Springer spaniels fill many roles – I have even seen one being used to herd pigs! Mostly though, people think of them as being used for hunting – flushing and retrieving game.
However, their exceptional noses, their agility and their high work rate, in combination give them a clear advantage over all other breeds. Also, they are compact in size. Imagine for a moment a survivor, trapped in an earthquake shattered building. The last thing such a person would want to see would be the nose of, say, a big German Shepherd dog poking through the rubble. That of a springer spaniel would be muck less intimidating.
I discovered seven different ways in which springers are used as sniffer dogs:
1. Explosives detection – a front line job finding buried roadside bombs, for example, they are widely used by the British Army. In a civilian role – security scanning – checking venues for concerts, sports events and so on where VIPs might be in attendance and explosives might be present.
2. Drug detection – they are used by the police, Customs and Excise, FDA and other agencies for checking cargoes, searching ships and planes, trucks, buses and cars.
3. Protecting wildlife – specifically, seeking out specfic endangered species – such as penguins – so that their population can be montitored.
4. Recently, it has been reported that they can detect lung cancer by smelling a sufferer’s breath. How this will develop in the future, who knows?
5. Tracking missing persons (though other dogs may also be used for this).
6. Detecting dead bodies – for example where a murder victim might be buried in the vicinity, the springer can find the exact location of the body.
7. Finding bodies underwater by detecting the smell on the surface of a lake or river. Amazing!
I’m sure that there are other uses, but it’s a shame that so many of these are linked with criminality, death and destruction!
It’s amazing how many roles springer spaniel working dogs fulfil. When you mention it, many people think of the traditional definition of a working dog as one which is used in the field – that is, for flushing and retrieving game. Springer spaniels are probably the most versatile in this respect, as they can work over and in water.
Certainly, labs and other breeds can work well with water too, but I believe the springer is best in this respect, and makes the best all-round sniffer dog. However, this breed works in many other ways too, not just in the field – even, believe it or not, in wildlife protection.
Search and Rescue Dogs
Traditionally, many organisations (especially police forces) have used German Shepherd dogs for searching. However, this breed can make rescued people apprehensive, or even very frightened, so springer spaniels are now being trained for this purpose – for example by Devon and Cornwall Police in the UK.
Springer spaniels are used extensively as sniffer dogs in security operations, by the police, bomb squads and armed forces – on the front line, searching for IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Afghanistan, for instance; also for pre-event security searching – for example where senior politicians or VIPs will be in attendance. Not that VIPs need protection per se, but because they are targets for terrorists and other people are also threatened.
At harbours and airports particularly, springer spaniel sniffer dogs are widely used for detecting illegal drugs. The air cargo business has been increasing at a high rate, particularly for high value/low volume cargoes – and drugs fit well into this bracket; air freight also removes the need to dupe genuine travellers or pay couriers to carry it, which increases risk. People and their luggage, or freight, the springers can sniff it all.
Dead Body Search
Good sniffer dogs can detect human scent easily at a hundred yards and much more (depending on wind speed and direction), but also the gases escaping from decomposing flesh underground.
In Scotland, a springer spaniel is used to locate dead bodies underwater, in the River Clyde. Apparently, the decomposition gases can be detected on the surface by the springer spaniel.
In Australia, the New South Wales Parks Department has a springer spaniel sniffer dog which has been trained to detect Small Penguins. The breed is under threat as the number of breeding pairs has fallen, and a springer spaniel is used to locate and track them so that an accurate count can be kept.
Preservation of Ancient Buildings
In South Korea, ancient monuments – many of which are made of timber – are threatened by termite attack. Three springer spaniel sniffer dogs are used to detect termite nests and potential infestation. The dogs are taken around the various monuments regularly, checking against the threat.
Why Are Springer Spaniels Used as Sniffers?
They have one of the best ‘sense of smell’ of any breed, able to detect one billionth of a gram of explosives or drugs. With a very high workrate they cover ground very quickly. They are compact in size and can therefore get into nooks and crannies in ships and planes that would be inaccessible to larger breeds. Besides size, their agility is a great benefit in searching. Compare a springer to a bloodhound! Many are trained in the UK Search Dogs and the International Rescue Training Centre in Wales.
It’s amazing isn’t it, what these marvellous dogs are used for? And when you see the films of them in action, they enjoy their work so much – it seems to be so much fun to them! And yet, their purpose is often serious.
Do you know of any other interesting work that they do? If you do, email me with details.