Field threshold measures for canine olfaction

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Virginia Tech


The United States Environmental Protection Agency has declared the development of new, portable, and effective detection technology for toxic waste sites a necessity. Current methods are expensive, cumbersome, and often only marginally effective. This project was designed as a first step in a programmatic approach to explore the feasibility of using dogs to locate, delineate, and trace leaching from toxic chemical dump sites. Two Australian Shepherds were trained to detect formaldehyde, a chemical common to many hazardous dumpsites. The training method employed was an adaptation of the military working dog explosives detection protocol.

Following training, the dogs were tested to ensure that they could indeed detect 0.5 ml of formaldehyde. Upon confirmation of the dogs’ ability to detect formaldehyde, threshold determinations were implemented. In Experiment I, 0.5 ml of formaldehyde was buried at depths ranging from zero to two feet, in an effort to determine the maximum depth at which the dogs were capable of detecting 0.5 ml of formaldehyde. Results from Experiment I indicate that the dogs were incapable of detecting 0.5 ml of buried formaldehyde, regardless of the depth at which the formaldehyde was buried, despite the fact that the dogs could readily detect 0.5 ml above ground.

In Experiment II, field thresholds were determined by burying increasing amounts of formaldehyde (from zero to 10 ml in one ml increments) at a constant depth of one foot. The dogs were able to detect a combined total of 6.50 ml of buried formaldehyde. There was no difference in the dogs’ abilities when compared for ascending, descending, and overall trials. Further, no difference was found between the dogs and their abilities.

Results from Experiments I and II indicate that it is indeed feasible to use dogs for the aforementioned purposes.



training, dog, toxic waste sites