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Trained detection dogs have a unique ability to find the sources of target odors in complex fluid environments. How dogs derive information about the source of an odor from an odor plume comprised of odorants with different physical properties, such as diffusivity, is currently unknown. Two volatile chemicals associated with explosive detection, ammonia (NH3, derived from ammonium nitrate-based explosives) and 2-ethyl-1-hexanol (2E1H, associated with composition C4 plastic explosives) were used to ascertain the effects of the physical properties of odorants on the search behavior and motion of trained dogs. NH3 has a diffusivity 3.6 times that of 2E1H. Fourteen civilian detection dogs were recruited to train on each target odorant using controlled odor mimic permeation systems as training aids over 6 weeks and then tested in a controlled-environment search trial where behavior, motion, and search success were analyzed. Our results indicate the target-odorant influences search motion and time spent in the stages of searching, with dogs spending more time in larger areas while localizing NH3. This aligns with the greater diffusivity of NH3 driving diffusion-dominated odor transport when dogs are close to the odor source in contrast to the advection-driven transport of 2E1H at the same distances.


This article was originally published in Scientific Reports, volume 14, in 2024.

41598_2024_55323_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (7274 kB)
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