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Minn. DNR Showcases Zebra Mussel-Sniffing Dogs

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota's fishing opener is just a few days away and for the first time in this state, dogs will be used this weekend to sniff out zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels are quickly becoming a big problem in Minnesota. The Minnesota DNR used inspectors last season to try and find them. It's a very tough job, however, since the mussels are small enough to get into the nooks and crannies of your boat. So, the Minnesota DNR is trying dogs as a new way to battle the invasive species.

It will make Minnesota the second state in the country to use detector dogs to find zebra mussels. California was the first state to try and have success with the program.

On Tuesday morning, the DNR gave a demonstration that showed just how these mussel sniffing teams will work.

The DNR will be using three K-9 teams. During the demonstration, DNR officials hid zebra mussels in the tail light of the boat trailer. The dogs were able to smell them and find them pretty quickly.

DNR conservation officer Travis Muyres explained how the dogs were trained to sniff out the mussels.

"It's a 5-week process of teaching the dog what the odor is, how to actually search for the odor and then how to tell the handler that it's here, which is by sitting. That's their alert," Muyres said. "The whole process, it's very simple, from looking at it from the outside: Dogs searching for an odor, when they find the odor, they sit, so they get their toy. The only reason they're searching is to get their toy. But there's a lot of technique and hurdles you have to overcome to get to the success that we are at now."

It might take 15 to 20 minutes for a person to thoroughly inspect a boat, but it takes the dogs only a minute or two -- saving everyone time and saving our lakes.

Two of the dogs are rescues from local shelters, who have been trained in the same program as weapons and narcotics dogs. They'll be stationed around the state this season.

The Minnesota DNR said this year will be a test to find out if it works here or if they will need more dogs to be effective.

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