientific evidence, however, indicates that even highly trained drug sniffing dogs have a decent number of "false positives" and "good and bad days." But the other side argues that dogs' noses are so sensitive that they pick of scents that linger from long-ago drug use, so when they sound the alarm, so to speak, no contraband is found at that time. This kind of general searching, particularly inside or directly outside of homes, often leads to charges of "unreasonable search" prohibited by the Constitution.

We're eager to hear the arguments in this case and of course, the final decision. But what do you think? How well do you trust a dog's sense of smell? Let us know!

P.S. Stay tuned tomorrow afternoon (after the Wordless Wednesday Hop) when I model and review a fun Halloween Costume, courtesy of PetSmart (the Cowardly Lion!)  and finally post those pictures from our local Halloween Pet Parade.


houndstooth said...

One of our dogs is training for Search and Rescue, and his field of work is trailing, meaning he seeks out people who are lost based on a "last point seen" scenario. His nose is incredible, and if he told me something based on scent, I would absolutely believe it. Even when I don't understand exactly how he made the conclusion from point A to point B, he is rarely wrong. There are times when the conditions aren't favorable and he struggles, but he will work until he finds what he's been sent after. The reason dogs are still being used is that science still hasn't found a way to replicate what their noses do.

Bocci said...

Thank you for such enlightening comments on this issue, Houndstooth! Too bad you're not arguing before the Supreme Court!

KB said...

I was once a search and rescue handler with my dog Acadia. I agree with Houndstooth. The biggest error a handler can make is "not believing" their dog. Acadia's specialty was air scenting, and I had to learn how air currents moved or didn't move in various kinds of terrain so that I could take her alerts and understand where the lost person probably was if she alerted in a certain place. Does that make sense? E.g., in the evening, she'd usually alert well downhill of the quarry because the air was "settling downward" as the day cooled off. She'd usually figure that out and find the exact location of the quarry but I'd occasionally be able to help her.

In any case, I do also believe that dogs can have "bad" days but I'd tend to think that they'd miss faint scents on those off days rather than give false positives.

It'll be interesting to hear the arguments of both sides.

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