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Using Dogs For Conservation (and how science is always full of surprises)


I receive emails from a variety of people. Most are looking to get into conservation and are searching around for advice, ideas or opportunities. Sometimes I can help by pointing them towards lists of expedition grants, volunteer organisations or just advice articles. But often I don’t know the answer!

This week I had an email from someone who trains dogs to work in detection of various substances. The principals for dog training are apparently quite consisted no matter what you use it for, so he wanted to know if there were any opportunities for working with dogs in conservation.

I had no idea. I’ve never worked with dogs, and I’ve not seen any used before in conservation. In these cases I sometimes put a question out to the Twittersphere which is infinitely knowledgeable on this sort of thing.

It did not disappoint. Here is the mammoth list of projects and organizations that use dogs.

Projects Working With Dogs In Conservation

Using Dogs To Search For Killer Whale Poop

Conservationists have known for a while that the killer whales of Puget sound are not doing very well. Part of the reason might be that these whales have some of the highest levels of accumulated toxins such as pesticides and flame retardants of any species on earth. But to study this, the scientists need to find whale feces, and this is where a sniffer dog comes in – it stands at the bow of the boat and literally helps them search it out! Read the full story here.

New Zealand Conservation Dog Programme

This is a project training dogs for location certain species in New Zealand such as the kākāpo, kiwi, whio, pāteke and takahē. They can also detect signs of invasive species. They even have application information, if you want to become a handler.

Spain’s Anti-poison Dogs

Meanwhile, in many places poisoning of large carnivores and raptors is still a big problem. In Spain, dogs are being deployed to help safely find poisons and protect endangered wildlife. There’s a similar project in Greece, too.

Sniffing Out The World’s Rarest Gorillas

The critically endangered Cross River Gorilla lives in dense highland forests on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon. They are hard to find, and that’s probably why they have survived this long. So scientists took a group of specially trained dogs, and set them to work searching for gorilla poo, in order to help monitor the surviving population. The great things in, all these dogs came from Shelters. Read the full story here.

Working Dogs for Conservation

A fantastic organization training dogs for many of these projects. Their mission says it all “We don’t do this work because we love dogs, though we do. We don’t do this work because our dogs love to work, though they do. We do this work because our detection dogs are the most efficient, most accurate, and least invasive way to collect crucial conservation data.” Take a look, here.

German Shepherds Protecting Tigers

India has been training lots of dogs too. A new team of 14 dogs and 28 handlers has just doubled India’s strength of wildlife sniffer dogs. They will now be deployed in seven states with surviving tiger populations to help tackle poaching. Read more here.

The Best Dog Breeds To Save Livestock and Wildlife

A great article about helping to reduce human wildlife conflict and guard wildlife with the right breed of dog.

Dogs Helping Cheetahs, Too

Cheetahs are not doing so well in Africa, so to help tackle the problem, dogs are trained to hunt down Cheetah scat for scientists, “DNA is then extracted in its laboratory to identify individual cheetahs and understand cheetah population structure.” More about Cheetah conservation, here.

White Paw Training

An organisation specializing in training dogs to tackle poaching in Africa.

A Specialist Koala Dog In Brisbane

A dog named Maya spent three months training to track down Koala poo!

Conservation Dogs

This organisation has trained dogs to detect threatened desert tortoises in the US and Mexico, and have even trained the first ever Great Crested Newt Detection dog, who will be operational later this year. Read more.

A Border Collie And The African Bullfrog

The collie named Jessie has been helping search construction sites for rare African Bullfrogs. It’s hoped that in the future, she might also be able to help search for another threatened species in South Africa, the Amatola toad.

Giant African Rats Detect Land Mines

Lastly, I didn’t think it was fair to let the dogs have all the fun. Here’s a great story about specially trained African giant pouched rats.

I’m sure there’s lots more, feel free to add to the list in the comments...

 Special thanks to these tweeters for all of the suggestions…

@hannahkhwaja  @maryjkablas  @SturgeonSurgeon  @Julie_B92

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  1. Mike Shooter
    Mike Shooter06-30-2015

    Hi James
    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my email, social networking is a wonderful thing. The response to your question about conservation dogs on twitter was quite an eye opener. If you know of anyone in the UK who may have the need of a detection for their conservation work/ research pass on my details to them as I have a highly trained detection dog who may be able to assist. Once again thanks for looking into this subject for me who knows where it may lead.

  2. Judit UrquijoJudit
    Judit UrquijoJudit07-08-2015

    Hi James,

    About this issue, in Spain there is a company, Ideas Medioambientales ( that has developed a methodology to search carcass with dogs in wind farms. The aim is control the collisions in the phase of environmental monitoring. Recently, this company has participated in a workshop of South Africa (

  3. Justine

    A dog in Zealand has now been trained to detect a plant pathogen threatening one of our iconic tree species:

  4. Sibylle and Rex
    Sibylle and Rex07-27-2015

    Thanks James for this story. Snow leopard conservation has also been helped by conservation dogs over the last few years. One way to research numbers and behaviour of snow leopards in remote habitat is through scat analysis but researchers have to know they are dealing with the right scat so Conservation Dogs folks have trained their canines to recognise the right scat. Read more here –

    Sibylle Noras
    Founder and Publisher Saving Snow Leopards Report
    Steering Committee member, Snow Leopard Network

  5. Alice Ewing
    Alice Ewing08-28-2015

    We have the Otways Conservation Dogs – a team of volunteers and their pet dogs – who are trained to become qualified detection dog and handler teams to search areas of bushland for the scat of the elusive, endangered Tiger (or Spotted-tail) Quoll. Check out their facebook page on The project is coordinated by the Conservation Ecology Centre, at Cape Otway. I also know of conservation dogs working on a variety of other endangered species, pest animal detection, and even invasive weeds, in Australia, and in New Zealand.

  6. bennyfromleblock

    Hi James, I thought I would chime in as well after seeing all the great comments above. I am a dog handler for the Conservation Canines, a nonprofit program with the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology. We are the group that handles the Orca Whale Project in Puget Sound which you highlighted in your bog post. Thank you for the mention!! How great to see the growing interest in using dogs for noninvasive conservation work. Our group has been utilizing this unique method since 1998 and our rescue mutts have traveled the world looking for endangered species. From the tiny Pacific pocket mouse in California to lions and cheetahs in Mozambique and South Africa, from wolves and caribou in northern Alberta to grizzly bears in Montana, to owls and salamanders as well as invasive weeds and iguanas- our dogs love to sniff out all the oddities 🙂 Thank you again for highlighting one of our projects and definitely check out our facebook page at if ever you’re curious to learn more.

    • James_Borrell

      Thanks for leaving a message! So great that you swung by to leave a comment. It’s an awesome sounding project, very happy to mention it and keep up the great work.

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