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Service Animals - Odd Jobs

dogs truffles mold sows

Over the years, creative humans have found some unusual jobs for animals to do. Europeans have long used dogs and pigs to seek out truffles. Truffles are small fungi FIGURE 8.3
A Sri Lankan farmer uses oxen to plow a rice paddy. © Tim Page/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.
that grow underground. They are highly prized in gourmet cooking and are rare and expensive, selling for up to $1,000 per pound in 2005. Edible truffles are found primarily in the forests of France and Italy and in the American Northwest.

Truffle-hunting dogs and pigs are able to sniff out truffles and dig them up. Sows are particularly useful for this task because truffles emit a fragrance that is similar to a hog's sexual hormone. Although sows require less training than dogs to find truffles, they are also more prone to eat the fungi when they find them. Well-trained truffle-hunting dogs sell for as much as $20,000. They are much more mobile than sows and can travel better over rough terrain.

The incredible ability of dogs to sniff out particular odors has been put to use in other fields as well. During the past decade dogs have been put to work in the mold and pest control industries. These detector dogs sniff out colonies of destructive termites and mold spores in and under homes. Companies claim that the dogs are able to squeeze into tight crawlspaces and smell through walls—tasks that human inspectors cannot do.

One facility that trains termite and mold-detecting dogs is the Florida Canine Academy (FCA). According to owner Bill Whitstine, dogs are better than electronic sensing devices at pinpointing hidden problem areas in a house. This saves the homeowner money because demolition of walls and floors is not needed. Also, people can spot-treat infested areas rather than blanket-treat the entire structure.

The primary breeds used for this type of work are beagles, rat terriers, Labrador retrievers, Jack Russells, and border collies. Dogs trained at FCA receive 800 to 1,000 hours of training in obedience, odor identification, building searches, socialization, and riding in vehicles.

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