A grower’s next PCA could be a dog — if training efforts by the Assistance Dog Institute (ADI) in Santa Rosa are successful. The concept is fairly simple even if the idea is a bit “out of the box.” Stopping the spread of vine mealybug is largely dependent on catching an infestation early. Early detection can be difficult since the pest is so small and is often burrowed out of sight beneath the bark or on roots.

“That’s where the dogs come in,” says Jorgan Powers, Community and Public Relations director with ADI. “They can detect the pheromone the female vine mealybugs use to attract winged adult males.”

Theoretically, a trained dog should be able to sniff out an infestation before a human can visually detect it. However, the reality in the vineyard thus far is a little less than ideal.

“So far, the dogs have been able to find the pheromone lure, but they haven’t found any vine mealybug infestations in the vineyard,” says Kent Daane, UCCE specialist.

That could change if the current crop of puppies earmarked for the program can be conditioned to be better mealybug sniffers. “It’s important to imprint the scent in early puppy training,” Powers says.

If nothing else, the concept is getting some major publicity. A recent write-up appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Considerable publicity “hits” were generated through The Associated Press and a number of television stations have aired the story as well.

The pilot program has been running over a year, and is currently about $9,000 short of full funding. “We’ve had good support from Napa Valley growers and we’re hoping to broaden that support so we can continue the effort,” says Powers.