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pawsitive results: super sniffing dogs find tiny pipeline leaks

3 min read | january 03, 2024

Dwayne Ferris walks with Ozzy, part of a team of leak-detecting dogs who help monitor pipelines.

A team of leak-sniffing dogs are hot on the trail of potential damage to aging pipes in southeast Texas.

The specially trained pups, part of the Black Creek K-9 Pipeline Leak Detection squad, monitor three pipeline systems that run through an 18-mile-long corridor. The dogs work with a handler who keeps them safe and motivated.

During their first year on the job, the keen-nosed canines discovered a leak the size of a pinhole on a pipe buried underground.

the difference with dogs

Current leak-detection tools include:

  • Metering systems that measure the amount of product going into a pipeline and coming out of it
  • Cameras that detect heat
  • Round-the-clock SCADA monitoring
  • Aerial monitoring with planes

These and other technologies tend to find larger leaks. Dogs can sometimes spot smaller ones before they become bigger issues.

“We’re talking about leaks on pipelines that are difficult to detect with current technology. These dogs help us out, with no disruption to our southeast Texas operations and limited impact to local landowners.”

rebecca cantrell

environmental specialist for Chevron working on the pipeline team

the nose knows

Dog noses are sensitive—at least 100,000 times more so than human noses. Breeds like Belgian Malinois, Dutch shepherds and Labrador retrievers can sniff out bombs, narcotics, missing people and even cancer in humans. Black Creek’s dogs have detected leaks on lines buried up to 14 feet below the ground.

For leak detection, an odorant is typically added to the substance traveling through the pipe, and dogs are trained to pick out that scent. However, the pipeline these dogs monitor for Chevron carries products that need to stay pure. To address this need for Chevron and other companies, Black Creek K-9’s owner has developed the company’s own proprietary leak detection methods—making for an extra-specialized mission.

When they find a leak, the dogs may dig or sit to alert their handler, who then passes the information on to the pipeline team.

Crash, a black labrador, is part of the Black Creek K-9 Pipeline Leak Detection squad.

Crash, a black labrador, is part of the Black Creek K-9 Pipeline Leak Detection squad.

top dog

Dwayne Farris, owner of Black Creek K-9, started as a military police dog handler in the U.S. Marine Corps. His skills took him and his canine partners to Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Africa. He has worked for various organizations, including the Transportation Security Administration.

Now in his 24th year of canine handling, Farris’ focus includes finding leaks, narcotics, firearms and even bed bugs.

It takes him two to three months to train his dogs. He says getting them to recognize a scent is the easy part, taking around two weeks. The more foundational work, such as selecting a dog and obedience training, takes much longer.

Farris works with anywhere from three to six dogs of different breeds at a time.

Able, a Belgian Malinois, is part of the Black Creek K-9 Pipeline Leak Detection squad.
Cera, a Dutch Shepherd, is part of the Black Creek K-9 Pipeline Leak Detection squad.
Ozzy, a shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix, is part of the Black Creek K-9 Pipeline Leak Detection squad.

Other members of the Black Creek K-9 Pipeline Leak Detection squad (L-R): Able, a Belgian Malinois (in hat); Cera, a Dutch Shepherd; and Ozzy, a shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix.

will work for belly scratches

Like athletes, the dogs need to build endurance. Like employees, they also need to be motivated.

“They’re working for attention, play, food and all these other reinforcers that make them feel good,” said Farris, who prefers to use play. “And we want the work to be the reward as well.”

Keeping the dogs happy, safe and motivated helps them continue to work.

dog days

While working, the dogs live with Farris, who considers them part of the family but not pets. “On days off, they’re just dogs. So I go out there and we play, maybe do some training in odor detection or obedience, or we just let the dogs be dogs,” he said.

But they don’t work forever. Dogs eventually reach retirement age, which depends on their health, performance and if they can work safely. When it’s time, Farris finds them a good home, preferably with someone familiar with working dogs and their needs.

“We want to give them the best possible life, in work and after work,”

dwayne farris

owner of black creek K-9

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