Center for Conservation Biology

Conservation Canines

Heath Smith, Program coordinator with CK9 Pips, a cattle dog
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. Their obsessive, high-energy personalities make them difficult to maintain as a family pet, so they often end up at a shelter. 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.