Sniffer dogs shrinking violets in Australia-first initiative

Indago Environmental director Naiomi Finlayson with Daisy the cocker spaniel at a site at Eleebana 1024x683 1

Indago Environmental director Naiomi Finlayson with Daisy the cocker spaniel at a site at Eleebana

Sniffer dogs are being used for the first time in Australia to track down an invasive weed known as Chinese violet, in an innovative initiative underway in Lake Macquarie

The two canines – Daisy the cocker spaniel and Henry the border collie – have undergone intensive training to detect the species in areas of bushland throughout the city.

Natural Assets Coordinator Dominic Edmonds said Chinese violet infestations occurred across the Hunter, North Coast and Greater Sydney regions, but most were concentrated around Port Stephens, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.

“It’s a fast-growing perennial creeper that forms sprawling mats,” he said.

“Those mats smother and outcompete native plants and crops, making it difficult for them to survive. It can also reduce food and shelter for native animals.”

While large infestations are easy to spot, new outbreaks can sometimes be hidden amongst the scrub and underbrush, and that’s where Daisy and Henry come into the picture.

“It’s a case of literally nipping the problem in the bud,” Mr Edmonds said.

“The dogs have an incredible sense of smell and can detect a single specimen of this weed in a huge area, and they can do it with minimal disturbance to the surrounding environment.”

Once detected, Council crews can eradicate the weed and monitor the area to ensure there are no further outbreaks.

Mr Edmonds said collaboration between Council, Local Land Services and the Hunter Regional Weeds Committee had resulted in engaging locally based Indago Environmental, a specialist conservation detection dog company, to undertake the work.

“Sniffer dogs have been used elsewhere to track down other invasive weed species, but we believe this is the first time in Australia that dogs have been trained to find Chinese violet,” he said.

Indago Environmental director Naiomi Finlayson said painstaking time and effort went into training the dogs for the role.

“It’s a really rewarding process based on small steps and easy wins. The time it takes really depends on the target odour and the complexity of environments where the scent is found,” she said.

“Learning to find a tiny Chinese violet seedling in dense undergrowth takes longer, for example, than teaching the dogs to find koala or fox scat, which is a much faster process.”

“The dogs are effectively searching for the ‘scent cones’ – the wafting odours produced by the target scent. How far that scent is carried can depend on wind, temperature, elevation and other factors.”

The project is jointly funded by Council and the NSW Government’s Local Land Services.

Go to to find out more about Council’s flora and fauna management initiatives, and for a list of declared priority weeds.

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