Australia’s First Bee Detection Dog

Will find American Foulbrood Disease (AFB)

A first time trial for Australia and The K9 Centre a Bee Disease Detection Dog

American Foulbrood Detection Dog dog trainer Australia

We’re all familiar with sniffer dogs being used by Customs and Quarantine to detect illegal drugs and prohibited foodstuffs. Sniffer dogs are said to be the most reliable way to detect explosives such as roadside bombs. They are now entering new fields such as bedbug, termite and mold detection in houses and detecting forms of cancer in patients. A new RIRDC project involves training a sniffer dog to detect American Foul brood (AFB), a serious disease in bee hives. Elroy, a 13 month old springer spaniel is currently going through a training program that will allow him to be able to detect the odour given out by AFB.

AFB is a lethal bacterial disease that affects the brood (developing bees) of honeybees when they are in the larval stage. The infected larvae die and decay in the cells and form a scale, which releases infectious spores. The decaying brood has a unique odour, and this is what Elroy is being trained to detect. According to trainer Martin Dominick The dogs sense of smell is incredible – they can detect odour at a rate of 1 gram diluted in 80,000,000 gallons of water, or a single termite under the floor of a house.

Martin says the concept of dogs sniffing out AFB is not new. In the USA, the State of Maryland has trained sniffer dogs to detect AFB since the 1970s and are still using them. This is the first time that this has been trialled in Australia. The benefit of using a sniffer dog to detect AFB is that humans cant detect the disease until the infectious scale has formed, but by this stage cross infection to other hives may have already occurred. If the dog can detect AFB in early stages less hives will be destroyed resulting in less loss of production.Also, the dog can inspect a whole apiary very quickly.

Trained dogs could be hired out at an hourly rate. It would take a human inspector a whole day to inspect 45 hives for AFB, but once trained Elroy will be able to inspect 100 hives in 45 minutes Martin said. Elroy’s training regime will involve learning obedience and searching techniques using empty beehives. He will then be trained to detect the odour of AFB at all stages, from freshly infected cells to dried-out infected brood. The Bio security Sciences Laboratory in Queensland is preparing the range of samples of AFB to be used in the trial.

A bee proof suit is being made for Elroy to protect him while he is on the job, but without impairing his sense of smell. Also, the testing will be done at night when the bees are less active. Once the suit is ready and Elroy has completed his training he will be taken to an apiary. 100 hives with samples randomly planted will be screened by Elroy and an apiary inspector and the results compared. At the end of the 12 month project, Elroy will live in Tintinarra in South- East SA with apiarist Josh Kennett.

American FoulBrood Detection Dog Baz with Martin Dominick head Dog Trainer dog trainer Australia

Use of a Sniffer Dog in the Detection of American Foulbrood in Beehives.

Training of the sniffer dog: The animal was trained according to internationally recognised standards and protocols for detection dogs. Obedience training was followed by conditioning of the dog to recognise and indicate the correct AFB odour. The dog was conditioned to ignore odours of foundation, frames, fresh, healthy brood as well as European Foulbrood (EFB) with and without Paenibacillus alvei. The dog was also conditioned to ignore the odour from all vessels the target odour was provided in. This was done by offering the sterile, 5mL polypropylene tubes for instance, and the dog conditioned to ignore the odour thereof.

The first stage of training involved obedience and searching techniques. A mock apiary was constructed. Thirty painted bee boxes and lids, complete with one or two frames and wax foundation was supplied and used to construct a mock apiary. Once the dog has learnt the searching techniques, the trainer began teaching the dog to detect the odour of AFB. This stage was followed by conditioning the dog to ignore other odours associated with the hive. The dog was also trained to ignore odours emitted by EFB and brood infected with P. alvei.

Suit: A suit was made for the dog. The aim of this was to allow the dog to comfortably walk through the apiary without fear of being stung and without impairing its sense of smell. Materials were sourced by Joshua Kennett, the owner, using a local canvas business to sew the suit.


The author would like to thank John Covey for making available a number of his hives for the trial, as well as assisting with the sampling. I would also like to thank the Apiary officers of DAFF, Queensland (John Zigterman, Hamish Lamb and Patricia Swift) and Howard Prior from the Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory who did the organisation and sampling of the hives with minimum input from me while I was nursing a very sick child in hospital. The trainer, Martin Dominick, also went above and beyond to accommodate difficult timelines. The owner of the dog, Josh Kennett was a delight to work with and a great help with the sampling of the hives for the trial. Thanks to Elroy, the dog that did not make it due to hip problems and finally: Thanks to Baz, Australia’s first and only AFB Sniffer dog!

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Elroy the first trained Bee disease Detection dog dog trainer Australia
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