Scent Training Finnish Style

Scent Training and subsequent scent identification line-up method used by investigative departments is accepted as evidence by the courts in Finland. This can only be due to the consistency and accuracy of results through the development of a national training programme.

Their high drive Malinois and GSD’s, dual trained for patrol work and either narcotics, explo’ or cadaver are proving to be very successful using the same low stress technique.

Plastic Clogs – The Usual Suspects – Not So Usual Line-Ups?

You’ll need to put these on” says Illka Hormila (a Police Sgt at the National Finland Police Dog School) as he hands me a pair of plastic surgical style clogs.

We’re sat in the changing room of a non-descript building in Hameenlinna a town 100km north of Helsinki.

Not the type of footwear associated with dog training but I think I’m open to new ideas so readily slip them on eagerly wondering what lies beyond the closed door.

We then enter what can only be described as a ‘prep’ room like in any UK hospital, the rubber flooring, shelves of immaculately clean glass jars and more jars and jars with narrow stainless-steel tubing.

This is one of our training rooms” says my guide Illka

Ok” I say cautiously wondering what I’d let myself in for miles from home with no phone service

“I’ll take you upstairs and explain how the lab works”

Ok” I reply this time with more than a hint of nervous laughter at my unexpected surroundings.

We’re now on the first floor of the training building, I can now see three rooms, thankfully one looks like a normal trainer’s office, the other two not so normal. One contains an array of CCTV cameras, two raised platforms on either side of the room and what looks like a DJ booth with a one-way mirrored screen.

scent line up room
scent line up room

This is our scent line up room

Ok” this time a little more confident and relaxed I reply.

The last room contains a raised platform, some stainless steel trolleys and more glass jars containing those narrow stainless-steel tubes.

And this is where our dogs learn the scent ID

We then go into ‘The Professors’ office and the Scent Line-Up system is explained, so after many hours of discussion here’s what I understand about the structure they have developed using dogs to identify suspects.

The Scent Line-Up room has the two platforms, each platform has seven round metal holders (numbered 1 to 7) equally spaced for holding the glass jars. The narrow stainless-steel tubes are for holding human scent samples, one from the suspect and six from adults not associated but from a similar background, these are placed in the jars. The suspect and the six adults hold a tube for two minutes to deposit their scent before it is placed in a glass jar and sealed.

Scents being prepared

The glass jars are then placed in the numbered holders on the platform by another officer using metal forceps. The stainless-steel tubes containing the scent samples are kept in the jars to prevent contamination of the neighbouring tubes.

The dog is brought into the room and the handler offers the dog a sample (a cotton swab or similar) taken from the suspect, it is rewarded for sniffing the sample.

The handler then releases the dog to start scanning samples and turns his back so not to influence the search. The dog works its way along the jars giving an indication by laying down next to one of the jars. If the dog is correct a green light is illuminated by an officer in the DJ booth alerting the handler who ‘clicks’ walks over and calmly rewards the dog.

What’s the catch?” I ask wondering why no one else has used this clinical system.

None we have an accuracy of over 95% in blind tests” I am told.

Ilkka then recalls a case where a sim-card was removed from a suspect’s phone, the scent was offered to the dog who successfully picked out the suspects ‘tube’ in the line-up.

Yeah right” I hear you all yell, but who am I to doubt a man with a CV running into several pages.

What if” as Illka looks over his glasses at me “they were wearing gloves?” I ask

The scent travels through the gloves” he replies as if it’s the most obvious answer.

We then discuss how their dogs are imprinted, Illka explains that each dog is trained the same way using a method that they have perfected. Using this method they have been able to cut down the imprinting period by half, they can train 3 different scents in 5 days. The dogs are all clicker trained and the majority are rewarded with food.

This scent identification line-up method used by investigative departments is accepted as evidence by the courts in Finland. This can only be due to the consistency and accuracy of results through the development of a national training programme.

Illka then goes onto explain something that can be alien to many handlers.

We train our dogs to signal a negative search as we often see dogs becoming stressed when they can’t find anything, but they’re unable to communicate this, so when it’s a negative run the dog finishes the search and lays down by the handler.” All over the country I sense eyebrows twitching and can still hear people yelling “Yeah right” but I tell you it does work.

Illka Hormila
Illka Hormila

Their high drive Malinois and GSD’s, dual trained for patrol work and either narcotics, explo’ or cadaver are proving to be very successful using the same low stress technique.

I thank my guide and feel incredibly privileged that I have been allowed into a training centre that few have seen inside, it’s been truly inspirational.

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