The nose knows. A dog’s nose has 300 million olfactory receptors, humans about 6 million. Because of their heightened sense of smell, highly trained dogs are now bomb-sniffing, drug-interdiction, search-and-rescue, and cancer-detecting professionals, thanks to such organizations as the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (WDC) in Philadelphia.
After the events of Sept. 11, Cindy Otto, founder and director of WDC, realized that a training center for search and rescue dogs was needed. In an engaging afternoon program that features demonstrations by several of her graduates, she describes the rigorous training process that turns puppies into detection specialists. After foundational training, they go onto advanced training based on their physical and behavioral strengths. A less-active dog might be trained to detect ovarian cancer or diabetes by recognizing certain compound odors linked to these diseases. Stronger, more active dogs are ideal trainees for search-and-rescue missions following natural or manmade disasters.