Teaching the dogs to detect seabirds and find new species

To teach your dogs to come back to you Dog Breeds

Teaching old dogs new tricks: sniffer dogs helping to detect seabirds

An innovative study, led by the RSPB, has been testing the ability of dogs to track seabirds that nest in burrows. The researchers have been teaching their dogs to detect Manx shearwater and European storm petrels, and they wanted to know whether dogs can differentiate between these two seabird species.

Scent dogs have been used for conservation for decades, including detecting rare animals. They are effective at detecting birds that breed in cavities and are only active in the night.

Many seabirds show these same characteristics and some, including the storm petrels, are well-known for their strong scent. However, using scent dogs to detect seabirds has not been common practice in UK.

The storm petrel is the UK’s smallest seabird. It  weighs just 25 – 30 grams – the same as three £1 coins. However these seabirds spend most of their time at sea. They only come to land to breed.

Dog A, a golden retriever called Islay, can locate storm petrel feathers using standard methods. Once Islay completed her mission, the handlers measured her accuracy. They were using randomly placed scented pads. They also measured her ability to differentiate storm petrel scent from Manx shearwater.

Dog B, a Border Collie called Dewi, is a working sheepdog that helps with livestock management on Ramsey Island. People also use him to detect Manx shearwater burrows. Dewi had learnt to discriminate between occupied and unoccupied burrows.

The study found that, with sufficient training and reward, Islay could find the precise location of the concealed storm petrel. Also she could target and differentiate between storm petrel and Manx shearwater scents with 100% reliability.  Similarly Dewi has a high success rate in finding shearwater nest burrows. However, he was less successful at locating deep burrows, because there was less shearwater scent at the burrow entrance.

 

 

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