National Service Dog Eye Exam Day

The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) in association with Pet Health Systems, will host an unprecedented event in veterinary medicine the week of May 12, 2008. Over 140 board certified veterinary ophthalmologists will provide FREE eye exams to America’s Service Dogs. Pet Health Systems will provide a FREE lifestyle assessment, a biochemical profile, and complete blood count through their Pet Wellness Report and primary care veterinarians. It is anticipated that through these efforts Service Dog Health can be improved and potential disease averted.

Qualifying Service Dog groups include: guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs, detection dogs, and search & rescue dogs. Dogs must be active ‘working dogs’ that were certified by a formal training program or organization or currently enrolled in a formal training program to qualify. The certifying organization could be national, regional or local in nature. Essentially the dogs need to have some sort of certification and/or training paperwork to prove their status as a working Service Dog to participate in this year’s program.

Click on the image above to see a video about this special event

Click here for the steps to participate and to Register


Golden Retriever Mealy Bug Detectors

This is Golden Ros sniffing mealybug pheromones on a Napa Valley grapevine. We love seeing our Goldens using their intelligent sniffers to help in our lives. This is just one of the applications in scent detection. You can learn about many more working fields related to the olfactory sense at my “Sniffers” page at the foundation site. Just remember, to our dogs, the whole world is a smell.

And, to see a cool video of Golden Ros and her buddies on the job, just click here where you can also learn more about Agriculture Detection Dogs.

Dogs With a Nose For Mealybugs Go To Work in Napa – Challenge Is to Sniff Out Pests Ruining the Grapes; Ros Passes the Smell Test
By JIM CARLTON, Wall Street Journal

RUTHERFORD, Calif. — On a recent afternoon here at the Honig Vineyard and Winery, dog trainer Edwina Ryska wandered through a tangle of grapevines with her golden retriever Ros. “Go search!” Ms. Ryska told the year-old pup.

Ros bounded off, her nose in the air, looking for bugs hoping to mate.

Love is in the air in Napa, and it’s Ros’s job to sniff it out. With her siblings — Rigo, Richardson and Rousek — she was bred and trained to use a special new talent to find vine mealybugs that are having sex.

Mealybugs — cream-colored, oval-shaped critters so small that dozens can fit in a square inch — have become a big problem for the California wine industry. The rapidly reproducing insects, often accompanied by an army of ants to protect them, feed on vines and ruin grapes by leaving heavy excretions of mold-forming honeydew. Over the past 13 years, the bugs have spread north from Southern California into the Napa-Sonoma wine country, forcing vintners to spend as much as $30 million a year trying to eradicate them. But the bugs are notoriously difficult to pin down; hundreds cram together to hide under bark and roots.

That makes dogs like Ros a potentially important new weapon in the fight to protect vineyard grapes. Trained to detect the scent of female mealybugs in heat, the dogs point and bark when they smell mealybugs on a grapevine. Workers can then cut away the infected vine limb before it contaminates the rest of the crop.

“It’s one of those cool ideas in science that if it takes off, it would be fantastic,” says Kent Daane, an agriculture researcher for the University of California at Berkeley.

The dogs aren’t proven bug sleuths yet. Ros and her siblings were bred only last year as part of an ambitious experiment for Honig and some other local Napa wineries. The pups will need at least another year to be fully field-worthy, their handlers say. The test “has a long way to go,” says Mr. Daane.

Still, the dogs intrigue many in wine country because mealybugs are such a tenacious foe. Once the bugs’ telltale honeydew can be seen on the grapes, whole sections of a vineyard have often been infested. Between 30,000 and 40,000 acres of California grapes are currently infested with vine mealybugs first discovered in the state in 1994, with annual damages of $3 million to $5 million, state officials estimate. Researchers hypothesize that the bug entered the U.S. illegally on some Israeli vine cuttings in the early 1990s and then started spreading.

“It’s like the war on terror,” says Ross Smith, a pest-control adviser in Napa Valley. “These guys are trying to attack our way of life, and we need to find and neutralize them.”

In early 2005, Michael Honig, president of the family-owned Honig Vineyard, and a group of local vintners concluded that early detection was key and decided to train dogs to sniff out the bugs. Theorizing that a dog’s keen sense of smell could work as well as insecticides without causing any of the environmental fallout, they contacted the nearby Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa, which trains companion dogs for paraplegics and other disabled people.

“We knew about dogs being able to sniff out drugs and bombs, so we wondered if they could be trained to sniff out a vineyard pest,” says Mr. Honig, 45 years old, whose family has owned his 70-acre vineyard since 1964. While mealybugs haven’t attacked his property, Mr. Honig says, “We wanted to be proactive.” He and some other vintners contributed about $50,000 to pay for testing the theory.

At the institute, workers began exposing a litter of seven-week-old golden retriever pups in late 2005 to a synthetic version of the mealybug smell. Mr. Honig says retrievers were chosen because the breed does well working with humans as guide dogs and in other capacities. “Theirs is the best breed for detective work,” he says.

To help brand the odor in the dogs’ memory, the female mealybugs’ pheromones were planted in bowls of dog food. Because the smell is too faint for the human nose to detect, nobody was certain the puppies would be able to smell the mealybugs.

There’s lots more in this informative article . . . .

Golden Josh — What a Sniffer!

Dogs Sniff Out Vineyard Pests
KGO By Wayne Freedman

Once again, California wine country is challenged by a nasty little threat to its enormous success. It’s a tiny little bug with a talent for destroying vineyards whole. Now one of man’s favorite beverages is getting help from man’s best friend.

Now for the oddest of sites — no, not this vineyard on a fresh fall morning, but Edwina Ryska in the middle of it, blowing bubbles. All very scientific because in a few moments, a golden retriever named Josh will be taking a test. His task is to find one little stick among all these vines — a piece of wood scented with just a trace of pheromone from a female mealybug, a tiny creature that hides beneath the bark of vines. As the world warms, and species migrate, it has become an approaching, potentially expensive menace in California’s wine country vinyards.

Michael Honig, vintner: “The problem with the bug is that by the time you see it, it’s almost too late.” To stay ahead of it, growers have funded a research program with the Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa. Canines already use their sense of smell to find bombs, narcotics, even cancer. So why not this new pest as well?

They train the dogs by introducing puppies to the scent of mealybug pheromones at feeding time. Bonnie Bergin, Assistance Dog Institute: “We want them to love it so much that they will tell us about it because it excites them.”

We all know dogs have a keen sense of smell, but much more than you might ever imagine. About one-third of Autumn’s brain, dedicated to that nose. Rick Young, dog trainer: “They say humans, when they smell stew cooking, smell stew. Dogs smell carrots, onions. They have the ability to detect everything out here.” Which means that dogs have smelled mealybugs and whatever else, in places like this for eons. Only now, it’s not just a mealybug anymore. It’s a meal ticket.

Go check out the TV News video of Josh in action. It is so unbelievably cool!

Goldens Trained to Smell


Dog squad, not pesticides, drafted in wine war – Retrievers trained to smell out mealybugs at Calif. vineyards
The Associated Press

RUTHERFORD, Calif. – California vintners are employing a four-legged ally in their fight against a new pest menacing state vineyards. A dog squad, still in pilot stages, is one of a number of strategies being considered to stop the vine mealybug, a little insect with the potential to stir up big trouble in wine country.Small and secretive, vine mealybugs hide under roots and bark where they’re virtually impossible to see with the human eye. They feed on vines and produce a sugary excretion known as honeydew that encourages the growth of sooty mold, and turns vine and grape cluster into a sticky mess.

Once established, it takes a considerable blast of pesticides to get rid of the bugs, an unpopular resort for an industry that has been moving toward using less chemicals.
“The vine mealybug poses a huge threat to our progress toward both sustainable and organic farming practices,” said Jeff Erwin, deputy agriculture commissioner for Napa County.

Learning process
Officials have been finding some success in using golden retrievers to sniff out the root of the problem in its early stages. So far, dogs have been taught to identify the female mealybug pheromone and recently made the leap to identifying a piece of infected stock, much trickier since it meant dealing with competing, real-life smells such as mold and wood.

“A third of their brain is their olfactory system. There is no machine that can detect odor anywhere near their capabilities,” says Bonnie Bergin, founder of the Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa, which is conducting training for the dogs.