SPOKANE, Wash. — Shelter dogs too intense or feisty to be adopted are finding new purpose helping out wildlife scientists with Conservation Canines, using their noses to sniff out all sorts of animal scat. The dogs are tools for studying endangered species and other wildlife in a northeast Washington project, that started in the spring.
The noses of these detection dogs are being put to good use in northeast Washington’s Pend Oreille County, in an exploratory project that hopes to find more information about the interrelationships between wolves and other carnivores, along with their prey.
“These dogs have been contracted to work all over the world,” said Julianne Ubigau, a high school science teacher and eight-year veteran with the program based in the University of Washington’s Department of Biology.
A Golden Retriever mix named Chester just returned from a job sniffing out bear scat in the French Pyrenees. Scooby, a Black Lab mix, has traveled to the Alberta oil sands, Cambodia, Mexico and Mozambique for maned wolf research.One high profile project of Conservation Canines is using dogs to sniff out floating whale poop of endangered killer whales.
The reason the high energy dogs work is that they are the types of dogs that are obsessed with playing ball, they are the easiest dogs to reward and train to do the job. One of their selection tests involve walking through the dog shelters with a tennis ball in hand and looking for the dogs that quiver when they see the ball. The dog is then taken outside to find the hidden tennis ball, the dog with the insatiable desire to play and hunt for the ball to exhaustion, is the perfect dog for the job.
“We need dogs with a strong drive to hunt but not a strong drive for prey. Our dogs can’t be interested in chasing wildlife. Our goal is to be as noninvasive as possible.”
The handlers and their dogs collect a lot of scat samples, with fresh samples being the best. DNA analysis is then done on the samples to track individual animals and make population estimates. A lot can be learned from the research, such as diseases and hormone levels that can indicate pregnant females and diet.
These rescued shelter dogs have gone from an uncertain future to finding a good life with Conservation Canines.