IWDBA’s Hall, Aviles-Rosa Research Dog’s Sense of Smell

By Jed Weisberger

IWDBA Communications

Both Nathaniel Hall and Edgar Aviles-Rosa, a pair of highly regarded researchers and IWDBA members at Texas Tech University’s Canine Olfaction Research and Education Laboratory, spoke at last fall’s IWDC 2021. 

Hall’s presentation centered on “Learning to Smell: Impacts of Training and Experience on Detection Dog Performance.” Aviles-Rosa offered “Case Study: An Evaluation of Detection Dog Generalization to a Large Quantity of Unknown Explosives in the Field.”

The sessions run by Hall, the director of the Canine Olfaction Laboratory at Texas Tech, and Aviles-Rosa, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the same lab, were received quite well. Both are deep into research of what all “a dog’s nose knows” in our world.

“Being a living, breathing and learning biological detector makes the dog a unique detection system that is unlikely to be universally replaced for some time to come,” said Aviles-Rosa, confirming the introduction to a chapter “Training the Sensor: Impacts of Learning on Canine Detection and Performance” with Hall and Mallory T. DeChant, a doctoral candidate at Texas Tech, in the 814-page book “Canines: The Original Biosensors,” that was published this past January by Jenny Stanford Publishing.

That compendium also contains a chapter titled “Neurobiological, Cognitive, and Behavioral Bases of Canine Olfactory Capabilities in Detection,” which was co-written. By IWDBA member Lucia Lazarowski, an Auburn University canine researcher who was featured in our  series in March, and Melissa Singletary, an Auburn research teammate.

“We’re just learning just what our dogs can do as far as their ability to smell, and we’re studying how to use both the dogs and their abilities more efficiently.” Aviles-Rosa said.

Hall, Aviles-Rosa and the rest of the Canine Olfaction Lab, which operates under the auspices Texas Tech’s Davis College – Department of Animal and Food Sciences, do not breed dogs for their research and training. Hall serves as an Assistant Professor of Companion Animal Science.

“Actually, we get most of our dogs from shelters,” said Hall. “We then evaluate them in our research and train them for work that will fit. Some have gone to the military and to other organizations of need. “We train dogs on search tasks and train them to use automated olfactometers that give us more precise control over the odors,” he explains. Hall also mentioned the dogs are trained in an atmosphere of games and fun that brings them “a lot of treats.”

The lab concentrates on researching a dog’s sense of sense of smell pertaining to what concentration of odors can dogs detect, how dogs perceive odor mixtures, how dogs perform in varying environmental conditions, how searches are optimized when targets are infrequent and what are the optimal training methods for scent detection dogs.

“Some say instruments are the most efficient way of detecting odors,” said Hall. “We think a dog’s nose can certainly do as well or better and aim to prove it.”

Hall and Aviles-Rosa and the lab are also looking into another area where a dog’s scent-detecting abilities might be of assistance. They, along with Virginia Tech researchers Erica Feuerbacher and Mizuho Nita, received a grant to research whether dogs can detect powdery mildew, spotted lantern fly eggs and other invasive diseases affecting plants.


Kathleen Kelsey, our virtual IWDC 2021 planner, who also worked with the recent virtual 2022 Penn Vet Working Dog Conference, reminds all they can get instant access to all the 2022 Conference recordings through May 31. Several IWDBA members spoke at that event.

Learn more and register at https://www.vet.upenn.edu/working-dog-conference for access through May 31.