England’s First Water-Sniffing Dog Helps Find Leaky Pipes

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
How’s this for spectacular sniffing ability–a Cocker Spaniel is claiming the title of Britain’s first sniffer dog that can detect water leaks in pipes.

You sort of think with their amazing olfactory abilities, dogs are able to sniff just about anything out. And you’re probably right, so much so that a utilities company in the UK is putting those abilities of a 16-month-old cocker spaniel named Snipe to use–smelling seemingly smell-less water.

Well, the chlorine in the water, that is.

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Snipe has been through extensive training by former military personnel in order to detect minute amounts of chlorine in tap water. United Utilities supplies three about million homes in the North West of England with water, and being able to preempt leaks is an amazing thing.

That’s where Snipe uses his superior sniffing skills–to pinpoint possible water leaks, and what he can do is pretty phenomenal! Typical tap water has one part chlorine per million parts water. That’s quite a dilution, but a dog’s nose can detect one particle in a billion, so it’s no sweat to Snipe.

Snipe’s owner Ross Stephenson is with a pest extermination company and has been training Snipe since last year to detect the chlorine. He said he started off by putting bigger amounts of chlorine in water to get him used to the smell he’d be rewarded for finding and then used smaller bowls and finally outside areas to train Snipe to find chlorine in small amounts.

Stephenson served with the Royal Veterinary Corps as a corporal and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He left the military two years ago, and has been working with pest control since. Training Snipe has been a fun and rewarding adventure, and in the end results in what they hope will be Snipe sitting /standing and staring at the ground where the source of a smell is for at least 30 seconds to indicate passively the presence of chlorine.

Hannah Wardle is the regional leakage manager at UU and said that the North West of England is a very soggy area and discerning leaks from puddles is a challenge. She hopes that Snipe will be able to muddle through the difference, in order to help find leaks where they are known to be, but not known exactly where.

They also plan to use Snipe in trials to see if he can find places in rural areas where water is being wasted because leaks are just so hard to detect.

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Mr. Stephenson’s business partner Luke Jones worked in the same military unit as Stephenson did, using dogs to look for explosives and IEDs, and then post-military, has trained dogs to look for bed bugs. Training to look for water leaks is no different, he says, as the principals are essentially the same in a different setting, and with far less stress on the humans and the dog!

As Snipe works hard, more dogs are in training, and the utility company is excited about the ‘technology’ they have on their team.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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