Jef Braden of Advanced Environmental, Tampa, and Scooby run through a daily mold-sniffing exercise demonstration for IAQA members. “Show me,” says Braden. Scooby points to the correct container with his nose. These are passive alerts, which means that the dog won’t claw up furniture, for example.
CHICAGO - Dogs have long been used to sniff for signs of arson, bombs, even termites. Their latest functional use is as mold-sniffing dogs. A demonstration was given at the IAQA meeting by Bill Whitstine of the Florida Canine Academy, Delray Beach, Fla.

"We were training arson dogs for government use," said Whitstine. "Mold training isn't as hard as arson training." The company was first approached for mold dogs by State Farm Insurance, later working with two universities specializing in dog training. "Our dogs can have mold and odor accuracy repeatable in the 90s."

The work is relatively safe for the dogs because they can "purge" their noses, Whitstine said. In addition, "We use common sense. We don't go where there is a visible problem." Instead, they focus on walls and other areas where mold might be behind plasterboard, wallpaper, and so on. A dog's sense of smell is at least 100,000 times more sensitive than a human's, Whitstine said.

Using a mold dog cuts down the cost of a remediation project by pinpointing a specific area, he stated. It shortens inspection times and therefore costs.

The dogs trained at the Florida Canine Academy are chosen from those at the Humane Society. While older dogs are trainable, Whitstine said he prefers dogs that are one to three years old, and usually hunting-type breeds, including dogs that may be considered "hyper" if they are kept as pets (for instance, Jack Russell's, beagles, and Labrador retrievers). "I love mutts," he said.

It takes 800 to 1,000 hours to train the dog to sniff for mold, he explained. Then it takes 40 hours (five days) to train the dog's handler.

All dogs are tested and recertified quarterly, Whitstine said. Dogs need to practice sniffing for mold daily, but this is actually more for the sake of the handler.

"Lots of stuff can tell you that you have mold. What you need is something to tell you where it is." The mold dogs can detect mold and fungus into drywall and ceilings, because odors fall, Whitstine explained. What keeps the dogs from alerting to common household mold? "They're not trained for shower curtain mold."

The company trains its dogs for 18 different mold types (the most common in mold contamination situations, such as aspergillus and stachybotris).

Can the dogs identify a mold type? "No," said Whitstine, adding with tongue planted firmly in cheek, "I haven't figured out how to get that tape to print out of his butt."

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Publication date: 11/03/2003