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TERMITE INSPECTIONS – DOG AT WORK

Shane Clarke of Dogwall dog training system and his happy client Steve Butcher explain the value of having a termite detection dog on any pest management team. 

The Dogwall is an automated detector dog training system developed by Shane Clarke. The system has been developed to allow anyone to train dogs by using the Dogwall app, resulting in a faster, truer learner curve. As the dog does not associate the training with a specific handler, after training, it allows the dog to work with any handler, even a complete stranger.

Well that’s the theory – how have the dogs trained using this technique gone in practice?

Six months ago, Steve Butcher at Riverside Pest Management in Deniliquin picked up one of the first dogs trained on the Dogwall (Ben). So how has he performed?

“It would be fair to say that Ben has transformed the business. We now perform more inspections and charge premium prices, as customers have the confidence that our inspections will pick up any termite activity and damage on the property,” said Mr Butcher.

On a recent prior to purchase timber pest inspection, Ben had the chance to impress. A builder was on site to provide access and inquired about Ben asking if he was “fair dinkum”. Mr Butcher offered a demonstration and let Ben out of the truck. On entering the house Ben immediately went to a wall and began indicating. When the builder asked what Ben was doing, Mr Butcher replied, “Well, he’s telling me that there is either live termites or termite damage in that wall.”

Ben working indoors

The builder was amazed and then confessed that he had repaired termite damage in the same wall nine months previously after a sale fell through. “There was no visible evidence but Ben knew what was behind the new wall linings,” said Mr Butcher.

Mr Clarke provided support to Mr Butcher when he took possession of Ben.

“Initially I had to assure Steve that he had to just trust the dog. It’s a difficult thing for someone with no experience to work any sort of dog, let alone a detection dog. But Ben has shown him he is worthy of that trust again and again, and now Ben is searching and finding independently, off lead, inside or out, without any direction or assistance from Steve, and he just keeps doing it,” commented Mr Clarke.

A property with a long driveway lined with gums and peppercorns put this trust to the test.

Mr Butcher recalled, “Ben picked out all the damage in the peppercorns one at a time and indicated on several gums. We drilled the gums and all but one was found to have termites. I thought he must have had a false indication on that one, but Ben was insistent in his indicating. We drilled more holes. There was no central cavity in the tree, but eventually live termites were found under the root crown after six holes were drilled!”

Ben locating termite nests

Mr Clarke added that, “It’s important to understand that the right dog, trained well, just wants to please and they will readily find termites and termite damage. Just try and stop them! Ben has gone to termite jobs and found baiting sites. Whether for Steve or his technician Case, when he is let off his lead, he is immediately off looking for termites, once indicating a hundred meters from where Case was standing.”

Well trained termite dogs can find termites and damage that will not be picked up by a skilled inspector, even with other termite detection tools.

“Once Ben indicated at a wall where there were no active termites, only for the owners to recall that there were repairs for termite damage carried out ten years previously,” recalled Mr Butcher.

Mr Clarke provides the opportunity for pest professionals to buy pre-trained dogs or build a Dogwall to train their own dog, which is a cheaper option in the longer term, allowing dogs to be retrained if required.

The added advantage of buying a dog or building a Dogwall training system through Mr Clarke is that not only do you have support when bedding down a detection dog in your business, you have the support of a pest professional with many years experience running his own business.

“I provided Steve advice on how to sell inspection jobs using the detector dog, how to communicate effectively with clients and how to differentiate himself from competition. I also convinced Steve to switch to a termite baiting business model, one that provides a regular turnover through the year and one that utilises a detection dog to the full,” commented Mr Clarke.

“Ben has given Steve confidence on termite inspections and active termite jobs. Steve has found that clients are very happy to pay well for the added value that Ben brings to Steve’s termite management service. The premium for a termite dog inspection is not insignificant, but when the clients see the dog finding without any direction or assistance, they know they have the real deal.

“Ben has given Riverside Pest Management a very steep growth curve, and the clients all love him. Even competitors in the surrounding region are booking Ben in to their jobs to take advantage of the power of detection he brings. Everyone wins that way,” concluded Mr Clarke.

So having taken the plunge to invest in a termite detection dog, when asked how much Ben was worth to him now, Mr Butcher considered, “You could not put a dollar value on it, but even $100,000 would not cover it.”

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