Webcast: Canines for Conservation: Webcast with the Rogue Detection Teams

Webcast: Canines for Conservation: Webcast with the Rogue Detection Teams

Dogs are well-known as man's best friend, but Rogue Detection Teams also proves that they can be conservation superheroes! This remarkable team of rescued dogs and field researchers help scientists tackle important conservation concerns - like collecting data on endangered species through scat detection in remote locations.

In this webcast, we learn all about how this work got started and how these “rogues” do it from director Heath Smith. We'll also learn how Oregon Wild's work to protect public lands and wildlife go hand in hand - and is aided by the work of Heath's teams.

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts for the Rogue Detection Teams. Below are their podcast appearances referenced in the webcast.

Bonus Q&A

Do you do basic obedience training first to be able to work with the dog, or do you focus exclusively on channeling their energy into detection work right away?

Excellent question. Initially, we focus on channeling our dog’s excessive energy into work (play) and teaching them the odor we are looking for in the wild. Following that initial foundation, we then work on basic obedience such as sit, down, stay, and finally recall. It’s incredible what we can accomplish with the dogs once they realize that the ball is their reward. Any obedience we teach after the initial odor introduction goes a lot more smoothly because we have developed a game to engage with them.

Are the bounders the scientist carrying out the research project or are the bounders working on contract for other scientists?

Each of our bounders are Field Scientists. That means that they understand the ecology of each species they are tasked with locating, as well as in-depth knowledge of how to work with a dog to locate said species. That being said, being a bounder is full-time work, so we are not conducting the research on each of our projects. Rather, we are contracted by researchers, scientists, geneticists, and agencies to carry out the work. Eventually, after we have established ourselves more, it is one of our visions to work on a few of our own wildlife projects as well. 

Who uses your data?

Many different and diverse groups utilize the data we collect. We partner and collaborate with NGO’s (such as Nature Conservancy or World Wildlife Fund), State and Federal organizations (CA Department of Fish & Wildlife, US Geological Survey, or the US Forest Service), Universities, and Graduate Students (University of Washington), or private companies. We are here to help whoever is trying to make the world a better place. 

I am about to be a graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in Wildlife Conservation, and have recently applied for a Masters Degree in Wildlife Forensics. What would you suggest my next steps should be if my ultimate goal is to become a bounder?

Wow! You sound like you are well on your way. We have some great book recommendations we could send you. Send us an email at Contact@Roguedogs.org, and we can send that your way. Also, check out a few of the awesome podcasts that interviewed our bounders. We provide some advice to aspiring bounders-to-be in these, as well. Another great step would be seeking out a shelter/rescue to volunteer at and get acquainted with some rough and rowdy dogs. 

How can someone get involved with this program or something like this? Do you, or other groups, ever take dog-handler teams that are already working together?

We are Rogues, so we don’t really have a ton of rules, and if we do, we will probably break them. :) So we look for all combinations of people and dogs. The best way to get involved is to reach out to us and other programs like ours. We’re not sure if other programs take dog-handler teams or if they pair people with the dogs they already have. You can follow a bunch of us on social media and engage with these groups this way. Frequently, resources and tips are shared between groups. Reach out to programs and see if they need help. Even if it’s not being a bounder in the field with a dog, sometimes remote work can be a huge help to small programs like ours. Becoming a resource to a program by offering web development, setting up a newsletter, or a blog series for the program might be one way to get intimately involved with a program.

I just wanted to share my deep appreciation for the work you all, and the dogs do for our threatened and endangered species.

Wow, thank you. It’s feedback like this that really inspires us to keep on keeping on. We appreciate all the people who turned in to learn about our work in this field. And yes, we couldn’t do it without our trusty furry companions. 

How do you find and choose your dogs?

Excellent question. We find our dogs any way we can. Sometimes it is a spur of the moment visit to a local shelter or rescue. Others who know about us might see a post on social media about a dog that is in need of a second chance and then share it with us. We also receive many emails from owners who have learned about us and feel their dog needs more than they can offer. 

Do you have high prey drive dogs? Have you been able to successfully transition that drive to scent work?

Ah! Thank you for asking this. YES! We do our best to accept dogs with whatever “baggage” they might have and work with them to make a successful team. High prey drive is something we take very seriously and work to make sure our dogs do not chase or harass wildlife. It is important to also understand this falls on not just the dog learning but the bounder also being responsible and taking the time to work with their teammate. We have had great success in both areas. Prey drive can be translated in some cases to ball drive so as long as the dog has an outlet then their prey drive actually dissipates.

With the martens, I am wondering if something like a wildlife tunnel - under the hwy 101  or other roads where marten are killed - is the kind of action that determining the marten “corridor” could support from the data acquired by the detection teams.

Yes, this would be wonderful. In many cases, it is our hope that the data our teams locate will inform initiatives of this nature. In order for a wildlife tunnel to be considered as an option, the local township would likely ask for hard data on why and where. It may take time, but maybe with the assistance of the data our teams collect it will be ideas like this that will help protect sensitive species. 

Heath mentioned a "field season." What does that typically look like in the PNW? Are teams in the field most of the year or is there a portion of the year that they are not actively in the field?

Teams could find themselves in the field for 16 months (depending on the length of the project) but most times it is closer to 9 or 10 months. We do our best to make sure all bounders and dogs get a rest break. We also want to make sure the environment is safe for teams to be working in. That means we have to be extra safe with the PNW’s cold, rainy weather. Other items we take into consideration are how well the samples will be preserved if they’ve been rained on for months on end. To that end, we try to work in the least rainy seasons and focus our efforts in other locations during the winter and spring. 

With any dog trained for 20 or more scents, and he/she is out for many hours (?), how do trainers/bounders keep them from cross scenting—zoning in on another "taught" scent that might be one they have more success (and rewards) with?  Assuming they're not on leads, do you regularly remind them during the search of what they're looking for?

Great question. When we first started, we wondered that as well. Over the years, we have seen repeatedly that the dogs don’t have “favorite” odors. Regardless of how often they have found a sample, they still search for the other scents just as actively. To give an example, if we found 50 coyote samples in a day and the dog came across a wolverine sample, they would be just as excited to find that as they were the coyote. To answer your other query, we don’t worry about them cross scenting and encourage it. We primarily work off-leash and do not generally need to remind them what we are searching for as we’ve done the odor imprinting prior to the project commencing. If we do, though, we take them to areas we call “hotspots” where we know the species is present. 

Internships and training are not available this year due to covid, right? But they will hopefully be available 2022?

That is correct. We are taking COVID concerns very seriously and have suspended our classes until further notice. We still encourage interested persons to reach out to us to have their name put on our mailing list, though, for if and when we are able to host again. 

How does one begin working with conservation detection dogs? I'm very interested in this type of work and would love to learn more.

We’re excited to learn of your interest. Many of our current bounders found their way into this field in a roundabout way. We all worked on various wildlife field projects for a few years, getting our feet wet, so to speak, in all things rugged field research style. During this time we’d also suggest researching & connecting with the different programs to find the one that fits you. At least, with our program we welcome engagement and love sharing the methodology. You could then contact the various groups to determine the best way you can help them reach their goals. 

Question for Heath: The caterpillar frass detection sounds so tough! Was there ever a noticeable breakthrough on the butterfly work?

To be honest, I wasn’t convinced we could do it, but the dogs always prove me wrong. :) I recall our first day in the field and thinking, “how are we going to do this?!” About halfway through our second location of that first day, Alli started hitting spots like crazy, and I knew she’d done it. It’s moments like that that I get chills. It’s inspiring to be there when this happens. 

Not a question, but thank you so much for this presentation.  I live in Florence, so very interested in the Humboldt/Pacific martens.  Also, my dogs do “pet” nosework, searching for essential oils birch, anise, and clove; I’m fascinated by your dogs working on so many different odors.  Since our dogs are mostly pets of non-traditional non-working breeds, they are rewarded with treats, but some nose work dogs are more driven and are rewarded with tug.

That’s fantastic. Nose work is such a rewarding activity for both the dogs and the owners! Also, thank you for such a kind comment. We thrive from the positive feedback we receive, so we really appreciate this.  

Do you use dogs with high food drive or just toy?

Our dogs are all fetch focused. We may find over 200 samples in a single day, so food reward isn’t ideal for our work. There are some amazing food reward opportunities for dogs, though, and that’s a fantastic avenue as well.

With SAR I’ve been encouraged to have only one singular odor to focus on in my dog’s search work..the experienced handlers admit that by doing live search, HRD search, and teaching various and other odors that their dogs are at a “disadvantage”..I wonder about this, especially considering you are encouraging as many as possible.

For any other folks reading this question, “SAR” is Search and Rescue and “HRD” Human Remains Dog. Thank you for asking this. SAR & HRD are not our areas of expertise, so I want to be careful answering this question. While there is some crossover in these fields, SAR/ HRD teams’ work is different from conservation detection dogs (CDD), and we can only speak to CDD. The odors our dogs are searching for are generally stationary. I say generally because we’ve had dung beetles and leaf cutter ants scuttle off with samples that our dogs found ;) Being that our dogs are not tracking and are air scenting, they can find one odor, we can collect it, and then they can quickly take us to another. It is all about getting to play fetch, and sometimes they are so excited to take us to the next one they take the ball with them. :)

How do you exclude scat from Wild Dogs? Or do you?

Do you mean feral dogs? We don’t teach our dogs to find dog scat, so they do not alert to it. However, we have worked on an African Wild Dog project where we taught the dogs to alert to that species. Every species has a particular odor, so we only teach them the ones we are interested in finding. 

Heath. Do you have a favorite study you have participated in over your 20 years

Anytime I get to spend in the field is my favorite time. :) 

Do you have to limit “fetch” to work or training scenarios? Or is fetch used in a play setting as well?

I love this question. The dogs get to play fetch all the time. This has shown no decrease in their desire to find more samples. On a different note, we limit introductory sessions with dogs to 15 mins at a time. This gives them time to think about what they have learned or been exposed to, drastically increasing their performance when they come back to the activity. 


Photo Credits
Photos by Forktailed Media