Dogs are known to sniff out drugs, bombs, and sometimes even diseases. But the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology has found a new use for dogs’ powerful noses. They’ve created the Conservation Canine, or CK-9, program to train dogs for a dirty job: sniffing out poop. Specifically the poop of endangered species of animals like spotted owls, caribou, wolves, and tigers. Scientists use the found samples to perform all kinds of research on animal health, stress, fertility, and breeding habits.
That’s where dogs like Tucker come in. Tucker is one of 17 dogs working in the CK-9 program, many of whom were returned to shelters by former owners or couldn’t be adopted because of their high energy levels. That energy comes in very handy when tracking. Tucker was a stray when he was brought to a shelter, but there are a few things that make him perfect for a specific task–tracking down whale poop. Unlike most Labrador Retrievers, Tucker hates swimming. He doesn’t mind being on a boat, but his dislike of water prevents him from jumping in to swim and play and keeps him focused on the task. His super-sniffer can literally smell whale excrement a mile away. When he detects it, he sends signals to his handler who in turn sends signals to the boat driver so samples can be collected.
With Tucker’s help, scientists have been able to collect more samples than ever before. The samples can reveal a whale’s genetic identity, diet, where its prey came from, hormone levels, pregnancy stage, and they can even tell if there are any pollutants in the whale’s system. Tucker’s reward for all his hard work is only his favorite thing in the whole world, a game of fetch. All the CK-9 dogs absolutely love chasing their ball, and it’s an important tool for training. Tucker went from street dog to scientific research assistant, and more importantly, he has a forever home with his handler as part of the family.
Are you happy to see rescue dogs finding a place where they belong? What other things do you think dogs’ noses can help us with? Let us know in the comments below!