The skill of a dog’s nose is legendary and their use to sniff out everything from drugs to explosives to buried bodies is well documented. But now, a generation of dogs are being trained with the job of sniffing out dry rot and damp in old houses to find one of the greatest scourges of the homeowners life. (Read more about our dry rot treatment service).
One six-year-old Labrador named Sam has shown his skills at seeking out dry rot to be particularly noteworthy. His owner has been training him to source dry rot and his track record has included some unlikely spots. One such location was in a south-facing bay window – not a common dry rot location as the sun would usually dry it out – but in this case, Sam found it in seconds. Investigations showed that condensation from the window had leaked through the floorboards below and caused the damp.
Sam is one of only two commercially employed ‘rot-hounds’ in the UK at the moment but the Surrey-based company he and a black Labrador called Wilson work for have an impressive record. Their noses lead them to dry rot far quicker than any human surveyor has managed to do.
The new speciality came about when Sam’s owner, a former forester turned surveyor, recalled using dogs to hunt out rotten trees. This they did by honing in on the odd mushroomy smell that is associated with dry rot. He had also worked with rescue dogs so knew how to train dogs in the right manner and set about training Sam. It took about two years to complete this training but at the end of it, Sam will sniff out the rot and stand, nose pointed at the spot, to show his handler.
One of his best customers so far is the National Trust, who spend more than £50 million a year on property conservation and to whom dry rot is a real nightmare. Sam checked out Wimpole Hall in Cambridge, a 300-year-old property, and found in no time what had stumped the humans for some time. They knew the property had dry rot but not where it was coming from – Sam found the source in no time, so the problems can now be solved for good.
For dogs, the nose rules – they use their sense of smell as we humans use our sense of sight. Their perception of the world comes to them through their nose and gives them a very good understanding of it, too.
The main reason that a dog’s sense of smell is so good is that they have more scent-detecting cells inside their noses that we do. These analyser cells in a human cover the area of around 1 square inch – about the size of a stamp. In a dog, the area is around 60 square inches or the size of an A4 piece of paper. So the more cells available, the more sensitive the nose and this is why a dog can smell something like dry rot that would never be picked up by the human nose!