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News Detection dog specialist sniffs out research opportunities

A Staffordshire University PhD student has stepped up to the challenge of remote learning – despite being on the other side of the world.

PhD researcher Michael is a canine search specialist
Image: PhD researcher Michael is a canine search specialist

There is certainly a need for research in this area and the reaction we’ve had so far has been far beyond what I anticipated. Law enforcement agencies across Europe are interested in this project.

Michael Sikalas, PhD researcher

Michael Sikalas, originally from Australia, was visiting family in Brisbane when COVID-19 travel restrictions were introduced, and he has remained there throughout the pandemic.

A canine search specialist, Michael is researching the behaviour of currency detection dogs to better understand how they perform the way they do.

He began the PhD in the School of Law Policing and Forensics with Professor John Cassella shortly before lockdown but has progressed the project through online meetings with his supervisory team. The meetings often have to take place in the middle of the night, with contacts across the world.

The 33-year-old explained: “There is very little known about currency detection dogs. We don’t have any scientific evidence to suggest that sniffer dogs respond to the ink in banknotes, for example, or other chemical components or security features of currency. If we can identify those substances and analyse them forensically then hopefully, we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of canine detection.

“There is certainly a need for research in this area and the reaction we’ve had so far has been far beyond what I anticipated. Law enforcement agencies across Europe are interested in this project, ranging from Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Italy and more!”

Both the European Central Bank and the Bank of England have agreed to loan Michael dummy and shredded banknotes for canine detection experiments. While still unable to leave Australia, he has enlisted the help of a UK Border Force to conduct the experiments with their canine teams next year.

Michael hopes that this research could influence a standardised approach for training currency detection dogs across the world, also has ambitions to work with Europol and Interpol.

“It’s really exciting to see this project gain momentum. I’ve always had a fascination with what dogs could do. Even from a very young age I’d see Border Force dogs at check points and was struck by how they operated and how effective they were.”

He added: “Despite lockdown restrictions and the time differences I’ve still had regular contact with my supervisors, and I can’t speak highly enough of them. It has been a challenge, but the hard work is starting to pay off.”

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