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Clubroot Canine Project

Listen to a Podcast with Mike Harding

This novel idea came from Mike Harding, Plant Pathology research scientist with Alberta Agriculture in Brooks. Working with Bill Grimmer

dogs in field
Clubroot detecting dogs in a canola field near Leduc.

The project had four objectives:
1. Select appropriate dogs for training
2. Clinically train the animals to recognize the scent of clubroot galls, and alert the trainers to its presence.
3. Perform scent matrix training where training was done in multiple environments and/or with many distractions and distractor scents. This was successfully performed at Grimmer’s Canine College in Shediac, NB.
4. Field train the dogs to confirm ability to detect clubroot on canola in multiple locations and soils.

Bill Grimmer selected two dogs based on age and energy level. Josie is a very athletic two-year-old Belgian Shepherd with some scent work experience. The second dog (Adi) is a very exuberant one-year-old Golden Doodle and a novice with respect to scent detection.

Adi and Josie’s training to detect clubroot used clubroot galls as target scent material. The dogs searched for with the scent and received a reward for ‘alerting’ (digging at it or barking).

At Grimmer’s Canine College in Shediac, NB, Adi learned to dig and paw at the target scent and Josie barked when she smelled clubroot.

The dogs did scent matrix training in multiple environments and/or with many distractions and distractor scents. They also trained with choice matrixes where they received rewards for correct identification of the target scent and no reward for false alerts or non-alerts.

Finally, Grimmer gave the dogs choices of distractor scents and target scent in multiple locations and environments and rewarded them for correct alerts and did not reward for false or negative alerts.

In September 2019, the dogs and trainers visited Alberta and trained in canola fields. They found the target scent (in a canister) in the first two fields.

They also detected excavated galls in a second field and in-situ galls in the final two fields. The field training was successfully performed in County of Newell – 2 fields, and Leduc County – 2 fields.

The project continues with a clubroot detection certification for 2020. Certified, working clubroot detection dogs could offer a massive benefit for the canola industry with respect to possible early detection of clubroot. It has the potential to increase the acres scouted each year and to decrease false negative fields (positive fields with no symptoms at the main field entrance).