Farm Dogs Learn New Tricks

By: Kristen A. Schmitt  |  Farmhands with Paws

You probably picture farm dogs guarding cattle or herding sheep, but these canines are learning new tricks to help grow our food.

farm dog in a field

Citrus Disease Take-Down

An estimated 80 percent of the citrus trees in Florida have been infected by citrus greening disease—­hitting the state's $10.7 billion citrus industry, hard. This fast-spreading disease turns the fruit bitter and ultimately kills the tree. But several research efforts show that dogs, including Labradors, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds and Springer Spaniels, can be trained to recognize the volatile signature scents released by trees impacted by citrus greening or canker (another citrus disease) with near-­perfect accuracy. The dogs even identify newly infected, symptomless trees.

Sniffing Out Invasive Weeds

Early intervention can prevent weeds from taking over, but spotting the initial few culprits in a field is like finding the proverbial haystack needle. Fortunately, Charlie, a Blue Heeler-Border Collie mix, and Jojo, a Red ­Heeler-Terrier mix, can sniff them out with ease—before they pollinate and spread. Through training, Jim Peters, co-owner of Samaritan Detection Dogs in Ames, Iowa, has cultivated his dogs' sense of smell to detect invasive weeds, such as lespedeza weeds. Another organization, Working Dogs for Conservation, also trains dogs to find pest plants, including yellow starthistle.

Eradicating Rats

Step aside, cats—Jordan Reed and his "Mongrol Hoard of Rascally Rat Wranglers" help California farmers deal with rats. Reed's American "Ratting" Terriers and "Farm" Feists (as he refers to the breeds) hunt rats that pilfer feed from dairy and chicken farms. When some rat poisons were banned in California in 2014 for impacting local wildlife, Reed knew his old-school hunt was the answer. Unlike approaches that try to seal off or sanitize the infested area, Reed's dogs eliminate the pests immediately. In four hours, a pack of three to five dogs can kill 50 to 100 rats. Their record: 224 rats.

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