Never underestimate the power of a dog's nose when combined with determination and focus. Migaloo, the world's first archaeology dog, proves the point.
National Geographic interviewed Gary Jackson, Migaloo's trainer, about how he taught the black lab to rind centuries-old human bones to assist archaeologists.
One of the most important traits in a scent working dog is fixation -- a trait most people steer away from in their pet dogs. But for dogs working like Migaloo, this personality characteristic is a must. It keeps them hunting for a scent even after hours of striking out, and it helps with their training:
"She loves to play, and she's an absolute nut about her ball. I think she would chase it till she drops dead. So, once we trained her to recognize the odor of human bones, and taught her that she only gets her ball when she finds the target odor, she became obsessive with trying to find that odor."
And Migaloo is good at her job. Jackson states, "The big test was at an Aboriginal burial ground in South Australia, where a 600-year-old grave had been found a few years ago. We were given about an acre (0.4 hectare) to search. Museum officials and tribal elders were there—they knew where the graves were, but not us. Within two minutes, Migaloo was circling this one spot. She stayed on top of it, started digging, laid down, and jumped back up. So then I asked: Is there something here? And they said yes: exactly where the dog was, is that 600-year-old grave. That was remarkable, because you know bones that old don't have any flesh on them, they're completely dry, yet she still smells something."