Scent of a Nightmare


Robert Hewings is investigating the way dogs use their senses, especially their acute sense of smell, to detect changing moods in humans. Hewings is a former soldier and police officer, now carrying out that research as part of his work at the UK College of Scent Dogs. Together with Bravehound, they are working on a research project that involves training the dogs to recognise the scent of nightmares.

“We’re spear heading a new centre training methodology where the scent of a nightmare, the mixture of cortisol, adrenaline and body sweat of that person having a nightmare, will become the antecedent to the dog – So that will get a reaction from the dog, rather than the person saying I’m having a nightmare – because obviously you can’t.”
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Scent of a Nightmare

Dan Damon talks with Robert Hewings: BBC World Service. (April 2018)

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Hewings’ thesis is based upon the transference of tacit knowledge within the canine training forum, specialising in the full search dog spectrum. The UK College of Scent Dogs was established to offer a high quality of scent dog training courses and education to all dog instructors and operational service providers and handlers.

We have worked out that there could be a scent cue

“If you think of someobody with PTSD who’s been through the mill abit and is living on their own and has nobody to rely on, then we need something else. And we’ve worked out that there could be a scent cue and that sweating, the adrenaline and the cortisol, will be a cue to the dog.”
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a dog

A dog has 300 million receptors in their nose

Dogs have incredible olfactory capabilities; compared with the 4 million smell receptors in the average human nose, a dog has 300 million; and the brain region devoted to decoding smells is roughly 40 times bigger than our own. A dog can smell anything from bacterial infections to cancer, but what about nightmares?

“Is cortisol released in your body whilst your having a day time anxiety attack. And if thats the case maybe the cortisol goes into the saliva; maybe we can take saliva swabs and teach the dog to indicate on those saliva swabs and then match up a behaviour.”


Rob Hewings continues his conversation with Georgia Mills from The Naked Scientists

the Naked Scientists

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