- Is there a universal wildlife detection dog training?
No, there is no universal wildlife detection dog training, as species detection work with dogs is quite heterogeneous: it ranges from bed bug detection within buildings, over monitoring of invasive plants, to pointing faecal samples of highly protected and large-scale moving species such as the wolf. Here, the search target species, the search environment and circumstances (e.g., leisure project versus long-term scientific research project) largely determines the choice of dog (breed), the training plan, and the qualifications required by the dog handler. For example, working on protected species, species protection exemptions for the single workers are required from the relevant state nature conservation authority.
Even though there are general similarities in dog training, the training of wildlife detection dogs is very specific, individual and often takes place in close consultation with specialised, professional dog trainers and species experts. Within the WDD e.V. we regularly offer (online) seminars, workshops or training meetings on various training steps or methods. In addition, WDD members can exchange information at any time via an internet platform and thus support each other in the training of their dogs.
- Is there a WDD wildlife detection dog certificate?
We are developing the WDD wildlife detection dog certificate. As we are aiming for a high standard, a wide range of search target species, and accreditation by external international specialists, this development is taking a correspondingly long time, true to the motto „haste makes waste”. We expect that the development will be completed in 2021 and that we will be able to certificate the first WDD wildlife detection dogs in 2022; details will be made public here.
- I own a dog and would like to contribute to species conservation by training it to become a wildlife detection dog. What do you advise me to do?
According to national Nature Conservation laws, much species conservation work may only be carried out by professional experts or must at least be guided by them, so that these actions (like monitoring protected species or detecting individuals by dogs) do not cause additional disturbance to the species or in the sensitive habitats. People who are not conservation experts but still want to train species detection dogs should therefore either work under guidance and in close coordination with the relevant species specialists or work on species or in areas which are not protected (like in citizen science monitoring projects of invasive plants).
Anyway, if you want to actively train a wildlife detection dog for conservation issues, you first need to be clear about the future aims and concrete circumstances of the detection work with the dog. This means that you need to know which target species you want to search for, in which areas, what the corresponding legal framework conditions are, and how long and intensively you will do this work with the dog. If you are “only” looking for a meaningful activity for your dog as a side-line, wildlife detection work on protected species is often not permitted or is too time-consuming. In such cases, it is better to train your dog for something that might also be useful to you in your personal life (e.g., lost search, nut detection for nut allergy sufferers, tea bag search) and thus to also demand your dog meaningfully. The dog will learn and enjoy the search tasks and in case of a later opportunity to work also on wildlife, the exchange from an already trained odour to another one is a comparatively small effort.
- From what age / Up to what age does one start training a dog to become a wildlife detection dog?
In principle, a dog can learn to search at any age.
However, if you want to work with your dog on a professional level, you should start at the age of 3-4 years at the latest, so that the dog can be used for a few more years and the training pays off. Normally, however, you start with simple training steps such as the positive linking of the target scent or to find a proper indication behaviour when the dog is still a puppy or a young dog.
This does not mean that an older dog cannot learn to search; this depends more on the dog’s personality and its motivation to cooperate with the human and to play with toys than on its age. So, if you train the dog in a non-professional setting, there are no age limits to when you start this training.
- How long does it take to train a dog for a wildlife detection dog?
The duration of the training strongly depends on the previous experience of the dog and the dog trainer. In principle, training is never completely finished, but it must be possible to assess the dog as ready for use up to a specific time. With appropriate previous experience, it is possible to train a dog that can reliably search for and indicate a scent in just a few months. Additionally, other condition or task specific trainings are necessary like working under distractions (by other people or wildlife), a reliable recall, discrimination of similar non-target scents and so on. These additional, very important trainings may take additional months. Without proper prior experience or guidance, the complete training programme may well take a year or even longer. With a well-trained dog, new target scents can then be added in a matter of weeks whereat, on the other hand, new search techniques under new circumstances may require some further extra training.
- How much does it cost to train a wildlife detection dog?
We cannot give concrete costs here, as the financial expenses vary considerably from case to case: First of all, the training costs time, patience and the willingness and ability to grow together with the dog into a team. Most of the training will be self-directed without guidance, thus a realistic self-reflection is necessary.
In addition to individual training, paid training with specialised trainers and species experts may be required in unspecified numbers. Furthermore, there are usual costs for each dog, for example living expenses, veterinary bills or dog tax, which also vary greatly from case to case.
In some cases, it is possible to acquire the dog within the framework of projects or institutions, through which the costs are then borne; here, too, there are great differences between the projects and institutions.
- Are all dogs/dog breeds suitable for wildlife detection?
In principle, EVERY healthy dog or dog breed (including short-nosed dogs) can learn search work and especially wildlife detection, purely on the basis of their ability to smell. This was confirmed by a scientific study which reviewed the work of wildlife detection dogs worldwide and analysed it with regard to the effective use of certain dog breeds for certain work tasks or target species (species to be searched).
A much bigger factor for the success of wildlife detection work than the choice of dog breed is the choice of the individual dog, as they can differ greatly within a breed. The dog should be strongly toy-motivated and gladly also food-motivated, have a high degree of willingness to learn and work, be very eager to cooperate with humans and, of course, have no health restrictions. After choosing the right dog, the quality of the training is absolutely crucial for the success of the search and detection dog work. Furthermore, the whole project should be very well thought out so that the dog (breed), the target species or object, the training plan and the search strategy learned all fit together. The best dog is of no use if it has not been specifically trained for its task.
- I am looking for a trainer or other people sharing experiences in training dogs to become a wildlife detection dog. Can you help?
There is no universal wildlife detection dog training due to its complexity and heterogeneity. Therefore, most of the dog training will be self-directed, and for specific applications or tasks always in close exchange with specialised dog trainers as well as with the species experts necessary for the project. Among the WDD members there are several practising dog trainers and dog handlers with a lot of experience in the field of wildlife detection dogs. However, the exchange of experience takes place mainly within the association via an internal internet forum, regular newsletters, (online) training seminars and various further education events, as well as occasional local training meetings and expert conferences with direct private exchange between the association members. Moreover, we are always open to worldwide exchange with other experts and projects.
- Are there local training groups, (recognised) further education events or seminars where I can get information specifically about wildlife detection dogs?
Within the WDD e.V. there is a lively and regular exchange of experiences on the topic of wildlife detection dogs in the form of an internal association internet forum, regular newsletters, (online) training events as well as occasional training meetings and expert conferences. Some of these training events (lectures, seminars, conferences) are open not only to WDD members but also to the general public. These public events or WDD projects are regularly announced on our website or Facebook page.
- Can anyone become a WDD member, even if he/she doesn’t have a dog or is not professionally involved in species detection or monitoring?
Yes, even if the vast majority of the current WDD members own dogs themselves and are active in the fields of nature conservation, species monitoring, wildlife research or dog training, the association is without exception open to anyone who is interested in the „wildlife detection dog method“ and who would like to exchange ideas and get involved – in terms of the WDD statutes.