Using dogs’ Smell for Discovering and Preserving Vegetal and Animal Species

Working Dogs for Conservation - Montana (WDC)
Read the story of the Working Dogs for Conservation, a dogs’ training centre specialised in rather "peculiar" training.
The Working Dogs for Conservation – Montana (WDC) is a specialised centre for dogs’ training: thanks to their incredible smell, dogs can sniff rare plants and endangered animals, even in areas that are difficult to access or inhospitable.

Dog units for tracking rare vegetal and animal species are trained to explore every kind of habitat: tropical forests, tundra, sand dunes and all the places where there are animals and plants we normally couldn’t identify.
“This is the best monitoring method to understand what’s happening to a specific population of wild animals”, says Alice Whitelaw, director of WDC training programme.
The centre has a team of eight dogs that constantly work to trace organic samples, which are later sent to WDC research laboratory. Among all samples, excrements are a real gold mine of animals’ information: gender, nutrition, general health status, total number of the animals belonging to a specific population. These are fundamental elements to plan a useful strategy to preserve and protect species.

Orbee is one of WDC dogs, a Border Collie that really loves smelling everything: if she’s at home or away with her owners and she sniffs a particular smell, Orbee can keep on sniffing for hours. Most dogs enjoy running after a stick or a ball: Orbee instead loves smelling rare or endangered animal species, no matter they are wolves, lynxes or grizzly bears. That’s why she’s become famous at the Working Dog for Conservation: she’s incredibly rapid in learning how to identify new odours.
Orbee and two friends of hers have recently been involved in the WDC project for preserving grizzlies in Kobuk National Park, Alaska. Dogs and their trainers challenged a particularly hard habitat, looking for organic samples to be used for grizzly DNA analysis. A similar study had already been carried out in Montana and Idaho in 2008, with very important results to monitor the re-population of bears in those areas.

However, what allows to carry out this kind of activity on field is also the most difficult and challenging part: dogs’ selection and training. To become part of the WDC team, in fact, dogs must be well-behaved and physically fit. Statistically, only one dog in 300 shows the right qualities to be selected.
WDC dogs are often involved in projects for the identification of infesting animals and plants as well. Their identification skills are so high that some dogs could smell infesting plants before they germinated.

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