The nose knows: Bluey with his handler Andrew inspecting a Frankston house. Photo: Ken Irwin
ON AN average day Bluey makes four house visits, sniffing skirting boards, cupboards and carpet for signs of termites.
''The dogs are extremely useful,'' says Peter Hearn, owner of Buy Wise Inspection Services. ''If we can't get under the floor, they can smell termites from above the surface.''
Research from the University of Florida shows trained dogs can detect termites with about 96 per cent accuracy, making them a powerful tool against the damaging pests.
While termite detection dogs are common in Queensland and New South Wales, where the warmer climate creates ideal breeding conditions, only a handful of Victorian pest inspection companies use dogs.
Mr Hearn says dogs are the only tool that can detect termites in floorboards covered by carpet.
They can also sniff out termites before their damage is visible to the human eye.
On Thursday the beagle worked in a brick veneer home in Frankston, a hot spot for termites according to Mr Hearn.
''One in three houses in Frankston will have some evidence of termites, whether it's past, present or they're in the garden,'' he says.
Real-estate agents and prospective buyers pay about $590 for a session with Bluey's discerning nose and two human inspectors.
He is always accompanied by his handler Andrew, who uses a tapping stick, a moisture metre, thermal imaging camera and motion sensors to inspect each property before Bluey takes over.
When the dog has made a discovery he scratches the floorboards, paces up and down and peers up at Andrew.
Bluey's initial training took place in Queensland at the K9 Centre, which also trains narcotics, security and explosives dogs.
During the rigorous training, which takes four to six months, the detection dogs are taught to recognise different odours. Each time they sniff out the target odour they are given a reward. For Bluey, the scent is termites and the reward is jerky and pigs' ears.
The training will continue for the rest of Bluey's life, and every few days he detects a live termite that has been planted in a property in a sealed container.
''It keeps him on the ball,'' Mr Hearn says. ''They have no risk of reinfesting the property - the termites die when they are not in their colony.''
Martin Dominick, who trained Bluey and is owner of the K9 Centre, says using detection dogs rules out human error.
''Traditional methods are managed by inspectors themselves. There is human error you have to factor in and limitations of technology. The beautiful part about dogs is they work freely. They understand what they are looking for.''
Mr Dominick, who served as a Royal Australian Air Force police dog handler, says dogs have a phenomenal sense of smell and can be trained to detect any odour.
''When I first joined the air force, the analogy they gave me was a human's olfactory system can cover a postage stamp while a dog's will cover a large handkerchief.''