A UTILITY company has employed an ingenious way of detecting water leaks in Cumbria - by using specially trained sniffer dogs.

United Utilities has called on the special talents of five-year-old Denzel and his 18-month-old understudy, Kilo, as part of its £290m plans to cut leaks by 15 per cent over the next five years.

The Springer Spaniels, from Cape-SPC a company based near Warrington which is made up of ex military dog handlers, are from the UK’s only canine assisted water leak detection team.

The dogs, and handler Luke Jones, have been employed by the utility firm to reduce the time, and cost it takes to find and repair leaks - which in turn reduces the amount of waste water.

The dogs hunt out the smell of treated water which contains elements like Chlorine.

When they find the likely spot they will alert Luke through a passive indicator - by freezing, or sitting down and not moving.

When he’s searching for leaks, old hand Denzel can cover up to 12km a week.

Kilo who’s still training however is catching up.

Luke has had Kilo since he was a puppy and he just scored his first major success in mid July, when he detected a leak near Bassenthwaite that was spewing out 3,000 litres of water an hour, a whooping 72,000 litres a day.

Luke Jones, who is formerly of the Royal Army Veterinary Corp, said: “It was Kilo’s first find.

“He’s been working about three months now, we like to train him on the leaks that Denzel finds, to see if Kilo can find them as well afterwards.”

In terms of training he said: “It really depends on the dog, when we started Denzel he was already a trained search dog, maybe for him it took about three to six months.

“However to get them to the standards where we need them, to the point where we are happy to work with them it would take maybe 12 months.

“A lot of people think that when a dog has a high drive they tend to just keep running and running them but this just means the dog is going to get fitter.

“It is mental and physical exercise, the dogs work hard and at the end of the day’s work they are ready to sleep and relax.

“They are family dogs and live in the house with us, two terriers and another older working dog.

“Kilo is like a mixture of them the way he learns off others.”

At home the duo are described as “happy” and “silly”.

The pair will work to about eight-years-old before they go into contented retirement.

Luke added: “It really depends on the dog and how they are health and joint wise.”

The team is part of a United Utilities drive to reduce leaks. According to the latest figures, leakage levels across the UK have reduced by seven per cent over the last year.

The company says it’s met its targets for the last 14 years, and beaten its current target by 16 million litres a day.

Hannah Wardle, a Leakage manager at the firm, said: “Our customers tell us that fixing leaks is one of the most important things they expect of their water company, and it is hugely important to us too.

“That’s why we are investing in the latest technology plus a new generation of leakage detection professionals to make sure we can rise to the challenge and do even better.

“We’re installing 100,000 loggers, an electronic detection device, directly onto our water pipe network – that’s the equivalent of one logger every quarter of a mile.

“These will listen for the sound of water escaping and alert our engineers so that we can fix the leaks quickly.

“We’re going to be recruiting a further 45 new leakage detection engineers and, for the first time this year, that includes 20 new apprentices specifically dedicated to tackling leakage.”

The company said it was fast-tracked by Ofwat and commended for its approach to innovation in its 2020 – 2025 business plan.

Other ideas that have been employed in leak reduction is a software tool that helps engineers analyse large amounts of data to spot leaks faster.

Known as FIDO the software uses machine-learning to help leakage engineers sift through large amounts of data.

The leakage reduction plan forms part of United Utilities’ five-year £5.5 billion investment in the North West region’s water and wastewater networks.

Between 2020 and 2025 the water company will seek to improve drinking water quality and resilience and reduce pollution.