New program trains dogs to sniff out art smugglers


Since the dawn of time, dogs have not just been used to cuddle after a long day or used to confess your deepest and darkest secrets to. In fact, dogs have been used within the military, as service dogs, and even as sniffer dogs. Yep, the last time you went to the airport, there’s a high chance you began to question all of the decisions you ever made as you walked past one of the sniffer dogs, who may look cute – but is ready to bark the heck out of you if needed. However, you may soon be seeing new dogs at the airports, as a new program trains dogs to sniff out art smugglers…

Illegal trade

Although you may not be aware of it, trades in illegal antiquities happen every single day at various borders around the world. In fact, these trades rock up around $3 million per year! More often than not, war and poverty-stricken countries such as Iraq and Syria are most at risk of having impressive artifacts stolen from their museums and archaeological sites. Devastatingly, around 1 million artifacts were stolen from Iraqi museums and sites alone between 2003 and 2005. In Syria, these stolen antiques and priceless works of art are often stolen by the notorious Islamic State group to fund their military operations in the country and abroad.

Trade in the U.S

Yet, this doesn’t mean that trade in illegal antiquities doesn’t happen in the United States of America – in fact, it is a problem that seems to increase every single year. For example, between the years of 2007 and 2016, the American Customs and Border Control seized a whopping 7800 priceless works of art and artifacts that had made its way into the country from more than 30 different countries around the world. However, officials know that countless other cases slip through the net – which is why this new program aims to sniff out even more art smugglers.

New program trains dogs to sniff out art smugglers

K-9 Artifact Finders

This new program is called the K-9 Artifact Finders, which is being enacted by the University of Pennsylvania and the law firm based in New Hampshire, Red Arch. The aim of this program is to train dogs to sniff out artifacts and artwork at borders around the world, to try to combat illegal looting. The program itself was thought out by the executive director of the law firm, Rick St. Hilaire. After seeing that dogs had previously been trained to sniff out explosives and even electronics, he wondered whether these dogs could also be trained to sniff out the materials and scents of ancient works of art.

Contacting the experts

To help him on his mission, Rick got in contact with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, and the project started its research in December 2017. A month later, the study chose five dogs that would form the basis of their experiment, in the hope that they could be trained to sniff out the materials of these artifacts. The executive director of Penn Vet Working Dog Center has noted that “Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal.” However, rather than letting five dogs have free reign on priceless antiques, the study is using cotton balls soaked in their scent to learn the ropes. So far, it seems as though the dogs are responding well to the experiment.

While the K-9 Artifact finder is still in its early stages, the results are already pretty promising. While we won’t be seeing these perfect pooches at the start of our vacation anytime soon, it’s believed that these dogs will become an integral part of the world’s mission to combat the trade of illegal antiquities.

New program trains dogs to sniff out art smugglers