On 26 June 2016, news outlets such as the New York Daily News published articles about a new crime-fighting canine “with a scent for porn” who is being employed in Utah’s crackdown on pornography, which the state has declared a “public health crisis.”

The sensationalized headlines, misleading opening sentences, and brief social media summaries of the story employed by such publications suggested to readers that the dog had developed a preternatural ability to sniff out pornography, leaving many people wondering just how it is that pornographic images (especially those stashed on computer storage devices) smell any different than other types of images:

This pup has a scent for porn.

Utah, which declared pornography a “public health crisis,” now has its first porn-searching dog, trained to sniff out any smut.

The 16-month-old K-9, named “URL” but pronounced “Earl,” was rescued from a shelter as a puppy and went through half a year of training in Indiana to search for porn.

porndog

Those who read all the way through the text of the underlying articles eventually learned that the dog isn’t able to sniff out “porn” at all. Rather, “URL” has been trained to recognize the chemical scents associated with a variety of electronic devices on which information and images can be stored, which may house evidence relating to a variety of different crimes (including, but not limited to, child pornography):

URL’s highly sensitive nose has been trained to sniff out chemical compounds found in thumb drives, phones, SIM cards, SD cards, hard drives, tablets and iPads, the Weber County Sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Police hope that URL will not only be able to bust pedophiles, but also foil terrorist plots, drugs, financial crimes and find prison contraband with its tech-seeking nose.

In short, Utah law enforcement is using a dog that can locate hidden electronic storage devices through his sense of smell, but the pooch has no way of distinguishing devices loaded with pornographic images from those holding spreadsheets of fantasy football league rosters and stats.