Dog Discoveries

What is a Rothound?

 

What is a rothound? If you never heard this word before, rest assured, you are likely not alone. This word is not very popular, but it has to do with dogs and therefore it has its place in our doggy trivia section. Most dog lovers know that a hound is a dog belonging to a breed selectively bred for hunting, especially one able to track by scent, so this is already a hint. Next, is to guess what the ‘rot’ part of the word really means. So here is the trivia question:

What is a rothound?

A: a dog obtained from crossing a Rottweiler with a hound

B: a mixed dog of very little value

C: a hound used to detect rot in decaying buildings

D: a hound used to detect fruit that has gone bad

 

The correct answer is: drum roll please…

 

 

The correct answer is C:  a rothound is a hound used to detect rot in decaying buildings.

 

A Damaging Type of Fungus

When buildings start developing rot, a fungus is often blamed for causing significant decay and damage to timber, and that fungus goes by the name of serpula lacrymans.

Serpula lacrymans is currently considered to be very damaging towards wood construction materials found indoors in temperate regions. This fungus is known for digesting parts of wood responsible for providing strength and stiffness to structures.

When the affected wood starts decaying, it takes on a dark or brown crumbly appearance and shows signs of cracking. Over time the wood turns into a brittle, possibly, pulverized form.

As one may imagine, an outbreak of rot caused by serpula lacrymans can cause extremely damaging effects. The fungus can be difficult to eradicate and its destruction can easily amount to large amounts of money.

In the past, in order to determine the presence of serpula lacrymans, it was necessary to open up timbers and directly inspect them. However, things have changed, courtesy of specially trained dogs capable of detecting the scent produced by active dry rot. This means that there is no longer a need for expensive and damaging opening up of timbers, something that is prohibitive in historical buildings.

Rot Detection Dogs

Rot has a distinctive odor that can be detected by specially trained dogs. In particular, rothounds have been trained to detect the distinctive odor of rot.

While humans can too detect the distinctly mushroom-like scent of rot, once the scent is at such strong concentrations, it means that a substantial amount of damage has already occurred.

The key is detecting this smell before people can detect it. Therefore, at a point where the fungal infestation is just at the very beginning. Rothounds are capable of doing that.

Another great advantage in using rothounds is the fact that they can reach areas that humans may not be able to readily access. Many buildings affected by rot are hundreds of years old.

Rothounds are trained to detect rot by teaching them to hunt for toys to which the sent of rot is added. The process is similar to how dogs are trained to sniff out drugs or explosives. The dogs are heavily rewarded when they find the scented toy.

After several rehearsals, the hounds are then ready for real searches for rot in buildings. Rothounds will therefore point to the affected areas and humans will take samples and inspect them.

Did you know? Rothounds have been used for decades in several Scandinavian places to detect decay found at the bottom of wood telegraph poles.

References:

  • Surveying Historic Buildings, By David Watt
  • The Malinois: The History and Development of the Breed in Schutzhund By Resi Gerritsen, Ruud Haak
  • The Telegraph: Meet Sam, the Dog Who Sniffs Out Dry Rot

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Adrienne Farricelli

About the author: Adrienne Farricelli is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant. She is also a former veterinarian assistant, and author of  the popular online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs." Her work has appeared in several print and online publications including E-how, USA Today, Every Dog Magazine, Daily Puppy and Connecticut Dog Magazine.
Adrienne Farricelli
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