Substance Detection Golden Retrievers:
Agriculture Detector Dogs detect fruits, vegetables, meats or
other prohibited items that may carry animal, pests, or plant diseases that
could possibly harm U.S. agriculture resources.
The Mexican government was the first to use canines to detect agricultural
items. In the late 1970's, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed a
similar program using canines to search mail and incoming passengers' baggage at
international airports. The USDA then began training agricultural detector dogs
at Lackland Air Force Base. Until 1983, they utilized large breed dogs and
conducted searches out of the view of the public.
The USDA then began to consider small breeds so that they could work in the
presence of the public and in close proximity to international passengers.
Beagles were selected due to their being excellent scent hounds, and having a
small, non-threatening size and appealing demeanor, the
Beagle Brigade program averaging around 75,000 seizures of prohibited
agricultural products a year.
In 1997, the USDA responded to the threat of pests being introduced into the
U.S. through land border crossings by deploying its first "Border Brigade" dogs.
Large breeds are used, however, due to the strenuous nature of performing
vehicle searches. These dogs are useful when searching passenger vehicles
because they are able to jump into the trunks of cars, and into the passenger
areas of vans and SUVs.
Enjoy these articles and video about Goldens being used to help our wine vineyards by
detecting the presence of mealy bugs.
Dogs sniffing out pest on grapevines ─ Wine industry looks to
canines in fight against vine mealy bug
By Tim Tesconi, The Press Democrat, February 26, 2006
Assistance Dog Institute trainer Judy
Fridono watches Joy, an 8-month-old golden retriever,
sniff out a jar containing part of a grapevine
infected with the vine mealy bug during a training
session. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / PD
Joy, a bouncy golden retriever with a
nose for bad bugs, may be the wine industry's newest weapon
in the costly battle against a nasty vineyard pest.
Joy and four littermates are being
trained as "sniffer dogs" to search for vine mealy
latest predator to invade Napa and Sonoma vineyards.
Vine mealy bugs are cryptic critters barely visible to the
human eye but they secrete a scent that Joy and her siblings
have been trained to sniff out. Humans are unable to detect
the scent of mealy bugs.
"The idea is to use these dogs to find a vine mealy bug
infestation in its early stages so we can isolate and,
hopefully, eradicate the insects before they spread to
additional vineyards," said Katey Taylor, viticulturist at
Domaine Chandon in the Napa Valley.
There's a lot at stake because the vine mealy bug is a
particularly insidious bug. It infests all parts of the
vine, producing a sugary excretion known as honeydew that is
an ideal environment for black, sooty mold and other
diseases. When the honeydew and black mold ooze over ripened
grapes, the fruit can't be used for wine.
"As a grower, you can't be asleep at the wheel with this
pest. The bottom line is that an infestation leaves the
fruit unmarketable," said Sonoma County viticulture adviser
Rhonda Smith of the University of California Cooperative
Dogs, Taylor said, promise to be more efficient, cost
effective and accurate than humans in canvassing the more
than 100,000 acres of Napa and Sonoma vineyards that could
be harboring the vine mealy bug, originally from the
Mediterranean regions of Europe and found in Africa and the
Taylor is among the worried growers and vintners who asked
the Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa to come to their
rescue. The wine group raised $33,000 for a research project
to determine if sniffer dogs could play a role in
eradicating or, at least, controlling the destructive insect
so it doesn't become widespread. There are already dozens of
documented infestations in Napa and Sonoma counties with
more expected to be found over the spring and summer.
If a dog identifies a vine as being infested it can be
removed or treated with insecticides. Pinpointing infested
vines allows growers to spray specific sites rather than the
whole vineyard, which is not only less costly but better for
"The widespread use of pesticides to eradicate a serious
agricultural pest like the vine mealy bug is in the complete
opposite direction from the organic and sustainable farming
methods that most North Coast farmers are moving toward,"
said Jennifer Kopp, executive director of the Napa Valley
Grape Growers, which provided money for the research
"What's exciting about the dog sniffer project is that it's
an innovative, forward-thinking, organic alternative," Kopp
The vine mealy bug research project started this past summer
when Joy and her siblings were 4 weeks old. The five puppies
were embedded with the scent of a synthetic version of the
sexual attractant secreted by the female vine mealy bug. In
recent weeks, the dogs successfully identified the scent in
sawed-off grapevine samples that were infested with the vine
"It was a big hurrah moment when the dogs made the leap from
the synthetic pheromone to the infested grapevine. It was
another incremental step in the research process," said
Bonnie Bergin, president and executive director of the
Assistance Dog Institute.
In sessions with trainer Judy Fridono, Joy methodically
searches a room where the scent has been planted. When Joy
comes to the scent, she barks and barks until her trainer
arrives to reward her.
Bergin points out that the grapevine samples used by her
staff were frozen to kill any vine mealy bugs, preventing
their spread to new areas of Wine Country.
So far, Joy and her litter mates have completed their
training at the institute's facility on Sebastopol Road. The
next step is to take the dogs into Napa-Sonoma vineyards in
April or May when mealy bugs begin reproducing and scents are
Bergin said detecting the vine mealy bug in the vineyards
poses a challenge for the dogs because of shifting wind
currents, competing scents and doggy distractions such as
jack rabbits and quail. But Bergin is betting on the dogs
and their incredible sense of smell to find the hidden
"A third of a dog's brain is the olfactory system," said
Bergin. "Their sense of smell is very powerful, which gives
them tremendous capabilities."
Dogs Sniff Out Vineyard Pests
KGO By Wayne Freedman
California wine country is challenged by a nasty little threat to its enormous
success. It’s a tiny little bug with a talent for destroying vineyards whole.
Now one of man’s favorite beverages is getting help from man’s best friend.
Now for the oddest of sites — no, not this vineyard on a fresh fall morning,
but Edwina Ryska in the middle of it, blowing bubbles. All very scientific
because in a few moments, a golden retriever named Josh will be taking a test.
His task is to find one little stick among all these vines — a piece of wood
scented with just a trace of pheromone from a female mealy bug, a tiny creature
that hides beneath the bark of vines. As the world warms, and species migrate,
it has become an approaching, potentially expensive menace in California’s wine
Michael Honig, vintner: “The problem with the bug is
that by the time you see it, it’s almost too late.” To stay ahead of it, growers
have funded a research program with the Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa.
Canines already use their sense of smell to find bombs, narcotics, even cancer.
So why not this new pest as well? They train the dogs by introducing
puppies to the scent of mealy bug pheromones at feeding time. Bonnie Bergin,
Assistance Dog Institute: “We want them to love it so much that they will tell
us about it because it excites them.”
We all know dogs have a keen sense
of smell, but much more than you might ever imagine. About one-third of Autumn’s
brain, dedicated to that nose. Rick Young, dog trainer: “They say humans, when
they smell stew cooking, smell stew. Dogs smell carrots, onions. They have the
ability to detect everything out here.” Which means that dogs have smelled
mealy bugs and whatever else, in places like this for eons. Only now, it’s not
just a mealy bug anymore. It’s a meal ticket.
Sniff And Destroy - Training program proves dogs can be used as tool
in mealy bug detection
By Tim Tesconi, The Press Democrat, May 27, 2006
Rick Yount puts Autumn, a golden retriever,
through the paces as she searches a vineyard for
a bug-infested piece of wood, seen foreground
left, attached to a vine for her training. Photo
by Scott Manchester / PD
A golden retriever named Autumn moved closer
to becoming a full-fledged Wine Country sniffer dog after
bounding into a vineyard and tracking the scent of a bad bug on
grape growers' hit list.
The culprit is
the vine mealy bug and sniffer dogs like Autumn may be coming to
the wine industry's rescue.
In a training exercise last week, Autumn successfully sniffed a
planted scent hidden among the vines of a Santa Rosa vineyard.
The next big test will be finding the real mealy bug. But the
test showed that the dog wasn't thrown off by prevailing winds
or distracted by birds and other wildlife in a vineyard setting.
"That's what we like. It's all downhill from here," said Bonita
Bergin, president and executive director of Santa Rosa's
Assistance Dog Institute, after Autumn discovered the scent.
It's all part of the training for Autumn and a half-dozen other
dogs learning to search for the elusive vine mealy bug, a new
vineyard pest in Sonoma and Napa counties.
Vine mealy bugs are cryptic critters barely visible to the human
eye. But they secrete a scent that dogs can be trained to sniff
There's a lot at stake because the vine mealy bug is a
particularly insidious bug. It infests all parts of a vine,
producing a sugary excretion known as honeydew that is an ideal
environment for mold and other diseases.
Bergin is certain dogs can be used as a tool in the mealy bug
battle. She said dogs promise to be more efficient, cost
effective and accurate than humans in canvassing the more than
100,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties that could be
harboring the insect.
"There's no question that we can develop a viable program that
uses dogs to detect vine mealy bugs," said Bergin, whose mission
for the past 30 years has been to "help dogs help people."
The program started last year when a group of growers and
vintners raised $33,000 for a research project to determine if
sniffer dogs could play a role in eradicating or controlling the
destructive insect so it doesn't become widespread. There are
already dozens of documented infestations in Napa and Sonoma
counties with more expected this year.
Even those training the dogs marvel at their sensory abilities.
"This is about training dogs to do something we can't do. It's
intriguing to watch Autumn use her sense of smell," said Rick
Yount, an Institute staff member who trained Autumn. He said
she's only been in training for eight weeks but has made
"With each success she becomes more confident. Success breeds
success," said Yount.
Growers are excited about using the dogs because it's a low-tech
way to deal with a pest problem. If a dog identifies an infested
grapevine, the vine can be removed or treated with insecticides.
It means a specific site can be sprayed rather than the whole
vineyard, which is not only less costly but better for the
Over the past year, Bergin said she has learned that it will
take a certain type of golden retriever to become a champion
vine mealy bug sniffer.
She said the kind of retriever that makes a good service dog for
disabled people is not the best dog for aggressively canvassing
hundreds of acres of vineyards to find mealy bugs.
"This kind of work requires dogs that are intense, driven,
highly aroused and with lots of energy," said Bergin. It's the
same personality type needed in training search-and-rescue dogs.
Do you have a Golden Retriever agriculture sniffer tale that you would
like to share? Just send it, along with photos, to:
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