6 August 1999




Dogs have found a new role, reports

Tim Relf – preserving the

environment. Sniffer dogs – with noses

a million times as sensitive as humans

– are helping Australia meet Europes

import standards by identifying wool

where chemical levels are too high

TWO-year-old Border collie Jess has just graduated with flying colours after a year of intensive training. She got a perfect score in her exams – correctly identifying 70 negative and 20 positive samples.

"She may look like an unassuming postman-chaser," says Rick Webster, leader of the dog training team at Queenslands Department of Primary Industries, "but in reality she is the worlds first sniffer dog trained to locate chemical residues in wool.

"While conventional laboratory testing of wool samples for chemical residues can take a couple of days to provide a result, Jess can put her nose to the grindstone and locate contaminated wool on the spot – within seconds," says Mr Webster.

Jess can detect three parts per million (ppm) of diazinon (an organophosphate), one ppm of cypermethrin (a synthetic pyrethroid) and five ppm of triflumuron (an insect growth regulator).

Jesss trainer Craig Murray reckons only one in 100 display the personality and drive to become top detection animals. "Very few have the right stuff," he says.

&#42 Special toy

What they need, he explains, is a strong "play-drive". Training sees the novices introduced to a special toy – a rolled-up piece of towelling material impregnated with the odour of the chemical that they have to detect.

"Known as a dolly this wad of material may not look particularly exciting to humans, but it drives the dogs crazy," says Mr Murray. This is then thrown and the animals allowed to retrieve it. "The dogs quickly learn to associate the scented dolly with playing a game – and they will do anything to keep you playing with them."

The game is then made harder, with the dolly thrown into long grass so they have to use their noses to find it. Then it is made even harder by hiding the dolly. And in this way, the urge to play motivates the dog to do its work.

"Jess can look forward to a well-odoured life, tracking down environmentally-unfriendly chemicals," says Mr Murray. "If she works – and plays – hard enough, she will encounter the most pleasant odour of all – the sweet smell of success."

See more