Poop-Sniffing Dogs Are a Big Help in the Hunt for Water Contamination

To the frustration of many pet owners, many dogs like to sprint toward a fresh piece of poop on the ground to give it a good sniff. It’s a habit most humans will probably never fully understand, but at least some humans have managed to put it to good use.

The folks at Environmental Canine Services train dogs to search for the scent of human fecal bacteria. With this skill, the company’s dogs can sniff out broken sewage pipes that are frequently the cause of water pollution, in a manner similar to how police drug dogs operate.

Catching these leaks are critical since human fecal bacteria can cause a number of serious health problems like hepatitis, diarrhea, fever and respiratory infections in people who drink tainted water. Young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to E. coli.

Without the dogs, finding fecal contamination in water is both expensive and time-consuming. It can take laboratories and on-site testers days to figure out whether water has been polluted… and that’s before they have to then retest for validity. Meanwhile, the dogs simply bark when they come across a problem – and they do so with great accuracy.

When officials suspect there might be a bacteria problem in the water, they can call up Environmental Canine Services to check. Often times, the dogs will find no such smell in the water, indicating that a sewage leak is not responsible for the health problems and that there is no need to search for damaged pipes.

The dogs have multiple success stories. When Bayview State Park routinely had to shut down its waters for swimming due to high levels of bacteria, the dogs led authorities to more than 15 septic tanks in the area that were contributing to the problem.

Lake Michigan experienced similar problems, which again prevented visitors from swimming on many days. There, the dogs found a house where the owner was unwittingly having his sewage wash into a creek rather than the septic system.

In other situations, the dogs just speed up the process a lot. The city of Bridgman, Michigan knew a pipe had burst, and the dogs were able to quickly smell exactly where the bacteria were escaping.

Currently, Environmental Canine Services has locations in Maine, Michigan and California, though the dogs have been hired to perform their doodoo duties in 15 states.

One of the best parts is that the dogs selected for this job aren’t bred for it – instead, they’ve mainly been rescued from shelters and then trained for the task. This give pups a second shot at having a home – plus plenty of rewards, which they receive each time they smell a human fecal problem.

Even more impressive is the fact that the dogs aren’t thrown off by fecal matter produced by non-humans. Though bird and land animal poop can also contribute to water pollution, that doesn’t point to a human sewage leak, so it is irrelevant to the company’s searches.

Recently, this ability to discern between different types of animal feces has made dogs superstars in the environmental community. In addition to finding water pollution, Phys.org reports that poop-sniffing dogs have also become instrumental in wildlife conservation efforts. Their noses help scientists locate fecal samples for rare and endangered creatures.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Robert N.
Rob Chloe Sam N1 years ago

Dogs are incredible, They can sniff out bombs, They can sniff out drugs, They can even detect cancer, So that makes them super cool in my eyes, Jennifer is right they do deserve more respect than we give them.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H1 years ago

Now that's a stinky job. Dogs are amazing and they deserve more respect than we give them.

Rosslyn O.
Rosslyn O1 years ago

Wow, I never thought of dogs sniffing faeces as being such a good thing! This is wonderful and I love the part that they are all rescue dogs with a new home and purpose in life. Great story, thanks.

william Miller
william Miller1 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

FOTEINI chormpou1 years ago

very helpful indeed!!! glad to hear....

Ruth C.
Ruth C1 years ago

Animals help us everyday.

Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle1 years ago

My dog always liked to sniff poop. I am not sure if that is a desirable thing or not.

Linda W.
Linda Wallace1 years ago

Now isn't that just great! Dogs are wonderful creatures.

Fi T.
Past Member 1 years ago

We should be helpful to them too