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Can Dogs Detect Electronics? Interesting Facts & FAQ

Codee Chessher

By Codee Chessher

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Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Most people know about drug-sniffing dogs, but did you know there are electronic-sniffing dogs now too? It’s true. To help combat cyber crimes and other crimes that have a cyber component, law enforcement has harnessed the nose of man’s best friend. So in general, dog can smell some electronics due to the chemicals they are composed of.  You may be wondering, “How do they sniff electronics out? It’s just plastic, glass, and some other bits.”

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Can Dogs Detect Electronics?

It turns out that the chemicals used in the circuitry are the key. Dogs can detect several volatile compounds common in SIM and SD card, as well as USB drives. Among others, dogs can detect a compound called hydroxycyclohexyl phenyl ketone. Imperceptible to our limited nose, these volatile compounds have a distinctive smell to the dog’s superior sniffer. Electronic storage detection dogs (EDS dogs) can be trained to identify and alert their owner to the presence of them, which is how bomb and drug-sniffing dogs also work.

So yes, that means a dog can literally sniff out a phone or a USB drive if they are trained to. Though their accuracy rate is not 100%, dogs have been trained to sniff out contraband electronics in prisons and data storage devices concealing criminal evidence in other cases. Things like cell phones in prisons and hidden thumb drives in cybercrime cases, for example.

English Bulldog sniffing a man

How Good Is a Dog’s Sense of Smell?

If dogs can literally smell a SIM card, what else can they smell? A lot! We touched on drug and bomb dogs, but dogs have astonishingly keen noses. How strong, you ask? Thousands of times better, at a guess. The dogs’ ability for odor detection is reported to be 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than that of the average human, and that’s not even getting into some dogs being able to smell better than others. By contrast, we humans have pitifully weak senses of smell 1.

Dogs’ sense of smell seems to be their main sense. Dogs use scent for nearly every action. They can smell people, animals, where they’ve been, how long ago they were there, food, bad odors, and myriad other scents all at once. They interact with other dogs and animals by smelling scent glands, too, like the classic butt sniff greeting.

All this sniffing power is hardwired into dog physiology, from the way their nasal and respiratory tracts work to the way scents are ‘trapped’ in their noses to help identify smells. It’s a very fascinating topic that could fill up its own article, but we hope we’ve enlightened you a bit.

airport dog inspecting luggage
Image Credit: CDC, Unsplash

Can Dogs See TV and Phone Screens?

Now that you know that dogs can, in fact, sniff out electronics, what about seeing them? Does their vision work the same as ours when it comes to electronics? As any dog parent can tell you, dogs can definitely see TV. They don’t always watch it the same way we do because of the way their vision works, though. Dog vision has a big field of vision, but they have limited color perception and don’t see detail as well. They can definitely make out familiar shapes, recognize human voices, and even have favorite shows!

Dogs are also drawn to motion, so soapy dramas with lots of talking will bore them to death. Flicks with lots of action or animals are great options. Most dog owners eventually realize that dogs love certain noises. They can begin to associate these with the images on TV, but it’s not anything like the same type of “watching” we humans do.

Phones and smaller screens may be visible to dogs, but the smaller, more cramped images are harder for them to see. They might be drawn to familiar people or animals, but generally prefer TV to phones. Then again, some dogs seem to be completely indifferent to screens of all types.

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Dogs have extremely strong senses of smell that allow them to even smell the chemicals used in electronics, and they’re even used by law enforcement to locate digital devices. Some dogs can smell better than others, like the famous Bloodhound, but all dogs rely on smell for virtually every part of their lives.

Featured Image Credit: nikkimeel, Shutterstock

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