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Calling in the K-9 Unit for Water Loss: Tennessee Home to Nation’s First Private Water Leak Detection Dog for Hire

Calling in the K-9 Unit for Water Loss: Tennessee Home to Nation’s First Private Water Leak Detection Dog for Hire

By Esme Rye

Meet Gauge Rye, the first privately-owned leak detection dog in the United States.   In January of 2020, Seth Rye of Rye Engineering PLC, a Tennessee engineering company specializing in water loss management was forwarded an article by two utility district clients.  The article featured a leak detection dog that was trained for Central Arkansas Water.  From there, Seth’s wife, Pam took over and began researching this wonderful development in water loss management.

On a mission: Gauge Rye with handler, Pam Rye, search for leaks during a training exercise in Gauge’s first week in Tennessee.

Pam was able to contact Carrie Kessler and Tracy Owen of “On the Nose” Water Leak Detection Dogs of Roland, Arkansas who agreed to complete the training of a rescue dog named Gauge as a leak detection dog for Rye Engineering.   When the Rye’s first met Gauge in March of 2020, he was already trained for obedience and imprinted for leak detection by On the Nose with help from a prison program in Arkansas known as “Paws in Prison”.  This program allows for training of dogs by inmate handlers working alongside professional animal trainers like Carrie and Tracy.

Since Gauge’s training was completed and he was delivered to the Rye Engineering on January 24, Pam Rye has taken the role of Lead Handler for Gauge with Seth taking the role of Co-handler.  “I schedule a working session for Gauge each weekday.  Sometimes it is 15-20 minutes and other times it is closer to an hour.  This keeps his skills sharp and reinforces what he already knows about finding water leaks.  Seth takes him on a Saturday hunt and is getting him ready for upcoming scheduled leak detection activities this spring,” said Pam Rye.

Canine leak detection is a method where specially trained dogs are used to detect the smell of Chlorine in potable water.  The dogs are imprinted with tiny amounts of chlorinated water when they are young.  “We imprinted Gauge by introducing exceedingly small amounts of tap water to him.  The first samples were on a Q-tip,” said Kessler.  

After imprinting, the dogs undergo regular training.    “Its important to constantly vary their exposure to leak situations.  Proper training will ensure that the animal knows its job is to find leaks,” explained Kessler.

Rye Engineering plans to use Gauge in a wide variety of leak detection situations including but not limited to the following:

  1. Cross-country water lines
  2. Water transmission mains
  3. Follow-up surveys to satellite leak detection
  4. Emergency leak detection
  5. Quiet leaks
On the Hunt: Tracy Owen, public access trainer with On the Nose, sharpens Gauge’s skills during a leak detection training session in January prior to his delivery to Tennessee.

“Gauge has been well trained, but it will be up to us to figure out where he can be used most effectively,” said Pam Rye.    “He is more than just a tool for leak detection.  What sets him apart from conventional leak detection tools is the fact that he can think, he can adapt, and he has a real drive for what he is doing,” explained Rye.   The company plans to introduce him into a variety of situations this spring where he will supplement the efforts of the leak detection crews.

Gauge will have the same range as Rye’s existing array of water loss services as he is used to car travel and is a trained service dog with public access.   “Because of his public access training, Gauge can enter public buildings, hotels, airports, and other areas with his handler.  This will make traveling hours from home and staying out of town for water loss projects very practical,” said Rye.  We can easily take him all over Tennessee and the surrounding states by car and to farther jobs by airplane if needed,” she explained. 

So why do all of this when there are already proven methods of water loss control?  “The water loss industry is relatively young in the United States and it is developing rapidly and continually evolving.   As practitioners, we have a duty to explore the latest technologies and methods as they become available.  The introduction of canine leak detection into the industry is truly one of the most exciting and potentially satisfying developments that I have encountered since we’ve been in business,” said Seth Rye.  Rye also believes that dogs can fill an important void that to date even the most sophisticated leak detection technologies have struggled with, leak detection on PVC water mains.  “We train the dogs to detect by smell.  A dog’s nose is so much more powerful than its ears,” explains Carrie Kessler of On the Nose.  Since PVC water mains do not conduct sound very effectively, Rye believes that a new approach using scent is very promising to the industry.

For now, Gauge is so happy to do the job he was born for.  His people believed in him and believed that his special nose knows how to help save our most precious natural resources. He can’t wait to get to work for you.

For more on dogs preventing water loss, see our article about Vessel. 

This article was originally published in April 2021.