There is an inextricable feeling that accompanies the moment when your first K9 partner makes a find. That feeling washes over you with amazement and wonder. The reality is that there is no magic associated with what your K9 has been trained to do. None at all.
My own origin moment came during avalanche search training with my first detection dog. She was trained and certified to locate missing people, alive or dead. The next challenge was to deploy in deep snow at elevation where time was critical. During one training, a person was buried under many feet of snow high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Critical as a scientist, I watched my dog motor around the deep snow, leaping and plowing. I thought she was goofing off, until I saw the head snap conveying she had gotten her target odor and was following it to source. There was nothing for me to do but sit back and watch this dog navigate to the highest concentration of invisible odor and actively dig without ever looking back once, right over the buried subject.
That was the moment I knew that there was more to detection than a layman's perception about dogs. From that moment I began to ask hard questions about the science of olfaction and began to delve into the scientific disciplines that encompass detection.
I wrote proposals, receiving funding over the past two decades to conduct rigorous R&D for federal agencies such as the US DOD. That research has been peer reviewed, published, and presented around the world.
Origin moments are powerful in that they set us on a path that lead to what we do and who we become. That first K9 set me on a path that I never anticipated. Now, several K9s later and an accomplished research scientist, I am developing programs, training and creating opportunities for others who recognize the need to acknowledge and apply the underlying science to their programs. While research is not always accessible to a non-scientist, I have two decades of experience translating it into formats that can be incorporated and applied across scales.