USC researchers rounding up detection dogs

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USC researchers rounding up detection dogs

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17 May 2018

USC researchers are calling for “canine scientists” to volunteer for a special project aimed at charting the ideal characteristics for detection dogs.

Honours student Tanisha Vidale is leading the research project that will require volunteer dogs to attend at least four training sessions over a three-month period. Each session, to be held at a location in Glenview, will take about an hour.

“As part of those sessions, we’re going to do some activities that look at the dogs’ personalities,” said Ms Vidale, who is completing a Bachelor of Science (Honours).

“The rest of the time will be spent training the dogs in detection techniques by using positive association. Whenever a dog completes a task it will be rewarded with a tennis ball or toy. It’s a great way for a dog owner to build a stronger bond with their pet.”

Ms Vidale said the research project aimed to improve the selection criteria for detection dogs to streamline the process, which would reduce the time and costs of training them.

Detection dogs are used in conservation work to track rare animals, detect pest species and locate threatened native plants. USC currently helps protect Australia’s biodiversity with five detection dogs including Maya, which specialises in locating koalas.

Project supervisor and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Romane Cristescu said conservation dogs were having a great impact in the search for endangered species.

“Dogs are much more accurate than humans and they’re more efficient,” Dr Cristescu said. “However, it is very hard to train a conservation dog. And potentially the hardest part is having the right candidate.

“If you have the right dog, then the training goes really quickly. But what makes the right dog is really the question we’re asking.”

Dr Cristescu said the failure rate for trainee detection dogs was about 70 percent.

“If you need to train 10 dogs to get just three that work out, that’s a huge investment in time and resources,” she said. “If we had a checklist of characteristics, that would ensure a 90 percent success rate. The positive impact for conservation would be quite dramatic.”

An information session for those who want to see if their dog has what it takes to be a detection dog will be held at USC’s Sunshine Coast campus on Wednesday 30 May. To register, contact Ms Vidale at tmv001@student.usc.edu.au. Dogs are not permitted on campus, which is a wildlife reserve.

- Tom Snowdon

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