Cadaver dogs are among the most highly specialized working dogs in the world. While not as prevalent and publicly lauded as general search and rescue dogs, explosives canines and drug dogs, cadaver dogs nonetheless are critical to crime, missing persons and disaster scenes. Trained to locate and passively indicate the presence of whole or articulated human remains, cadaver dogs are responsible for bringing justice and closure to thousands of people and communities every year.

Unlike tracking hounds, cadaver dogs are not trained in odor-specific identification. Cadaver dogs work with Human Remains Detection teams to locate deceased individuals under buildings, buried in the ground, hidden within buildings, vehicles or other structures, suspended remains, and remains that are underwater. This requires an extensive set of specialized skills on both the part of the cadaver K9 and the handler.

Basic training involves exposing the dog to the odor of human remains repeatedly, while attempting to elicit a response of high attention and alertness. When the animal displays a state of alert when exposed to the odor, he should be rewarded according to basic Pavlovian principles. Over time the dog must also be exposed to odors that are biologically similar to human remains, such as animal carcasses and rotting garbage. Reward should be given when the dog does not display a state of alert with these odors.

When basic cadaver dog training has been completed, advanced training that consists of recreating actual human remains situations and working the dog in these circumstances begins. This canine training must be reality-based in that the dog cannot be exposed to human remains odors with every training session. Some sessions must be tempered with animal remains, and some with no remains at all. This mimics real-world situations where a cadaver dog may not find any human remains.

Cadaver dog handlers must also receive specialized training in forensics, human biology and anatomy, decomposition rates among various mediums and environments, and crime scene investigations. Both handler and dog must be able to work a scene with as little disruption to the environment as possible because a human remains scenario often develops into a criminal investigation. The three cardinal rules for both handler and K9 must be observed: leave nothing at the scene, take nothing from the scene, and leave the scene the same way entered. For cadaver dogs, this means being trained to show passive indicators where the scent of human remains is strongest.

There are several prominent organizations worldwide that certify and test cadaver dogs as required by law enforcement agencies, including the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association in the US, and the National Search and Rescue Dog Association in the United Kingdom.