If dogs can detect trace amounts of drugs in luggage, could they be trained to sniff out plant disease, too?
The short answer is yes — and a research scientist headed up a project to prove it in a one-year, proof of concept study out of Alberta.
Mike Harding, research scientist with Alberta Agriculture & Forestry, out of Brooks, Alta., partnered with Farming Smarter to test the theory that dogs’ incredible sense of smell could sniff out clubroot galls in the field.
“Dogs live in a world of scent, and are detecting things around them all the time,” Harding says. Several industries have capitalized on that amazing ability, and dogs have been trained to detect and alert to contraband in luggage, disease in humans, and, now, plant diseases.
Harding says the idea for the project came about after reading an article about dogs trained to alert to a disease in avocado orchards. The dogs could detect the disease even before symptoms developed, allowing management of the disease much earlier on and before it spread to other trees. So, if it works on avocado, why not canola?
Year one results are in, and Harding says the project was a huge success. “At the end (of year one) we could say yes, dogs can detect clubroot (root galls) But as of yet, there aren’t any working dogs scouting. That would be phase 2,” he says.
From here, Harding says the project and concept will evolve — whether or not we see hounds headed across fields with a nose to the ground soon will all depend on the level of adoption and acceptance by the industry. Harding says that is still shaping up, and it’s unclear if you’ll soon see a fee-for-service sniffer dogs on the payroll at county offices.
But this is also just the beginning. Harding wants to evaluate the dogs’ ability to sniff out resting spores, which could lead to targeted sanitation of equipment. Plus, there are other hard-to-detect diseases, such as aphanomyces in pea and lentil, that could benefit for the services of a canine snout.