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Dogs That Do Special Work


Being the quick type that I am, it occurred to me that ALL Working Dogs are probably NOT guard dogs, police dogs, or cadaver dogs, doing all the usual stuff we hear about. Duuhh!!  I wondered whether there are some Working Dogs in “other” professions, so I went to work searching the Internet.  

Working Dogs for Conservation

I discovered an interesting site called Working Dogs for Conservation (https://WD4C.org).  

“Working Dogs For Conservation is the world’s leading conservation detection dog organization.” 

“We combine expert canine data collection with cutting-edge laboratory techniques to help answer some of the most pressing questions in conservation.” (https://WD4C.org)

So, I had to read on to try to understand better what WD4C is about.

Getting Started 

This organization starts by rescuing a dog from a shelter.  Then they discover his or her olfactory talent(s) (so to speak).  And they expand on those abilities to (for example) follow the movements of wild creatures in a variety of locales.  In some cases, information that is gathered is used to protect the habitats of those animals.  And it’s used in a lot of other ways, as well.  

In the field, it seems kind of low-tech and totally non-invasive, but absolutely effective.

Saving Wild Things and Wild Places

Now, I am the fist to admit I never associated dogs with conservation.  Thanks to Working Dogs for Conservation, I found out about that dogs all over the globe are working in this field!  

Killer Whale pod in ocean
Killer Whale pod in ocean

Killer Whale Poop

Conservationists in Puget Sound knew that the killer whales were in kinda bad shape.  They thought it was because the whales have really high levels of accumulated toxins – pesticides and flame retardants.  More, in fact, than any other species on the planet.  To study this they needed whale feces.  A dog with good smelling ability rides the ships in the Sound and helps scientists find the scat. 


The first specialized anti-poison dog units were established in Span over ten years ago.  Currently, the dogs are specially trained to detect poisoned baits all over Spain and Europe.  The targets are vultures, wolves and lynx.


Greece also has anti-poison programs.  They search the country, the wildlife and even the National Park (Greece) to discover the carcasses of animals that have been poisoned, as well as the poison bait itself.   This action provides information that helps identify areas where education can be employed to eventually eliminate this crime.  

Nigeria and Cameroon

Gorilla in the jungle standing in a river looking at sunlit mist.
Gorilla in the Jungle

In the forests on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon live the Cross River Gorilla, a highly endangered species. Probably the only reason they have survived as long as they have is because they’re hard to find.  Scientists have rescued dogs from shelters and specially trained them to locate gorilla poop, in order to monitor the population that has survived.

Tigers and Cheetahs

In India a team of dogs and handlers have been deployed to help tackle poaching.

In Africa, dogs have been trained to find Cheetah scat so that individual cheetahs can be located and their population structure can be identified and understood.

And there are lots more programs like this.  

Meet A Couple WD4C Workers


Utah is a Border Collie, who joined the pack in 2017.  He recognizes three scents, including Chinese bush clover.

“We all know that border collies are smart, high-energy dogs, but even by border collie standards, Utah is a standout.  Utah started his training with human-collected Kit Fox scat.  There is usually a learning curve when dogs move from bagged sample scats to ones “straight from the fox” – the collected samples can have a markedly different scent than naturally occurring scat, and field conditions can be confusing, with multiple wild canids using the same latrines.  But Utah was ready to jump straight to the big leagues.  He began alerting to wild scats his very first day in the field, and he hasn’t slowed down since.  He can’t wait to get his vest on, hear, “let’s go to work,” and show off how much smarter he is than the rest of us.  If Utah could talk, he would give a daily thank-you to the generous donor who sponsored the cost of his rescue, training, and ongoing care.”


Benny is a Labrador Retriever who joined the pack in 2017.  He recognizes 5 scents, including bear gall bladder.

Black Lab on the grass, tongue hanging out, ball near paw.
Black Lab with ball

“It’s a familiar story:  Benny wound up in the shelter because he was “too” energetic.  When he met Detective Lauren Wendt of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, he knew he’d hit the jackpot, and he hasn’t wanted to leave her side since.  Lucky for him, they spend their days working together to combat endangered species trafficking by sniffing out elephant ivory, rhino horn, shark fin, bear gall bladder, and firearms in parcels and packages.  Benny is new to Washington, but he’s already made an impression – there is a statue of him in the Assam Rhino Reserve Exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo. Visit and take a selfie with this groundbreaking pup!”


Zoey is a Shepherd-mix, who joined the pack in 2017.  She recognizes 5 scents, including bobcat.

“Zoey works hard and loves hard.  Nothing interrupts her focus when she’s working, but the second she’s done, she’s in your lap, paws on your shoulders, kissing you into submission.  She was found on the street in Texas, so her past is a mystery, but whatever it holds hasn’t dulled her affection for people.  Zoey was rescued with support from The Cougar Fund, and we will put her fast, furious energy to work on cougar-related projects.  When she’s not in the field, her friendliness and people-focus will make her the perfect ambassador for big cat conservation. She is a great demonstration dog – wowing the crowd with her scent work and then cuddling up with all comers – and gives her all both with the public and in the field to promote the protection of cougar, bobcat, and other wild cats.”

Based on the above, Labs, Shepherd-mixes and Border Collies are Great Smellers.

“We train the word’s best conservation detection dogs & put them to work protecting wild life and wild places.

“We do it to save the world.

“They do it for the love of a ball.”

Dogs Are an Asset in Conservation

(Being the great “expert” that I am) I think one of the reasons for WD4C’s success – as well as that of worldwide efforts –in this area is that all canines have an incredible sense of smell.  Dogs have more than 220 million olfactory receptors, compared to humans’ 5 million.  

In fact, the sense of smell is a dog’s primary form of communication.  His or her sense of smell is around 1,000 times more discerning than that of any human. 

Just imagine, with a sniff, a dog can tell whether another dog is male or female, or what the other dog recently had to eat and, even, what mood that dog is in.  (Too bad humans can’t do that!)  

Without expensive and undoubtedly invasive and frightening tools, together with computers and God knows what else, this kind of work just couldn’t be done by humans alone. Hunankind’s best friend has come to the rescue again.

My Last Thought

Working Dogs for Conservation does their work in a way that provides love for a dog, work for him or her to do that seems to cause the animal to thrive, while doing a service to help the inhabitants of this planet to continue to exist!  

Go check out Working Dogs for Conservation (https://WD4C.org)! It’s a worthy cause with which to share. Make a contribution if you can. 


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