Center for Conservation Biology

Conservation Canines

Chester, a retriever labrador mix, searches for scat in a snowy forest with his human handler Bud

CK9 handler Bud Marks with Chester.

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, physiological, toxicological and dietary 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 repeatedly over time. Sampling with detection dogs also tends to be far less biased 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.

Our history

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: 

Rescue dogs

Frehley, a border collie, wears a safety vest and is in mid-jump for a ball

The ideal scat detection dog is intensely focused and has an insatiable urge to play.

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.

Conservation Canine housing and training facility

Conservation Canines Kennel Facility

Conservation Canines Kennel Facility

Our kennel has a spacious wood building in a forested area with a large fenced-off running area for dogs outside the back of the building. Complete with 16 indoor/outdoor 4x8ft runs. Each dog has access to an inside and outside run. The indoor runs have radiant heat.

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.

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.

Our facility can house up to 30 scat dectection dogs.

Our facility can house up to 30 scat dectection dogs.