Arson Dogs: What they do and why they’re important!

Are you familiar with arson dogs? They serve quite a critical role in any fire department that they’re a part of. What exactly does an arson dog do and why are they so important? 

Arson dogs are used by fire investigators to aid in fire investigations. They can pick up on whether an accelerant was used to start a fire, which means the fire was a case of arson and not naturally occurring or an accident. If a fire was deemed to be due to arson, the police can get involved and possibly catch the perpetrator.

In today’s article, we’ll discuss arson dogs in detail, including what they do and why they matter so much. Let’s get started! 

What Is an Arson Dog? What Do They Do?

Accelerant-detecting dogs are also known as arson dogs. 

These are a unique class of canines that’s been trained from the mid-1980s onward to smell accelerant down to the parts per quintillion. 

Let’s rewind a little bit here. What exactly is an accelerant? 

An accelerant is a chemical substance that ensures a fire can spread. In cases of arson, or intentional fires, accelerant is often used.

There aren’t many arson dogs on the field today. 2021 sources estimate that about 200 of these incredibly gifted canines exist, give or take. 

They work around the United States and in Canada for various fire departments doing incredibly amazing work.

It’s more than an arson dog’s ability to sniff out accelerants. The dog can detect lighter fluid or lamp oil even if an environment has been covered with layers upon layers of fire debris as well as mud, ice, and snow.

Dogs have always had a really gifted sense of smell. According to financing resource CareCredit, dogs outpace a human’s ability to smell up to 100,000 times better. This enables the incredible canines that are arson dogs to do their jobs exceptionally well. 

Arson dogs undergo training to earn their certification, then they begin working with a handler soon thereafter. The dog needs to be recertified every year so their skills are kept perpetually sharp until they retire. 

Why Are Arson Dogs Important?

Arson is an ongoing and serious crime that plagues the United States.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting or UCR Program, in 2019, approximately 33,395 arson cases were reported by law enforcement in the country.

There are human arson and fire investigators who will review physical evidence as well as the attributes of the environment after a fire to determine if arson might have occurred. 

This usually entails analyzing the evidence in the lab. The evidence will prove whether the fire was started intentionally or accidentally. 

While it sounds rather cut and dried, it’s often anything but. Even with the talented arson and fire investigators out there working their hardest, it’s not always easy to determine if a fire was indeed arson.

This means that the perpetrator can get away with committing what is indeed a serious crime. 

Although the report is from 1982, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs looked into why people commit arson.

The most popular reason was revenge at 52.9 percent followed by vandalism at 12.3 percent, pyromania at 10.1 percent, welfare fraud at 6.55 percent, insurance fraud at 6.55 percent, and crime concealment at 2.9 percent.

Thus, when a person commits arson, they’re committing more than one crime in most cases. 

They’re burning down a home or building often to get revenge but sometimes to get insurance or welfare that they don’t deserve.

They could end up seriously maiming or killing people to meet their ends.

Arson dogs can help the human investigators who detect arson and enable them to do their jobs more efficiently. 

If not that, then the arson dog can certainly catch what arson investigators might have missed. 

If more cases of arson can be proven as such, this benefits everyone. There are fewer cases of insurance fraud and welfare fraud, and certainly crime concealment as well (even if those cases weren’t overly prevalent). 

Arson dogs are usually placed to work daily in cities and towns across the country where suspicious fires happen the most frequently to snuff out the rate of these fires. 

Which Breeds Are Arson Dogs? 

Arson dogs are usually only chosen from a select number of breeds, not any dog under the sun. 

That’s not because a dog can’t necessarily smell well, but because it takes a certain caliber of dog to work as an arson dog.

The German Shorthaired Pointer ad German Shepherd is the most highly favored for the role, as are working spaniels and Labrador Retrievers.

German Shepherds are gifted with 225 million scent receptors while the German Shorthaired Pointer has a sniffing range that’s practically as awe-inspiring.  

Of course, fire departments have other canine roles that different dog breeds can occupy. For example, Dalmatians have come to be the unofficial firefighting mascot dog.

Crisis response canines, tracking dogs, and search and rescue dogs are other canine-filled roles for different breeds besides those mentioned above to fill. 

Arson dogs are highly-trained canines that can detect arson cases by smelling for accelerants and other traces of evidence that a crime was committed. 

These canines augment the work that human investigators do and thus serve a very special role in every community they’re a part of.

Although the average person won’t have to think about arson, fire departments deal with it more often than they’d like. 

Arson dogs might be able to reduce the instances of arson for a safer community for all!