By Sonja Needs and Sigfredo Fuentes (The University of Melbourne)


Dog in the picture: Luther, trained by Sonja Needs.

The use of dogs for detection is nothing new. Dogs are used in a range of different detection endeavours including detecting drugs, explosives, ores and minerals, insect pests and cancer to name a few (Yinon, 1999; Furton and Myers, 2001; Bhadra, 2011). A dog’s olfactory cortex is 40 times larger than a humans and enables them to detect concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than humans. Dogs are able to recall isolated scents and can “store” scent in a nasal pocket created by a bony subethmoidal shelf. This nasal pocket permits odour molecules that are unrecognizable in a single sniff to accumulate and interact with olfactory receptors.

Early detection of pests and diseases in grapevines is vital to enable more effective control or eradication before symptoms occur or disease spreads. This project aims to train dogs to seek out and indicate the presence of three target odours; Brettanomyces, Eutypa lata and Phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae). Determining firstly the ability of the dogs to detect the odour and secondly to assess reliability and thresholds for detection of that target odour. Six dogs of various breeds are currently being used for this project. Once trained, a dog can be switched from one scent to another relatively quickly. There are a large number of possibilities for use in the winery and vineyard. A properly trained dog can be more reliable than many current forms of detection, however one of the main reasons for this project is to ascertain the presence of odours for the potential for use of an electronic nose & chemosensors.