“DOGS can be used as
pest and disease detectors in vineyards,
according to a Melbourne University researcher.”
Article from TheWeeklyTimes
Sonja Needs, a lecturer and tutor in wine, climate change, adaptation and animal science, says dogs can detect for beehive collapse, termites and fire ants.
Ms Needs, who worked at CSIRO and has a background in winemaking, said the major advantage dogs had as a detection tool was they were versatile and fast.
“Dogs have a greater sensitivity to volatile molecules than most mobile gas chromatography detectors, and they can sort and discriminate scents where machines have difficulty,” she said.
“We start the dogs off on a neutral substance, a specific volatile substance that they will not encounter elsewhere once in their environment.
“Once they’re reliable on the first odour, we can shift them on to whatever substance that we want.”
Ms Needs started detector research and training with her late German Shepherd Luther and now her Border Terrier, Keely.
Ms Needs and Luther volunteered for search and rescue but Luther developed degenerative canine myelopathy, a condition similar to motor neurone disease.
“Luther was still mentally fine but physically was not able to do the search and rescue,” she said.
Ms Needs started researching using dogs as detectors.
“I trained Luther in Brettanomyces detection, a type of yeast which becomes a fault if it affects wine,” she said.
“It loves to live in the wood of oak wine barrels but can also live on machinery and other surfaces in wineries.
“There are a couple of different chemical markers for Brettanomyces and Luther was trained on both of those and would indicate them reliably.”
Ms Needs said she hoped to start work on phylloxera, an insect which fed on the root of vineyards.
“I want to know the best part of the life cycle for dogs to detect phylloxera,” she said.