SNIFFER dogs being used to help find leaking water mains in the Borders have scored some big successes. 

Twenty-one suspected leaks have been discovered in the region and East Lothian recently, according to Scottish Water.

The supplier has been deploying a team of specially trained dogs to help locate leaks in pipes in rural areas where the water does not always show on the surface.

Four dogs – Springer Spaniels Kilo and Denzel, Cocker Spaniel Mylo, and Tico, a Labrador Cocker Spaniel cross - have been trained by ex-military dog handlers to detect the smell of chlorine in treated water.

The dogs found 21 ‘points of interest’ or suspected leaks in the Hawick, Jedburgh, Ettrickbridge, East Linton, and Mosstower to Hownam areas.

Twelve have been or will be repaired after the leaks were checked and confirmed.

Stewart Hamilton, a Scottish Water customer services operations team manager, said the supplier was “always looking for innovative ways” to find leaks more effectively.

“That’s where these sniffer dogs come in because their sensitive noses can detect treated mains water at very low concentrations,” he said.

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

He added: “It is often very difficult in wet, boggy terrain to source leaks, but dogs are part of the solution. We call in the team when we see an increase in flows in our data.

“It’s really effective using the dogs in rural and remote areas and when the weather is wet. The handlers walk the mains, following a mains app, and the dogs are very efficient and differentiate between the smells of surface water and treated water.”

Scottish Water is working with Cape SPC, a company based near Warrington in England, which owns the dogs.

Luke Jones, the firm’s managing director, 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 human beings’ 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.

“Initial trials were held a few years ago but our approach and versatility has evolved considerably and we are really pleased with these latest successes in the Borders and East Lothian and are confident of achieving more in the future.”

Scottish Water said it was planning to utilise the dogs in other rural parts of Scotland this year.