Conservation working dogs may be the key to a greener world
Finding feces samples in the middle of a Costa Rican forest is neither a glamorous feat nor an easy one, but a Labrador Retriever named Tiger jumped at the chance to help.
“Tiger has a habit of jumping up and biting sleeves when excited, which isn’t a problem for us,” says Kayla Fratt, outreach coordinator at Montana-based Working Dogs for Conservation, the principal world organization of conservation detector dogs.
Fratt joined Tigre, his handler Stephanny, and a group of scientists to collect fecal samples from ocelots and margays to build an animal family tree in Costa Rica. The team spent hours clearing trails, traversing narrow passages and watching for snakes to find what was essentially a needle in an unruly jungle. Although the team eventually found samples in the detritus, it might have taken a lot longer without Tiger.
“Every now and then Tiger’s bell would start to ring a bit off track and we had to make our way through the underbrush to find him panting and fidgeting, lying in his alert state,” he adds. she.
Tiger is one of approximately 35 dogs that make up Working Dogs for Conservation (WD4C), a non-profit organization that puts dogs to work in the wild.
A light bulb idea
Some say dogs are man’s best friend, but a group of four biologists and conservation ecologists believe dogs could also help make the world a greener place.
The idea came to the founders – Megan Parker, Deborah Woollett, Aimee Hurt and Alice Whitelaw – when they were looking for a more effective, affordable and safe practice for wildlife conservation.
“Many traditional investigative techniques require expensive helicopters, dangerous tranquilizers, or ineffective camera traps,” says Fratt. “Dogs solve all these problems!”
Not only do dogs do the job, but they can also do it better than humans. In fact, Working Dogs for Conservation claims dogs can find targets up to 40 times faster than other methods.
The foursome began doing conservation scouting work with dogs in the late 90s, but devoted their full time to building the nonprofit in 1998. Today, Working Dogs for Conservation has traveled to five different continents, doing everything from ecological monitoring to species detection, poaching, and trafficking prevention.
Raised for shine
Dogs could be a great option for wildlife conservation, but no two species are the same. While German Shepherd Dogs and Belgian Malinois are popular in conservation working dogs, society revolves around energetic, work-ready dogs.
Fratt says they don’t always select based solely on breed, she says there are definitely breeds that are more likely to display the traits they seek. For example, the organization has never worked with a Pug or a Chow Chow.
She adds that medium-sized dogs are great for transporting, while dogs with lighter coats will keep them from overheating.
Keep your eyes on the ball
So how does Working Dogs for Conservation select its dogs? The company typically finds candidates from personal networks, working dog breeders, shelters, trainers and other detection professionals. From there, it’s all about training.
“Once a dog is selected for our program, we work to teach them that finding a target scent earns them the bullet,” says Fratt. “We gradually make them discover more and more complicated olfactory enigmas.”
When a dog understands – and even loves – play, it’s easy to train dogs for new projects.
A second chance to be a working dog
Just because your dog plays a great game of fetch doesn’t mean he’s destined for a career in wildlife conservation. As Fratt points out, pets and working dogs bred for this purpose have two very different lifestyles.
“Most of our dogs go on daily hikes, train and run to exercise both body and mind,” says Fratt. “At work, they are focused and intense. If they don’t get enough exercise and practice, many of them can be barkers or destructive enough to live with.
For many, Working Dogs for Conservation is another chance to give back. From TSA and Border Patrol dogs that weren’t quite suited for the job to competitive off-racing obedience dogs, wildlife conservation can serve as the perfect second act.
“There’s a difference between a service dog and a detection dog,” Fratt says. “But, even within the detection disciplines, there are ‘trades’ that suit some dogs better than others.”
This non-profit organization proves that dogs can be the key to a brighter, greener future. As their website proclaims, “For years, scientists have tried to develop an instrument as sensitive as a dog’s nose. We wish them good luck. In the meantime, we’ll stay with our pack.