Episode: Mythbusters 8.18 – “Hair of the Dog”
Original Air Date: October 6, 2010
Mythbusters has once again gone to the dogs! While Adam and Jamie revisit ways to elude the nose of a bloodhound hot on the escaped convict’s trail, Kari, Grant, and Tory try to figure out the best way to disguise the presence of illicit substances from nearby drug dogs. As usual, the episode switches back and forth between the two myths, but for the sake of clarity, I will consider each myth in its entirety before moving on to the next one. I will also take the time here to put out a spoiler warning — I will reveal the verdicts of each myth, so if you haven’t seen this episode yet and don’t want to know if it’s busted/confirmed/plausible, then you might want to come back later.
Myth #1: A bloodhound tracking someone can be fooled or distracted, allowing the person to evade capture.
Mythbusters: Adam and Jamie
Control: In the 2007 episode “Dog Myths,” Adam and Jamie tried out several ways that an escaped convict might try to avoid being found by the bloodhounds hot on his trail. Adam played the role of the convict — he zigged, he zagged, he ran through water, he covered himself with strong-smelling substances like pepper to disguise his scent and confuse the dog. Try as he might, however, he was found every time by Morgan the bloodhound and his handler, Matt.
Procedure: This time, Morgan and Matt returned for a rematch, and Adam and Jamie were ready with several new techniques with which to fool the dog. In experiments one, two, three, and five, Jamie ran from the starting point, deployed the bloodhound countermeasure once out of sight, and found a hiding place. After giving Jamie a five minute head start, Matt presented Morgan with an article of clothing recently worn by Jamie, after which Morgan sniffed out the trail with Matt and Adam tagging along. Trial four did not involve Jamie at all, but a number of “accomplices” who followed the same trail to try to confuse the dog with multiple scents.
- Trial One – The proverbial Red Herring: Jamie spread the contents of several tins of smelly fish across his trail, to try to distract the dog or mask his scent with the stronger fish smell.
- Trial Two – The No-Scent Suit: Jamie showered to remove as much of his scent as possible, then used clothing and other products designed to mask a hunter’s scent before taking off, in hopes that he will not leave behind enough of a scent for the dog to follow.
- Trial Three – Deep Water: Jamie ran through a river, getting into water as high as chest deep, before finding a hiding place on the other side.
- Trial Four – The Line Up: Convict Jamie’s accomplices were on the spot this time. Five people followed the same trail for a certain distance before splitting off to separate spots. One of their shirts was chosen at random for the dog to get a scent from before trying to follow the trail to the owner of that shirt.
- Trial Five – The Super Mythbusters No-Scent Suit: Similar to trial two, but in ramped-up mega Mythbusters fashion, including the use of two suits, copious amounts of duct tape, a gas mask, and a backpack sprayer of Jamie’s shower water, presumably containing his scent that he washed off himself.
Results: Trials one, two, three, and five were clearly busted. Morgan was able to lead Matt and Adam to Jamie’s hiding place every time. The fish proved to be only a momentary distraction as he stopped for a snack before getting back on to Jamie’s trail. The water, even when Morgan had to swim, was no barrier at all to his tracking. The no-scent suit and products may keep deer from realizing you are nearby, but they didn’t fool the bloodhound’s nose. Even the Mythbusters super suit didn’t work — it took Morgan a lot longer to find Jamie in the last experiment, but he did get his man in the end.
Trial four was less clear. Morgan was randomly given a shirt to sniff and started off down the trail that all five men had followed. He went to one of them, but seemed confused and proceeded to follow the trail to several of the other men as well, never clearly signaling to Matt that he had the person he was looking for. The experiment was repeated with five new people, with the same results. It turns out that both times the first person Morgan went to was the owner of the shirt he was given to track, but it could not be definitively called busted because he never clearly signaled to his handler that he had found his man.
Conclusion: You can’t fool a bloodhound’s nose… Myth busted (mostly).
Myth #2: You can prevent a drug dog from sniffing out your contraband by distracting him or fooling his handler.
Mythbusters: Kari, Grant, and Tory
Control: The Mythbusters took an envelope of an undisclosed substance regularly used in the training of drug-sniffing dogs and hid it in an outdoor area. A drug dog and his handler were brought in and performed a search, finding the envelope with no trouble.
Procedure 1: Kari, Grant, and Tori hid an envelope of the same substance inside a sealed plastic container filled with one of five strong-smelling substances. One of them then hid the container somewhere in a prop warehouse filled with aisles of random articles. A drug dog and handler were then brought in to look for the container.
Results: The container of coffee was found in less than five minutes. The dog had no trouble finding the substance in the container of peanut butter, even though the container was placed in a drawer. The substances hidden in containers of strong perfume and bleach were found easily as well. It took the dog longer to find the contraband in the container of citronella, but it was still found in the end.
Procedure 2: The Mythbusters brought in two hundred people standing in an outdoor area as if waiting in line for a concert, complete with a loudly playing car stereo and a food truck selling tacos to provide additional sensory distractions. One person was given the training substance that the dog would be looking for, and one of two methods of distraction was provided.
- Trial One: The person holding the contraband was also holding a device made to repel dogs with high-frequency sounds that only they can hear. As the drug dog approached, he activated the device in order to cause the dog to look elsewhere.
- Trial Two: A person with a female dog in heat was stationed in the crowd to get the drug dog’s attention away from the person holding the contraband.
Results: The dog, trained to ignore distractions such as the high-frequency sound, didn’t even flinch as he signaled that he had found the substance on the volunteer. When the male dog used in the second test was definitely distracted by the presence of the the female dog, the handlers followed standard procedure, which is to remove the other dog from the area, allowing the drug dog to easily find the person holding the contraband.
Procedure 3: The Mythbusters prepared a suitcase with the training substance and other items designed to fool the handler rather than the dog. The dog and handler were brought into a luggage store where they searched for the bag containing the contraband.
- Trial One: The contraband was hidden in a suitcase filled with meat and other foods, to make the handler think the dog had sniffed out a snack rather than contraband.
- Trial Two: The contraband was hidden in the false bottom of a bag so that the handler would not see it when the bag was opened.
- Trial Three: The contraband was hidden in a bag full of week-old stinky diapers to keep the handler from wanting to look too closely.
Results: The handlers are as well-trained as the dogs, and you can’t pull anything over on them, either. They will even brave the stench of baby poo to look for illegal substances.
Conclusion: It is no good trying to hide contraband from drug dogs. No matter what you do, they and their handlers will find it, because that’s what they are trained to do. Myth busted.
There were no real surprise results in this episode, but it was enjoyable and informative nonetheless. Fortunately they used shots from the dogs’ “collar cams” sparingly — it was a neat idea in an episode totally devoted to dogs, but the few pictures they did show were very shaky and indistinct. (However, if you want to see more, there is a video of collar cam footage from one of the searches on the Mythbusters website at Discovery.com). I could have done with a bit less of Adam’s stereotypical southern sheriff routine (think Beaufort T. Justice, only skinny and with red hair), but it satisfied the requirement of a costume and a justification of his silliness. Overall, however, it was a good, solid episode, and my useless information quota for the week has been satisfied.