Dogs learn to detect little cherry disease in Wenatchee | Company

EAST WENATCHEE – When Wenatchee Kennel Club member Sue Edick yelled “Cherry!” his dog Cubby, an Entlebucher Mountain Dog, barked loudly and sprang into action.

While most dogs might not respond to the command, Cubby knew it well. It moved quickly from tree to tree, stopping only to sniff. When he found what he was looking for, he barked again and turned to Edick for comment. She gave him a treat from her pocket for his good work, and almost immediately he again scanned the line for the scent.

Cubby was one of seven farm detection dogs – “farm dogs” for short – who attended the Wenatchee Kennel Club’s training session on Monday to detect the scent of little cherry disease (LCD). Project coordinator Lynda Pheasant led the training, which took place at a cherry orchard in East Wenatchee.

Seven volunteers brought their dogs to the training session from four different counties, including Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan. The dogs were of different breeds, ranging from a German Shorthaired Pointer and a Rhodesian Ridgeback to two Standard Poodles.

Owners and their dogs from left, Sue Edick with Cubby, Linda Hessel with Gigi and Ellie Russell with Milly await their turn at scent training at an orchard in East Wenatchee on Monday, June 13, 2022.

During the training session, samples of parts of LCD-infected trees were tied around healthy orchard trees. The volunteers led their dogs through the rows of the orchard, using the command “Cherry!” for their dogs to start searching. The dogs were rewarded with treats when they successfully sniffed an LCD sample.

“It’s all about smell recognition,” Pheasant said.

The disease can be difficult for humans to detect until the cherries themselves show symptoms, said kennel club manager John Njus. Cherry trees with LCD produce smaller, harder cherries that taste more bitter than unaffected cherries. According to Washington State University researchers, the virus can survive in any living plant tissue, making it ‘essential’ to kill or remove all parts of a tree showing symptoms, including roots; otherwise, the disease will spread to other trees.

Cherry Disease Dogs

Shelby, owned by Judy Johnson, reports a canister it says has the foliage of a diseased tree during a test at the Wenatchee Kennel Club on Monday, June 13, 2022. One of the six canisters smelled like l sick tree, the others not.

The farm dog program was launched last March with pilot courses for teams of dog owners who had already successfully completed the Kennel Club scent work courses. The dogs learned, remembered and detected four different odors and were able to communicate to their owners that there were no more samples to detect. Some of the dogs in Monday’s training session were part of the inaugural class while others started training at the end of April.

After the training session, Pheasant, Njus and five of the dog-owner pairs met at the club’s training facility in East Wenatchee, which was built in 2019, to conduct a blind scent test to to compare the detection capabilities of agricultural dogs with the results. of what Pheasant called a “sniffer machine” – a device designed to detect the LCD screen.

The dogs sniffed two sets of six identical cans. Each set of six contained one positive sample, four negative samples and an empty box, Pheasant said, noting that it was possible there were false negatives from the device that dogs would detect as positives.

According to Pheasant, the purpose of the farm dog program is to empower everyday people to protect their orchards and trees by detecting disease early. “Our ultimate goal is to bring companion dogs into the farming community and teach people how to train their own dogs for LCD detection,” she said.

Cherry Disease Dogs

Linda Hessel leads her dog Gigi down a row of cherry trees during a scent training exercise looking for the disease of the little planted cherry on Monday, June 13, 2022.

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