What can detection dogs achieve?
Detection dogs are widely used, from the Army explosive detection dogs to the drugs and weapon Police dogs, or the Search and Rescue dogs involved in snow rescues. Many of these professionals would not attempt to perform their jobs without their canine colleague. Just like these professionals, conservationists and land managers have started realising the relevance of detection dogs to meet their goals.
Detection dogs can be trained on any object that has an odour, which is almost everything. In conservation, dogs have been trained on threatened and rare animals (which because of their very rareness are hard to find), on scats (poo) of these animals, on pest species (feral animals, invasive plants) at their invasion front, on threatened plants and quite impressively, on marine mammals!
At the University of the Sunshine Coast we are training, testing and using detection dogs for a range of research and conservation activities.
Why use detection dogs?
Dogs rely on their smell which is easier than relying on sight, as the cone of scent is larger than the object emitting it. Dogs can also follow a trail of scent carried by the wind further than the sight of the object. Smell is not obscured by dense foliage or ground cover. Dogs’ abilities to smell are believed to be between 1,000 and 10,000 better than humans.
Where do the dogs come from?
The best detection dogs are usually the worst pets… As a result, most of our detection dogs are abandoned dogs that we rescue from shelters. Thus Detection Dogs for Conservation is giving a second chance to dogs that are otherwise rejected from our society.
We look for dogs with specific qualities - obsession with balls, high energy, and generally very demanding, but these qualities sadly mean these dogs are often not considered suitable for adoption – in other words, they are often put down. Maya for instance, our first and highly successful koala poo dog, was on death row when we rescued her.
We will train, test and deploy detection dogs to find any target scent from fauna to flora, from direct to indirect signs (poo or scats), from terrestrial to aquatic, from rare and endangered or invasive species.
We will investigate novel uses or dogs, including disease or pheromone detection, as well as non-invasive methods to determine population characteristics based on scats.
By working with Government and Non-Government Organisations, we will ensure the dogs are trained to make the biggest impact for conservation in the immediate future.
Find out more
The team has already successfully train several dogs, with “Maya” being the most famous to date: