Documentary filmmaker sniffs out a good story

An avalanche rescue dog in a scene from the TV series Dogs: The Untold Story.
An avalanche rescue dog in a scene from the TV series Dogs: The Untold Story. Jeremy Swanson

A LOVABLE black Labrador was the inspiration behind an innovative new documentary series.

BAFTA Award-winning television producer and writer Martha Holmes, who has worked on David Attenborough's landmark series Life and The Blue Planet, never imagined she'd find the subject of her next natural history series in her own home.

"Bizarrely I've never had a dog in my life or been interested in dogs until my son recently got one, a black Labrador," she tells APN's The Guide. "I unexpectedly fell in love with it.

"I just thought everyone is so in love with dogs around the world, there must be something to it. When I did a bit of research I found there was a huge story to tell."

Pulling together the latest research with stunning 4K footage, the five-part series examines how and why dogs have evolved from wild animals into highly specialised, and beloved, pets.

Narrated by Bondi Vet Chris Brown for Australian viewers, the program uncovers a surprising amount of scientific research being carried out on both domesticated and wild dogs.

Dog handler Elliot Moseselani and his dog in a scene from the TV series Dogs: The Untold Story.
Dog handler Elliot Moseselani and his dog in a scene from the TV series Dogs: The Untold Story. Heinrich van den Berg

"You can put a dog in an MRI scanner, amazingly," Holmes says.

"What other animal will sit still for 20 minutes? They really lend themselves to research."

One of the most exciting areas of research for Holmes is the use of dogs for medical detection.

"I think in the next five years that will take the medical world by storm," she says.

"In episode four, which focuses on working dogs, we feature a lady called Claire Guest who has set up this charity where she trains dogs to sniff out cancer.

"She believes her dog saved her life. Her dog was nuzzling her chest and that went on for weeks. Then she went to get a mammogram they said she didn't have cancer, but the dog continued. She then found she had a very deep-seated cancer that they couldn't see with the mammogram.

"She set up this charity to train dogs to smell out cancers and they're doing this big trial now. The results are to be published in 2018 and so far it's working. She says they are right 98% of the time."

Holmes was impressed by the Australian Kelpie, which also feature in the working dogs episode.

 "They are the most extraordinary dogs in terms of stamina," she says.

"It's one guy working with one dog and they can control thousands of sheep."

The series also features an episode dedicated to wild dogs but Australian dingoes proved to be too elusive to be filmed.

"We sent a crew out and they spent three weeks on location and only got a glimpse," she says.

"We didn't have the budget to try again. They are so hard to film."

Produced over just 18 months, the series features dogs from every continent except Antarctica.

"It was really mad how fast we made it."

Dogs: The Untold Story airs Sundays at 6.30pm Qld, 7.30pm NSW on Discovery Channel.

Topics:  chris brown discovery channel documentary foxtel television

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