K-9 Mold Investigations

Research behind the mold-detecting dog:
Several years ago, the insurance industry posed a question to Bill Whitstine, owner of Florida Canine Academy:

HIA1“If dogs can sniff out bombs, drugs, people and arson,
then why not mold?”

In response to this question, Whitstine immediately put together a panel of experts to include: Chief forensic chemist Niles Bashaw of Innovative Applied Science Laboratory, in Tampa, Florida; Microbiologist and Industrial Hygienist Michael Williamson of Apollo Environmental Inc. in Gibsonton, Florida; and for veterinarian and research support, Dr. Larry Myers of Auburn University, in Auburn, Georgia.

After more than two years of study, this panel of experts concluded that dogs could, in fact, be trained to sniff out specific microbial volatile organic compounds associated with over 17 specific species of the most common “toxic” molds. Later, armed with the support of the experts, Whitstine began training the first dogs with a few mold odors.Once it was clear that dogs could find the hidden mold in various building structures, Whitstine began to fine-tune the dogs’ detection abilities by adding additional odors.

Finding hidden mold is not as hard as finding arson, bombs or drugs. For example, arson-detection dogs must alert to more than 30 different types of accelerants and must be able to do so after an arsonist has poured gasoline in a buildings, the building has burned to the ground, the firefighters have put thousands of gallons of water on the fire, and all of the burned items are masking the odor of the trace amounts of accelerant left. The dog must then sniff through the ashes and accurately pinpoint the remaining parts per trillion of gasoline left. Similarly, drug dealers routinely try to hide their drugs by masking the odor with items such as coffee or fabric softener, but still the dogs find it. By way of contrast, mold is not hiding from us; however, mold is frequently not visible to the human eye.

Training to be a mold-detecting dog:
Certified Mold Detection Dogs are trained at the Florida Canine Academy, mold-detecting dogs are trained to discriminate scents of various types of microbial colonies in a variety of structures, including attics and crawl spaces. The method of indication is a passive method (sit). If the dog finds mold, the dog will alert the handler to the location. The mold dogs receive more than 1000 hours of training and are proficient in their duties before the handler arrives at the Academy. The mold dog and handler are then paired and trained together for a minimum of 60 hours. Quarterly testing and annual re-certification are required. At the end of the course, the Certified Master Trainer verifies that each canine team is capable of discriminating scents of the mold and issues certification.

The mold-detecting dogs’ training includes minor obedience, odor identification, search patterns, scent discrimination, various types of building search areas, socialization and vehicle rides. The handlers’ training includes canine handling, search patterns, working in different types of buildings and structures, proper care for the dog, canine first aid, canine CPR, and minor obedience techniques as well.

The Mold Dog represents the newest technology and latest trend in the inspection industry. For consumers, this is great news – quicker and more accurate remediation leads to lower costs.