The Nose Knows – Termite Detection Dogs Join the Pest Control Ranks
Dogs have long been used in natural disasters and war-stricken areas to locate missing persons and drug and explosive detecting for decades but a new generation of specially-trained termite detection dogs are being used by pest control firms to sniff termite infestations in residences and commercial buildings.
Humans are generally credited with about 30% rate of success in locating termites hiding inside walls and voids of homes, yet researchers (university of Florida) say that with the proper training, (which usually takes six months and at a cost of nearly $7,000), termite detection dogs can locate 90% or more of current infestations, ignoring dead and spent individuals and non-termite material.
Research from the Entomology Dept of University of Florida has shown that properly trained termite detection dogs are at least three times more accurate than human inspectors (and even with Infrared Camera and Radar, more than twice as accurate). Even the best termite inspector can’t see through walls and modern technology uses secondary features such a moisture and heat causing greater than 50% false positives. But a termite detection dog doesn’t need to, they can smell live termites through the wall and detect live termites before they have time to do so much damage to a structure that it can be visually detected by a human. Termite Detection Dogs don’t need to see termites; they can smell them, through skirting boards, gyprock, paneling and most other building materials.
Termite Detection Dogs Question and Answers
Q1. What kind of dog makes the best scent dog?
Beagles and Terriers make the best scent detection dogs due to their amazing scent abilities, size for maneuvering through difficult spaces and detection accuracy of up to 98%. We currently favour Jack Russell Terriers because of their high work drive, with a training reward being play as much as food.
Q2. How are the dogs trained?
Firstly the dogs are hand picked as an eight week old puppy from a litter of working dogs from parents with desirable traits. They then commence training and socialising immediately with a combination of obedience and detection training not dissimilar to the training that drug and explosive and fire accelerant detection dogs do. This intense training lasts anywhere from 12 weeks to 12 months and then is reinforced daily for the rest of their working life. The dogs are trained on all the economically significant species of Subterranean Termites as live, uncontaminated samples. Some dogs are trained with live termites and nesting material and therefore detect active and non-active damage, ours are not. Through experience we know that each species of Termite has a different smell gradient and therefore it is very important that dogs are trained in the economic species that we are most interested in detecting.
Q3. How will the dogs show us when they find something?
The dog commences work to the command “FIND IT” and the handler closely observes changes in the behavior of dog from chasing the scent cone with it’s nose to loudly sniffing when something alerts it. When the dog locates the exact spot of activity and physically can get no closer, it sits and waits for their reward. The handler may then ask the dog to confirm the spot with the command “show me” when the dog will point directly at the termites with their nose and then sit and wait for their reward. This is known as a passive alert as it prevents the possibility of scratched or damaged home furnishings or finishes from a dog scratching or biting at a piece of furniture or wall as a part of its alert.
Q4. Why does a human have to complete a Termite Inspection or Pre-purchase inspection in addition to the Inspection the Termite Detection Dogs do with the handler?
Termite Detection Dogs are specifically trained to detect LIVE termite activity. On a termite inspection to AS3660:2 or Pre-purchase inspection to AS4349.3 a termite inspector needs to report on termite damage(past and present), moisture issues, fungal decay and other building problems that the dogs are not looking for. Further The Human Termite Inspector will write a detailed report and include advice on preventing any future Termite Attack.
Jack Russell terriers are currently used to detect termites, bed bugs, mold and snakes, while rescue beagles are used at international airports to find smuggled fruits and sausage. Dog noses are employed for rescue work during disasters and to locate birds in thickets, to say nothing of dogs trained to smell out human cancers and even diagnose schizophrenia.
The power of the canine nose is derived, in part, by the large number of olfactory receptors (about 25 times the number we humans have), the much larger nasal cavity of dogs (about four times larger than that of humans), and the larger olfactory lobe within the canine brain which registers and records scents (much larger than humans even though we have a bigger brain).
Dog can sense odors at concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than humans can, and can detect scents as faint as one drop of blood in five quarts of water.
It appears that dogs trained to detect specific scents actually “ping” on certain sub-sets of the scent. Very small trace elements in gasoline, for example, may be the real “scent” the dog is looking for, rather than the potpourri of scents we humans associate with petrol.
Dogs can follow concentration gradients of scent molecules to determine which direction an animal has gone, and the relative strength of the scent will tell the dog how recently the animal went by — the basis of all scent tracking by dogs.
Scent is incredibly important to many animals, and a key element in the daily life of the fox, wolf and coyote. Urine, scat and anal gland markings are all scent-based communication elements. With a sniff or two a fox, wolf, or coyote can know not only what species of animal has gone by, but its relative size and health, its sex, and age.