#dogtag – “Sniffing” Out Stuff That’s Buried Underground





a dog blog by Lila
Cannon & Cannon’s “Consulting Canine”

Hello, Friends!

vupsart2I have noticed something really strange lately.

Some humans spend as much time as I do staring at the ground and sniffing at the dirt. At first, I wasn’t confused about this at all. It was very obvious to me that these two-leggers were just looking for a snack they buried for themselves earlier.

But here’s the strange part. They rarely dig any holes. Ya they spend a ton of time looking at the ground and using these weird machines, but they hardly ever try to dig anything up. What’s the point of sniffing the ground unless they’re going to retrieve their carefully hidden treats? I mean, I know I sometimes forget exactly where I hid my bone or ball or half sandwich or springy thing or chew toy, but you can be sure I ALWAYS find it.

Since I was confused, I asked the humans at Cannon & Cannon to explain what was going on! They used a lot of big words (like I don’t understand lol) but what they told me makes a lot of sense.  They explained that in the past OTHER humans have buried some important things in the ground; things like, power lines, gas lines, water and sewer pipes, and cables that make the TV and internet work.  They went on to explain that when humans want to build new things, they can accidentally dig holes in the wrong places, and that can be VERY dangerous!




I totally get it now, it would be like me accidentally digging up a bees nest while looking for my bone!  That happened one time. Ouch!





Now I was really curious, and I asked them to explain how they find stuff underground without digging!  Their answer was, “Well Lila, it depends on what you are looking for!” Wow! Now this is really getting interesting.  I sat and savored a microfiber duck while they explained.

It turns out there are a ton of fun toys (they called them tools of course) engineers, surveyors, contractors, and utility owners can use to find things underground.  The first one they talked about is called an “Electronic Locator”.



Electronic Locators

DitchWitch_910_Receiver_020s GeoView-lg-004 (2013 Feb 28 40861)

Electronic locators have been used for over 280 dog years (40 human years) and typically involve a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter applies an electrical signal, either through direct connection or proximity onto the pipe or cable being located, while the receiver unit tracks that signal, allowing the human to trace the signal`s path and follow the item being located.

Like a radio, these types of locators can be tuned to different frequencies (just like adjusting your radio to a different station). Also like a radio, different frequencies are better suited for different uses, like pipe material or soil types. When everything is working perfectly, this type of locator can tell how deep a pipe or cable is, and if all the stars in Canis Major are aligned, it can find things up to 50′ deep. Why you would hide something 50′ deep is beyond me.

That’s all great, but many times, it’s not so easy to attach a transmitter to an exposed pipe. What if what you are looking for is buried below a foot of concrete? One time I tried to dig up a bone that I thought was buried under a sidewalk, and let me tell you…concrete is hard. My paws hurt for weeks!

Again, the experts at CCI tell me there’s a better way. People can use a cool tool which uses “ground penetrating radar” to find stuff underground.

Ground Penetrating Radar


Ground Penetrating Radar or GPR uses radar waves to find objects. A single unit sends out the waves, receives their reflection off underground objects, and displays the information to the operator. You can think of it like an air traffic controller watching planes fly on a dark night. These types of scanners can create a picture or map of utilities, such as underground tanks or rebar in concrete slabs in two or three dimensions. Sometimes, they can even tell if power lines buried in concrete are energized!  Most of these crazy contraptions have wheels to make it easier to locate the stuff that’s underground when they are walking a long way or over hilly ground.

But here I go back to my original question…why can’t humans just remember where they buried something like dogs can! All you have to do is lick it really, really good…then it’s super easy to smell!

And then I found out, sometimes they do! Some “sniffing” devices can detect things they called “ferromagnetic objects”, but I think they mostly mean iron metal.

Magnetic Locators

Survey Marker

Survey markers, the things surveyors use to permanently mark boundaries, are ferromagnetic. These markers are pretty small, and some of them have been around so long they are buried by dirt, grass, weeds, concrete and lots of other things. These markers are made out of materials that are ferromagnetic, making them easier to find later.  Luckily, lots of other things engineers are looking for are ferromagnetic as well, including manhole covers and many sewer lines.

Morristown, TN Manhole

Magnetic Locators can “smell’ the magnetic fields of most “ferromagnetic objects”, such as property pins, manhole lids, underground metal tanks, water well heads, valve boxes, and metal pipes over fifteen feet deep!

That’s really cool, but some underground pipes are made of plastic and cannot be found by magnetic detectors.  Luckily, smart engineers have found a way to find those pipes as well using “Acoustic Locators”

Acoustic Locators

acoustic locator

Acoustic locators work on the idea that pipes carry mechanical vibrations better than the dirt around them. Vibrations applied along the pipe resonate through the ground to the surface, where they can be heard by a microphone. By waving the microphone over the surface, an operator can “hear” where the vibrations are loudest, and follow the path of the pipe.


Trust me when I tell you, we have only “scratched the surface” on the topic of sniffing out the stuff that’s buried underground.  See what I did there…”scratch the surface”…(woof).  The Field Survey team at Cannon & Cannon uses many other tools, combined with their knowledge and experience, to make sure everyone is safe when humans start digging underground.

Like I said, wish I had known all this when I came across that bees nest!  I hate bees.

Until next time,

Lila #dogtag

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