K: My brother Noel and I developed our newest business, K9 Water Leak Detection, in February.

We first had the idea for the business, then we found the right employee – Penny, our springer spaniel-black lab cross who we got from a company in England called Dog Detectives.

They select pups and train them up for detection. Penny is a unique dog; she specialises in this kind of leak detection work, so she’s very intelligent.

Noel and I have worked with each other for years. I sell diggers as well – Sunmore diggers, which are relatively new to Ireland. Noel lives in Rathdowney and I live in Portlaoise.

Penny detects water leaks by sniffing out the chlorine present in the water.

N: In the past, we have always kept springers. We’d be doing a lot of shooting – rabbits, pheasants and ducks. Springers would always be what we had growing up. You wouldn’t think of a springer for this kind of work, you’d think of a German shepherd maybe. But then, you could have a dog with champion papers and they might not have the drive to work. Penny’s all about the tennis ball – she’s mad for it. The ball is her reward – and a few nuts every now and then when she’s working. She’d go up the side of the house for the tennis ball – that’s the drive that keeps her going.

The breed doesn’t really come into it. You can get springers and labs that are purebred and fantastic, but it all comes down to the drive of the dog. They are looking for the dogs with an obsession – like a stick or a ball. They’re the ones that would be trained.

Penny detects water leaks by sniffing out the chlorine present in the water.

K: Penny’s coming up on two years old now. Our line of thinking [when choosing the springer mix] was that we might need extra precautions if we kept a German shepherd for this kind of business as we knew we’d be in residential areas and working in private homes. We knew we’d be around families with kids. Even plenty of adults would be cautious around a German shepherd they don’t know. A Springer is much more acceptable when working around kids. They’re just a friendly dog. That said, Penny’s trained to Noel as he’s the handler and she really only listens and stays with him. If she’s around kids (if we’re in a schoolyard, for example), she’d ignore the kids because she’s focused on her work.

N: She’s a beautiful dog and highly driven. She works for the ball but she also works on a clicker. When she has a find, you use the clicker and when she’s finished her job – and it’s confirmed that she found the leak – that’s when you use the ball.

When she smells the chlorine in the water, she stops and lays down to indicate the water is there. Most water in Ireland has chlorine in it and if a farmer maybe has his or her own well with no chlorine, we add some into it in order to find the leak. She can sniff out the tiniest amount of chlorine – as little as 0.11 but normally 0.48 would be the average chlorine level in most water. She has a 100% success rate once she smells the chlorine.

Penny detects water leaks by sniffing out the chlorine present in the water.

The leak could be anywhere. The pipe could be in one area, but the water could have made its own way to the other side of the yard. We draw a line from where Penny finds the leak straight to where the pipe is. We use a listening aid as well so you can hear the water.

K: We had a big find in Rathdowney there a while ago. The man lost 16,000 gallons in 24 hours. Penny found one leak on his lawn and the other was just outside his back door. You know when you have a leak somewhere as the water is going flat out. But finding exactly where the leak is is the problem.

On the days she isn't working, Noel will pour chlorinated water in a random spot to continue Penny's training.

N: Before Penny starts working, we use a machine to find out the chlorine level in the water. We add a sachet to the water which will turn it pink to show there is chlorine in the water. We put the sample in the machine and it tells us the chlorine level. That way we know if Penny will easily be able to sniff it out.

The brothers have always kept Springer Spaniels and say the breed is great for working around residential areas, where children are often present.

Even if she isn’t working, she needs to do a bit of training every day so we’ll take a bottle of chlorinated water and pour it somewhere in the ditch or in a yard and have her find it. She needs her hit every day! That would be what we call a dead find – it’s not a running leak so it’s even more difficult to find.

It’s a really low impact way to find a leak with a dog. There’s a reason dogs are used at airports for sniffing out illegal smuggling – they are efficient and cost effective. When it comes to leaks, they’re about 94% faster than any man. You aren’t going to be wasting time and energy digging around looking for the leak yourself.

K: She always needs her ball time once she finds the leak. She’s the best girl. The click is to tell her she’s found a possible leak (good dog). But then we finalise the leak with the listening device and that’s when we give her the reward.

N: We’d never take Penny out shooting or on other types of work – she needs downtime, too. I take her out on a Saturday and just let her run around and play. If a dog doesn’t bond with you then forget it. You need to have that genuine bond and they have to love what they’re at.

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