NC State professor writes book about the science of working dogs

aweigl@newsobserver.comSeptember 30, 2013 

  • Meet the author

    Cat Warren has these upcoming book events across the Triangle:

    • 7 p.m. Thursday, Flyleaf Books, 752 MLK Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill; 919-942-7373 or

    • 7 p.m. Oct. 10, Regulator Bookshop, 720 Ninth St., Durham; 919-286-2700 or

    • 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30, Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Ave., Raleigh; 919-828-1588 or

    • 6 p.m. Nov. 1, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Warren will talk about the science behind working dogs in Daily Planet Cafe at the museum’s Nature Research Center, 121 West Jones St., Raleigh.

    • 6 p.m. Nov. 11, book signing at Cimos, 111 E. Hargett St., Raleigh, to benefit the Raleigh Public Record.

    Win a copy of the book : Enter to win a copy of “What the Dog Knows,” by Cat Warren, by sending an email to by noon Friday with “book giveaway” in the subject line.

N.C. State University professor Cat Warren loves dogs, but the German shepherd puppy she brought home nine years ago was a bit more than she could handle.

He was the lone puppy in a litter, a “singleton” as they are called, and those pups can struggle to get along with other dogs after missing out on the socialization of being raised in a litter. She and her husband named the dog Solo.

Warren took the advice of an experienced dog handler who suggested she channel Solo’s high energy and strengths into training him to be a cadaver dog.

That decision led Warren to write her latest book, “What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs.” She has a series of book events across the Triangle starting Thursday with a reading at Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books.

Warren, 57, of Durham, has been teaching women’s studies and science journalism at N.C. State since 1995. Warren admits it was a sentimental moment after a successful search with Solo three years ago that lead her to research the book. Regardless, her book offers a meaty, fascinating tour of not only what led humans to train dogs to sniff drugs, bombs and dead bodies, but also the science behind why dogs can be good at these tasks.

“It’s not a book about dogs,” Warren explained. “It’s a book about dogs, history, science and sociology.”

In the book, Warren explains how bloodhounds became the iconic sniffer dog, how dogs were one of many species researchers studied during the Vietnam War for their detection abilities (pigs, bees, deer and three kinds of skunks were also studied) and the ongoing research for an “electronic nose” to replace working dogs.

Likely to the consternation of some in the working dog community, Warren even delves into the questionable practices by handlers who can unknowingly influence their dogs’ alerts and those who believe too much in the infallibility of their dogs’ noses – a serious concern when faulty evidence is used to convict innocent people.

Throughout the book, Warren weaves her own story of training Solo, but is reluctant to share details about her work as a volunteer with the Durham Police Department’s K9 unit or with other local departments. (Police investigators typically do not publicly discuss details of cases.) But Warren does detail the successful local search for a young man who died in a swampy area.

Solo, now 9 years old, is still working, as they say, and Warren is busy training a 1-year-old German shepherd named Coda. While Warren still considers herself a beginner, she saw this book as a chance to acknowledge the more experienced handlers who helped train her and her dogs.

“This a love letter to working dogs,” Warren said, “but it’s equally to working dog handlers and to really acknowledge how difficult it is and how much talent and dedication it takes.”

Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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