In 1997, Barbara Davenport and Steve Weigley of PACKLEADER Dog Training were approached with the idea of training dogs to assist in wildlife research. The premise was that by utilizing the proven methods for training narcotic detection dogs that perhaps dogs could be trained to identify the scats of a specific species of wildlife.
Intrigued with the idea of training and utilizing dogs in a new way, PACKLEADER collaborated with the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington and others. By applying their years of working with and training law enforcement detector dogs, they developed a methodology which would result in increased sampling efficiency while reducing the bias associated with unequal “capture” rates characteristic of other sampling methods.
The result was an innovative, non-invasive method of sampling. By using trained Conservation Detector Dogs, researchers are able to locate the scat of targeted species in an unbiased manner. Without disturbing the animal or its habitat, they are able to obtain DNA and stress hormone data from the samples collected. These methods have proven to be reliable and repeatable.(1)(2)(3) Since inception of the program, dogs have been utilized successfully in both domestic and international venues.
PACKLEADER continues to work in cooperation with conservation biologists and private organizations on the development of new and unique ways of detecting wildlife and conducting wildlife surveys. Dogs have been trained to assist biologists in the detection of many species (scat detection and/or detection of live animals). We have continued to add new species including: Desert tortoise, bats, caterpillars, bush dogs in Argentina, Javan rhinos in Vietnam, Eastern Indigo Snakes in Georgia, and Greater Short-Horned Lizards in Canada.
In addition, PACKLEADER conservation detection dogs have been trained to locate scat samples from grizzly bear, black bear, right whale, wolf, maned wolf, jaguar, bobcat, fisher, cougar/puma, lynx, kangaroo rat, and desert tortoise. Dogs have also been trained to discriminate between scat samples from comparable species (such as kit fox and red fox or black bear and grizzly bear). PACKLEADER worked with the Center for Conservation Biology in a pilot study involving the identification of individuals within a species. We are regularly being approached with other ideas for possible use of our detector dogs.
Dog teams trained by PACKLEADER have located samples located at a distance of more than 100 meters on land, 1,500 meters on water or buried under 3 feet of snow.
(1) Smith, D.A., Ralls, K., Davenport, B., Adams, N., and Maldonado, J.E. 2001. Canine assistants for conservation. Science (Wash., D.C.) 291:435
(2) Smith, D.A., Ralls, K., Hurt, A., Adams, B., Parker, M., Davenport, B., Smith, M.C., and Maldonado, J.E. 2003, Detection and accuracy rates of dogs trained to find scats of San Joaquin kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis mutica). Animal Conservation (U.K.), 6, 339-346.
(3) Wasser, S.K., Davenport, B., Ramage, E.R., Hunt, K.E., Parker, M., Clarke, C. and Stenhouse, G. 2004. Scat detection dogs in wildlife research and management: application to grizzly and black bears in the Yellowhead Ecosystem, Alberta, Canada. Can. J. Zool. 82: 475-492