The Power of Canines in Conservation

Dogs are used to detect explosives, find disaster survivors, sniff out drugs and hunt down bad guys. There is little these canine noses can’t find. With a sense of smell that is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than ours, it is no wonder we ask for their help in tracking things down. One of the ways dogs are helping with their amazing noses is through conservation programs. With special training, some dogs are becoming canine conservation sniffers.

Programs such as Working Dogs for Conservation, the African Wildlife Foundation (AFW) and Wild Helpers are training and working with the dogs to make a difference in our world. These high-energy, alert, dedicated dogs are being used to help other species and the planet in many ways.

Airport Security

One of the biggest challenges to protecting many species is the smuggling of various live animals and animal parts, such as bear bile and gall bladders, snakes, shark fins and baby monkeys. These canines are used in airports around the world, such as South Korea’s Incheon Airport. They are also used in marinas to sniff boats in places like the Galapagos Islands.


dog photography

Photo by ukhomeoffice via Flickr

Scat Sniffers

The detection of scat, or feces, is very helpful to conservationists. Scat can provide a wide array of information about wild animals, such as diet, stress levels and reproductive health without ever disturbing the animal itself. With the DNA that is present, individual animals can even be tracked. Organizations like Conservation Canines (CK9) of the UW’s Center for Conservation Biology use dogs to track wildlife scat. The center analyzes the scat for valuable information without invasive tracking and tagging.


Plant Locators

It’s not just animals that these dogs are good at finding in the wild. Detector dogs are being used in some places to locate native plants. A collaborative project of The Nature Conservancy has trained six dogs to locate the endangered Kincaid’s Lupine. This plant is host to the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly which is found only in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Photo by Muffet via Flickr


Pest Infestations

Pest control is usually done by conducting visual inspections by people. This can be a lengthy and costly procedure. However, dogs can be trained quickly to accurately detect any given pest or infestation. They are able to detect these pest earlier in the infestation, in a more efficient manner, allowing the infestations to be treated before they get out of hand and become a larger problem. Many pest control companies in the UK utilize trained dogs for detection.


Tracking Poachers

Poaching is a large problem to many species around the world. Animals such as the elephant, rhinoceros, mountain gorillas and Grevy's zebras are all at risk of endangerment or extinction. Organizations, such as the African Wildlife Foundation, are using sniffer dogs to protect these beautiful animals by tracking down the poachers and preventing these illegal activities. They can also train the canines to detect illegal animal products like ivory or rhino horns.

Photo by US Army Africa via Flickr

The Right Dog for the Job

The training is done by professional trainers who specialize in working dogs. The training is very similar to that which is used for police canines, Army dogs and border security canines. These dogs are hand-picked to have the proper personality, dedication, and disposition. Not every dog can become a working dog.

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