Good News About Dogs and Poop
Finally, something good comes out of dogs' obession with poop!
If the number of emails and web hits I get is any indication, most of you have noticed that humans and dogs have very different takes on poop. Humans stay the heck away from it; dogs investigate it, roll in it, and sometimes, even eat it (ick!). These behaviors can annoy and disgust us, so it might be nice to know that dogs can also do useful things related to feces. Really!
Wildlife biologists have been using scat-detection dogs for years to help them study populations of elusive animals. How can I put this? As an example, grizzly bears are not always easy to find, and if you do spot them in person you may be sorry. Fortunately, biologists can estimate populations and investigate their health and behavior by examining scat, aka feces. And, even more fortunately, dogs can be trained to find (and not eat or roll in!) the scat. Scat-detecting dogs have helped study not only grizzlies but also black bears, skunks, tigers, orcas, spotted owls, giant armadillos, and, my goodness, Pacific pocket mice, which are tiny, adorable, and extremely rare.
In a more recent development, a company called Environmental Canine Services says it’s the first (and so far the only) outfit to teach dogs to sniff out fecally contaminated water. The owners were experienced trainers of scent-detecting dogs in other contexts – drugs, search and rescue, and searches for human remains.
A pilot study of the dogs’ work conducted in Santa Barbara, California, by the Water Environment Research Foundation, a nonprofit conducting research on water issues, got some pretty terrific results. In some areas known to be contaminated, the dogs were able to localize the source of the problem. In an enormous RV parking area, they found leaking waste tanks. And when the two dogs in the study found no contamination at certain sites, neither did the researcher’s detecting equipment.
The researchers concluded that for urban environmental agencies trying to narrow down the source of contamination in wide areas, dogs were a good bet. And, p.s., neighbors and business owners got interested and cooperative when the dogs were around. Never underestimate a dog’s ability to suck us in.
Dog photo courtesy of Shutterstock.