Some Dogs Make Excellent Conservationists

| 12/4/2009 6:01:00 PM

Forest dogSome talented dogs are being trained to do conservation work in the United States and abroad, helping researchers track evidence of animals and plants they're studying. Writing for the dog culture magazine The Bark, Ilona Popper profiles Working Dogs for Conservation, an organization whose canines’ valiant efforts “provide scientists with a noninvasive, inexpensive but accurate way to count or study wildlife and plants.” These conservation dogs are trained to find grizzly bear scat, for example, and then bring their human counterparts to it without disturbing the sample—a method that doesn’t require trapping or even seeing the animals in question.

Alice Whitelaw, one of the four biologists who co-founded the nonprofit, explains to The Bark that not all dogs are cut out for the job. She and her partners look for dogs who are particularly toy-obsessed—“the dogs you’ll see in shelters, bouncing off the walls,” Popper writes. “In fact, that’s how many conservation dogs have been discovered. The partners visit shelters, looking for the dog who won’t put down her toy for anything.”

That’s because conservation dogs are motivated by play—not by finding a sample. “These dogs are not smelling every poop like most dogs do,” Whitelaw tells The Bark. “They are out there working for the target scent that they’ve been trained to associate with their reward [their ball]. That’s all they’re doing. They’re not out there acting like dogs.”

Not surprisingly, “only a very special dog can be taught not to treat poop like poop," Popper writes. Whitelaw explains that "out of every 300 dogs we test, only one even looks like a candidate. And out of these, 60 percent fail." On the bright side, some "dropouts" do find loving homes with Whitelaw and her colleagues.

Source: The Bark (article not available online)

Image by TheGiantVermin, licensed under Creative Commons.

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