In his Fortune article, “Sit, Stay, Testify!” Grainger David explains that Dog Scent Lineups have played a role in thousands of criminal cases in the US since 1923. People have been convicted of robbery, rape, and even murder when the primary evidence against them is, effectively, a bark.
Yet, the most comprehensive scent-lineup studies done so far show that highly trained dogs are wrong a whopping 30% to 40% of the time. That’s dangerous stuff when it finds its way to the courtroom.
[If you had any kind of smell resembling food, my dog, Sam, (above) would be all over you.]
“None of that would matter,” he writes, “if we weren’t predisposed to treat a dog scent lineup as something more than the “corroborative” testimony it’s supposed to be. But there’s just something about a dog’s word, isn’t there? From Lassie to Rin Tin Tin, all the way back to Odysseus’ dog, Argos (the only one to recognize Homer’s hero after his 20-year absence), our culture is littered with testaments to the honest dog and his reliable nose. As a result, “people have an inflated idea of what kind of feats dogs are actually capable of,” says Russ Hess, president of the U.S. Police Canine Association. There’s no doubt that dogs are extremely useful in police work, but relying on them for case-closing testimony can be dangerous.”