Some of the most pressing conservation issues need to distinguish between multiple, concurrent pressures facing wildlife over a large geographic range. The Conservation Canines program addresses this need by combining the precision and efficiency of detection dogs to readily locate wildlife scat (feces) samples with the ability to extract a wide variety of genetic and physiological indicators from these samples. These indicators enable us to ascertain species abundance, distribution, resource use, and physiological health all in relation to the environmental pressure(s) the species is encountering.
Scat detection dogs are able to locate samples from multiple species simultaneously across large, remote areas and have a lower sampling bias compared to traditional wildlife detection methods (remote cameras, radio-collaring, hair snags, and trapping). No other method can acquire such a vast amount of reliable information in so short a time, making this approach incredibly valuable for conservation planners and land managers.
Click here for more about contracting our services.
Click here for a pdf of a CK9 brochure.
Use of dogs to locate wildlife scat over large areas was pioneered in 1997 by Dr. Samuel Wasser, Director of the Center for Conservation Biology and Conservation Canines program. Dr. Wasser collaborated with Sgt. Barbara Davenport, Master Canine Trainer with the Washington State Department of Corrections, to modify narcotics detection dog methods to train dogs to locate scat from threatened and endangered species. Since then our Center’s Conservation Canines program has been non-invasively monitoring a diverse array of threatened and endangered species around the world, including, tigers, orcas, fishers, spotted owls, bears, wolves, caribou, giant armadillos, giant anteaters, pumas, jaguars, and even Pacific pocket mice. Our training methods are thoroughly described and validated in the following publication: Scat detection dogs in wildlife research and management: application to grizzly and black bears in the Yellowhead Ecosystem, Alberta Canada. Wasser et al. 2004.
Scat (feces) is the most abundant and accessible wildlife product in nature and it contains an enormous amount of genetic, physiological, and dietary information about an animal that can be temporally tied to environmental change. Our Center pioneered the development and application of many of the fecal-based hormone and genetic techniques widely used today. DNA from scat is used to determine species, sex, and even individual identities, allowing us to estimate population size and distribution of wildlife over a landscape. DNA and other products from ingested food can also be used to determine diet. Hormone measures provide estimates of stress, nutritional status, and reproductive health; immunoglobulins in scat reveal immune system competence; and toxins reflect degree and types of exposure to different toxicants. All of this information can be obtained from the same sample – providing a comprehensive health profile over time – without ever seeing the study subject.
The ideal scat detection dog is intensely focused and has an insatiable urge to play. Their obsessive, high-energy personalities make them difficult to maintain as a family pet, so they often end up at the shelter with euthanasia the most likely outcome. The single-minded drive of these dogs makes them perfect Conservation Canines. They are happy to work all day traversing plains, climbing up mountains, clambering over rocks and fallen trees, and trekking through snow, all with the expectation of reward – playing with their ball – after successfully locating wildlife scat. We rescue these dogs and offer them a satisfying career traveling the world to help save numerous other species.
Our unique training facility is located on the University of Washington’s Charles L. Pack Forest in Eatonville, WA. Situated on 4,300 acres of forested land, this site is perfect for training the dogs in a wide variety of real-life field conditions.
Our facility holds up to 30 detection dogs and provides each dog a spacious indoor-outdoor living area. A large, secure area surrounding the building provides space for daily, supervised social playtime for the dogs. Our facility was designed and built with the aid and support of Uncle Howard’s Wood Barns.
Pack Forest also provides permanent housing for our dog handlers. A conference center with a 200-person capacity is located on site to easily accommodate dog handler trainees and workshops.