Electronics-Sniffing Dogs Have Become the Secret Weapon In Solving High-Tech Crimes

In 2023, Australian Erin Patterson was charged with three counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder following the fatal lunch she prepared at her home. Patterson was arrested after serving a Beef Wellington to her guests that police suspect contained death cap mushrooms. When police searched the Patterson home, they unleashed electronics-sniffing dogs, who managed to find 5 iPads, a mobile phone, a USB and a smartwatch that had not been found by police in their initial search. Today, there are a handful of ESD dogs scattered across the country, who are pioneering a low-tech way to solve high-tech crimes. Dogs are trained to smell for a compound called triphenylphosphine oxide (TPPO), which covers the circuit boards in all storage devices from large hard drives down to microSD cards to keep them from overheating. Another compound — hydroxycyclohexyl phenyl ketone (HPK) — is present on all removable media, such as CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and even floppy disks. Similar to drug or arson detection dogs, electronics detection dogs are trained to recognize a chemical odor and to sit when the odor is present. When the dog identifies an odor properly, he/she gets food.