Working Dogs for Conservation began in 2000 by four women who were not only scientists but dog trainers. Initially, the working dogs were trained to detect scat (poo) from a variety of animal species. They are now trained to detect live animals and plants as well.
A lot of data can be extracted from scat which enables scientists to identify species, sex, individuals, population size, relative abundance, food habits, parasite loads, and much more. This data can only be obtained if you can find the scat. And that’s just what these working dogs do.
Working Dogs for Conservation (WDC) is a leader in this fascinating field, having worked in 5 different countries and with over 30 different species. The handlers (trainers) have trained working dogs to sniff out various species by their scent – usually found in scat but also other signs.
The term “working dogs” is not the same as the American Kennel Club’s designation of Working Group dogs. Most of the dogs WDC uses fall under the Herding Group under AKC guidelines. Regardless of designation, these dogs are medium-sized to large, high-energy breeds, with a strong “toy” focus.
The breeds used by WDC include: German Shepherd, Black Labrador, Belgian Malinois, Australian Shepherd, and Border Collie. Read bios about these amazing dogs.
Bloodhounds hold a long tradition as being the “best” at tracking, especially in following older, fainter scent trails. However, they do not work as well off-leash [American Rescue Dog Association] and are thus not as capable for conservation work. Besides the dogs already mentioned, Golden Retrievers are also highly suitable for this sort of work.
“We provide a second chance for hard to place, high-energy shelter dogs and incorporate our dogs into our lives completely. Our dogs work with us, live with us, and are members of our families from the moment we acquire them through retirement and beyond.” –Kathryn Socie, Working Dogs for Conservation
WDC dogs have been working on numerous projects that involve a wide range of species as well as habitat types. Dogs are trained to be able to differentiate between similar species and not just animals.
Working Dogs projects in 2009:
- Montana: Research into the olfactory capabilities of dogs in detecting various noxious weeds in collaboration with the University of Montana.
- Hawaii: Research into the application of dogs to search for the invasive snail Euglandina rosea, considered one of the world’s 100 worst invaders with Oahu Army Natural Resources Program and the University of Hawaii.
- Illinois: Franklin’s ground squirrel detection for University of Illinois, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.
- Montana/Idaho: Fisher scat detection for the United States Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.
- Montana/Idaho: WDC led grizzly bear, wolf, lynx, fisher and wolverine, scat detection in collaboration with the Great Burn Study Group.
- Washington: Multiple forest carnivore scat detection with Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute’s Cascades Connectivity Project.
- New Jersey: Training conservation dog team to detect live bog turtles with NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, ENSP.
- Species Screening: WDC led research into screening of samples collected by humans for identification of snow leopard scats in collaboration with the International Snow Leopard Trust.
Working Dogs for Conservation uses “totally crazy” rescued dogs to find scats, live animals and plants. They have three main conservation priorities: 1) corridors and connectivity; 2) invasive species; and 3) monitoring (endangered species, renewable energy impacts, human/wildlife conflict, etc.) The potential for wide-scale conservation, including a lot of bird conservation projects, is practically limitless. Stay tuned for more information on conservation canines and some project ideas that could help increase bird conservation.
Thanks to Kathryn Socie of Working Dogs for Conservation for information and photos for this article!