Sharon Perry is the director of the Southern Star Ranch in Florence, Texas where she trains dogs to sniff for narcotics – and, as the result of a request from a friend with a peanut allergic son – for peanuts!
The difficult part, Sharon says, is finding the right dog – she screens about 300 before finding one with the right temperament for detection training. She uses mainly standard
poodles or mixes of poodles and golden retrievers or labradors because they are better tolerated by children with allergies. She says that the most important attributes are drive and energy because these dogs are, essentially, working all the time.
It takes about six months to train a dog and this involves lots of ‘real world’ training – going into restaurants and shops, riding in lifts and buses. When they detect the slightest sniff of peanut they are trained to sit absolutely still and refuse to move. The owner then says ‘show me’ and the dog will point at the contaminated item whether it is a plate of food or a jacket with peanut dust on it. The dogs are also taught impeccable manners and obedience while the least sign of aggression can end that dog’s career as a peanut detector.
Inevitably, this is not cheap – buying, caring for and training a peanut detector dog will cost around $10,000 plus the cost of travel to the prospective family and two weeks’ training for them. However, those who have made the investment swear by their new canine protectors.
Although allergy specialists are less euphoric as they fear that allergy sufferers will come to rely on the dogs and cease taking proper precautions themselves.
More at www.peanutdog.com 001 254 793 8173
Further east Bill Whitstine runs the Florida Canine Academy where he trains dogs to sniff for peanuts as well as for bombs, narcotics, termites, land mines – and mould (invaluable for those suffering from mould allergies and unable to trace their root). Dogs can also provide assistance for the blind and for those in wheelchairs and for epileptics – not to mention sniff out brown tree snakes in Guam and uncover smugglers on the South African coast! For more check www.mold-dog.com
A lengthy trawl of Google failed to discover any training establishments in the UK but if anyone knows of one, we would be glad to hear of it.
First published in June 2009
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