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New Tricks: New Training for Biosecurity Detector Dogs

9 months ago

Image: Kyndall Christie & Asha training to screen cars for BMSB

Article written by Compliance Division

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has been working with researchers at the University of New England to retrain biosecurity detector dogs to detect Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs, an exotic insect that can arrive in Australia on cargo and containers.

Jessica Mitchell, Director, Biosecurity Detector Dog Program, said that with the growing threat of exotic plant pests we are looking to modernise our existing detector dog capabilities.

‘Biosecurity detector dogs have been helping protect Australia from pests and diseases since 1992, but they only screen for biosecurity risks in airline traveller and mail pathways,’ said Ms Mitchell.

‘The success of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) research means we can deploy this existing detection capability, our detector dogs, to better protect Australia from biosecurity threats.’

‘We’re trialling detector dog screening for incoming sea cargo in Brisbane, a first for biosecurity innovation in Australia.’

BMSB could severely impact our agricultural industries. Juveniles and adults feed on, and can severely damage, fruit and vegetable crops rendering them unsellable or reducing production yields. Adult BMSB can also be a nuisance, entering vehicles, homes and factories for shelter over winter.

The next step in this research is to find chemical similarities between groups of risk material to make training dogs more effective.

‘The dogs naturally generalise some scents. We can train a dog to respond to the scent of an apple and, without ever being exposed to a banana, most dogs will respond to the scent of banana,’ said Ms Mitchell.

‘By specifically identifying the chemical compounds the dogs detect in risk material we can train novice dogs faster, and allow rapid response training for our existing fleet to meet seasonal or emerging risk materials or pests.’

Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

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