Sighthounds set on wildlife conservation
Co-authors: Dr Greg Baxter and Associate Professor Peter Murray
The University of Queensland, Wildlife Science Unit, School of Agriculture and Food Sciences
The dog’s exceptional olfactory ability has led to them being successful working partners with humans for detection work. Wildlife detection dogs are a specific branch of detection dogs used to non-invasively locate wildlife or their signs. Unsupported assumptions are often made that there are variations between dog breed’s trainability at detection work. This has resulted in the favouring of specific breeds for detection work. Our research aimed to determine the variation between and within three dog breeds – Border Collies, Greyhounds and Labrador Retrievers – for their trainability at detection work. Twelve dogs were trained to locate Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) scat. All training sessions were filmed and behaviour coded, allowing the dogs’ total training time to be calculated. Once training was complete, the dogs’ odour discrimination ability was assessed along 144 target, non-target and control samples. During testing the dogs were handled by both a familiar and unfamiliar handler, to compare their performances and behaviours with different handlers. Based on the dogs’ indications during testing, their accuracy scores were calculated. All Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers completed training, and were therefore assessed, whilst only one Greyhound out of four did. On average, Border Collies had the quickest mean training time and the highest accuracy scores. The one successful Greyhound, however, had higher accuracy scores than half of the Labrador Retrievers – the most commonly used breed for detection work. There was therefore poor correlation between the dogs’ training times and their detection accuracy. The dogs also had significantly higher accuracy scores (p = 0.045), and were less distracted (p = 0.012), when handled by their familiar handler. Overall, individual variation was prominent in all breeds’ training times and accuracy scores. A dog’s breed may therefore not be the best indicator of their working aptitude, nor is their training time a sufficient indicator of their future working success.