Published on 1 March 2016
With a new trainer, several fresh canine recruits and exciting projects in the pipeline, the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Detection Dogs for Conservation team is gearing up for its biggest year to date.
Veteran dog trainer Sarah Fyffe has joined the USC research group, in which a team of specially trained sniffer dogs work alongside academics on ecology research and conservation projects.
Ms Fyffe will head up the recruitment and training of four-legged employees with the skills to sniff out scents including those of koalas, koala scat (poo) and water dragon eggs.
Having previously trained dogs for the Australian Federal Police and Queensland Corrective Services, Ms Fyffe said she was excited to be joining a team that shared her passion for wildlife protection.
“It’s enthralling work for me, and much more fun than training dogs to sniff out drugs and bombs,” she said.
“We really need to understand the behaviour of the animal we’re searching for as well as the behaviour of the dog, and that throws up some fascinating challenges.
“Educating the handlers about canine body language and psychology is also critical to the project’s success. Everyone on the Detection Dogs for Conservation team is really passionate about building the program up and it’s fantastic to be working with so many great minds.”
Six-year-old border collie Maya, who has worked with several regional councils on koala population projects, has been joined by four more keen canines.
USC Research Fellow Dr Romane Cristescu said all of the dogs had been surrendered to animal welfare centres and were selected for this program for their confidence, drive and soft nature.
“The importance of being university-based is that we can scientifically assess our dogs’ advantages and limitations,” she said. “The program is really taking off in 2016, and we believe that detection dogs can make a positive difference in conservation.”
Detection Dogs for Conservation has launched a crowdfunding initiative to assist in the recruitment of new detection dogs.
For more information on the program, visit www.usc.edu.au/ddc or for information on the crowdfunding campaign, visit: www.chuffed.org/project/usc-detection-dogs-for-conservation.
— Gen Kennedy