A Police Dog Can Smell the USB Drive You’re Hiding

Even in the digital age, you can teach old dogs new tricks.

In 1986, police trained the first dog in the world to sniff out arson with the help of Jack Hubball, who identified accelerants that the canines could focus on. He then moved on to help police train dogs to detect narcotics and bombs.

The chemist’s latest trick? Getting dogs to pick up the scent for laptops, digital cameras and those easy-to-conceal USB drives. Devices such as these are often used to stash illegal materials like child pornography, which the FBI says is growing fast. The agency estimates that some 750,000 predators are online at any given moment with victims often found in chatrooms and on social networks.

To crack computer crimes, the 26-year forensics-lab veteran based in Connecticut had to first identify the chemicals associated with electronic-storage devices. Hubball took circuit boards, hard disks and flash drives of computers and tested each component. He narrowed the analysis down to a single common chemical, which police declined to specify or describe.

Two trainers, Mike Real and Mark Linhard, then worked with a couple of dogs who had flunked out of New York City’s Guiding Eyes for the Blind program, a black Labrador named Selma and later a golden Labrador named Thoreau. They excelled at this new endeavor.

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