Death, Decomposition, and Detector Dogs: From Science to Scene, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Death, Decomposition, and Detector Dogs

From Science to Scene, 1st Edition

By Susan M. Stejskal

CRC Press

247 pages | 32 Color Illus. | 194 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2012-08-27
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Death, Decomposition, and Detector Dogs: From Science to Scene is designed to help police investigators and Human Remains Detection K9 handlers understand the basics of forensic taphonomy (decomposition) and how to most effectively use a human remains detection (HRD) K9 as a locating tool. The book covers basic anatomy and the physiology of canine olfaction along with some of the unique characteristics that allow a dog to work.

Using concise and understandable explanations along with numerous photographs, the book covers the stages of decomposition and how they are affected by the environment; what is currently understood about the chemical profile of odor from human remains; how weather, topography, ground cover and terrain can affect odor dispersion; and different types of mapping and weather data that can be used before and during deployment of the HRD K9.

The final chapter ties it all together by providing case reports about decedents who have been found in different locations in a variety of environmental conditions. By learning how these variables can affect how and what is found, handlers and investigators will be better prepared to meet the challenges of their jobs.

Table of Contents

Know the Nose



Odor Detection and Olfactory Receptor Cells

Species and Breed Differences

Orthogonal Devices

Forensic Taphonomy: Breaking Down Is Hard to Do

Taphonomy Defined

The Body

Normal Cell Composition

Cellular Decomposition

Systemic Decomposition

Stages of Decomposition

Stage 1: Immediate

Stage 2: Early

Stage 3: Putrefaction

Stage 4: Post Putrefaction

Final Breakdown

Special States of Decomposition


Adipocere: Grave Wax or Death Soap

Bugs, Bodies, and Beyond

Primary Environmental Factors


Microbiology: The Little Bugs

Entomology: The Big Bugs

Meet the Pigs

Secondary Environmental Variables




Extreme Conditions


Making Sense Out of Scent: The A, B, C, D’s

A: About

B: Bacteria and Bodies

C: Chemistry (Made Simple)

D: Decomposition

Earth, Wind, and Odor


Chemistry: Highlights of Chapter

The Dog’s Nose Knows

Weather or Not

Earth: The Dirt on Soil

Ground Cover: Plants and More

Water World

Special Situations: Inside

What’s New: Back to Orthogonal

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks Using New



Weather or Not

Using This Information

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words


Case 1: Cold Weather/Short Term/Land

Case 2: Hot Weather/Short Term/Land

Case 3: Hot Weather/Short Term/Water

Case 4: Long Term/Land

Case 5: Long Term/Land–Water

Case 6: Long Term/Burial

Beginning of the End

About the Author

Susan Stejskal, LVT, PhD, DABT, is a board-certified toxicologist, licensed veterinary technician, and Special Deputy/Human Remains Detection (HRD) dog handler with the St. Joseph County (Michigan) Sheriff’s Department. With more than 25 years of educational and professional experience, she has for the past 10 years participated in land and water searches throughout Michigan and the central Midwest. Stejskal is founder and executive director of Recover K9, a nonprofit organization that provides support for much of her service and educational work. Dr. Stejskal’s work in toxicology and pathology and her experience as a dog handler led to the development of practical forensic science training for law enforcement dog handlers, detectives, and crime scene technicians. She provides this training for police agencies throughout the country.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Forensic Science
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Physical