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Polson company trains dogs to detect aquatic invasive species

Posted at 4:27 PM, Jun 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-09 18:27:02-04

POLSON – With warmer temperatures on the rise, state officials are taking special precautions to prevent aquatic invasive species, and when the human eye isn’t sharp enough to detect an invasive mussel, extra canine resources are brought in.

Deb Tiermenstein, the owner of Montana Black Dog Services, trained her dogs, Rosebud and Ismay, to identify aquatic invasive species like the zebra mussel.

“You start with a sample of a mussel […] and you get them focused on what you train them to indicate,” Tiermenstein said. Barking lets Tiermenstein know when an invasive species is present.

She says it took months of scent identification and associative training with Rosebud and Ismay before the two were up to the task.

“You also get them used to distractions, other scents that might resemble that or prove to be distracting,” she explained, “like a dead fish or a native mussel.”

In the fall of 2016, invasive mussel larvae were detected in the Tiber Reservoir, and suspected detection was recorded in Canyon Ferry. To this date, no adult mussels have been detected. Invasive mussels can clog pipes, ruin boats and disturb Montana’s natural resources.

It’s an important job, meaning this line of work isn’t for the average dog.

“To get the right dog that has the right drive and focus is key,” Tiermenstein said. “And not every dog can do that.”

While Ismay and Rosebud work hard in the field, Tiermenstein said that at home, her dogs are just normal pets.

“They have what I call an on and off switch,” she said. “They know when it’s work time, and they know when it’s time to relax and be a regular dog.”

Tiermenstein, Rosebud and Ismay will be working at watercraft check stations this summer. Boat checks are available across the state and are required to take any watercraft into Montana lakes.

Maren Siu/MTN News