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The sensitive noses of sniffer dogs could soon be brought in to help track water leaks in the Western Isles.

That’s according to Scottish Water, who today (Thursday 18 April) announced a successful test project using sniffer dogs to locate leaking water mains in the Borders and East Lothian.

Scottish Water has contracted the team of specially-trained dogs to help locate leaks in pipes in rural areas, with springer spaniels Kilo and Denzel, cocker spaniel Mylo and Tico, a labrador/cocker spaniel cross, working across large areas of farmland and moor.

The canine four have been trained by ex-military dog handlers from Cape SPC, a Warrington-based company, to detect the smell of chlorine in treated water.

Scottish Water said the dogs found 21 ‘points of interest’ or suspected leaks, leading to 12 repairs after the leaks were checked and confirmed.

Stewart Hamilton, Scottish Water’s team manager working with Cape SPC, said: “We use modern technology such as ground microphones, hydrophones and other devices to pinpoint the exact location of underground leaks.

“However, some bursts in rural locations are more difficult to pinpoint and we are always looking for innovative ways to do the job more effectively and to continue reducing leakage.

“That’s where these sniffer dogs come in. Their sensitive noses can detect treated mains water at very low concentrations.

“The handlers walk the mains and the dogs are very efficient and differentiate between the smells of surface water and treated water.

“When the dogs help pinpoint the exact locations of leaks we then come back to that point, investigate, excavate and repair the bursts.

“It is often very difficult in wet, boggy terrain to source leaks, but dogs are part of the solution. It’s really effective using the dogs in rural and remote areas and when the weather is wet.”

That’s where the possibility of bringing the dogs to the Western Isles comes in. A Scottish Water spokesperson told “They are only a small team and we have 30,000 miles of pipes, but if they have success in remote swathes of boggy land where pipes go across fields and moorland, then I suspect we will consider their use in the Western Isles.”

Luke Jones, managing director of Cape SPC, said: “The dogs’ noses are an amazing tool that can be used in many different situations.

“The dogs’ sense of smell is about 40 times greater than ours, because they have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared with our six million.

“They are trained by scent association and rewarded for smelling chlorine, which rises to the surface from pipes, with ‘prizes’ of balls, toys or treats.

“Using dogs to help people like the police and border security search for drugs and explosives is well known, but there are a host of other applications that we are exploring.

“We really enjoy this work with Scottish Water and we hope that the dogs can be used to help locate leaks in more parts of the rural network going forward.”

The pictures show Kilo and Mylo working in the trial areas in the Borders and East Lothian (Scottish Water/Cape SPC).