Scat Detection Dogs

Over the past decade, professionally trained detection dogs have been used to systematically search for scats from carnivores within the ursid, canid, felid, and mustelid families. We employed scat detection dogs (Working Dogs for Conservation, Three Forks, MT) to conduct pilot surveys near I-90 in 2008, and in the greater Highway 20 area in 2009. Each survey was carried out by a handler, an orienteer, and a dog, with the latter trained to detect scats from target species and to alert the dog handler to the specific location of each scat.

The two dogs we employed in 2008 were focused on black bears and martens, while the single dog deployed in 2009 was trained to detect black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, Canada lynx, cougars, wolverines, and fishers—all carnivores of conservation concern in the North Cascades.

Scat detection dog “Camas” alerts her handler (Alice Whitelaw) to a marten scat (foreground) near I-90. Credit: Paula MacKay.

Scat detection dog “Camas” alerts her handler (Alice Whitelaw) to a marten scat (foreground) near I-90. Credit: Paula MacKay.

Scat detection dog “Wicket” and handler Aimee Hurt survey site in North Cascades National Park. Credit: Paula MacKay

Scat detection dog “Wicket” and handler Aimee Hurt survey site in North Cascades National Park. Credit: Paula MacKay

The dogs were successful at locating scats from target species in both regions, with the vast majority of samples we collected having been from black bears. We have since determined, however, that scats (versus hairs) are an inadequate source of DNA for genotyping individual black bears to the level required for our landscape genetic analysis. Thus, we are employing only hair collection techniques for genetic sampling at this time.