Wildlife Conservation Detection Dog – Dazzy

Dazzy, a Springer Spaniel, is Terrestrial Ecosystems’ conservation detection dog. She has been trained to find Bilbies, Northern Quoll, feral cats, foxes and turtles (both critically endangered Western Swamp Tortoise and Southwestern Snake-necked Turtle) by searching for scats, retreat sites (e.g. dens, burrows, holes) and of course, the animal itself. As part of Dazzy’s training she has been conditioned to ignore other fauna and has had snake and bait (i.e. 1080) aversion training for her own safety.

Terrestrial Ecosystems has access to some of the most experienced professional conservation detection dog trainers and handlers in Australia through the Australasian Conservation Dog Network. Terrestrial Ecosystems network of conservation detection dog teams ensures that where required we can facilitate other highly trained dogs to support Dazzy if the search area is too large for a single dog, the required time frame is very short or the list of target species extends beyond her expertise.

Dazzy is trained to:

  • find cat and fox scats so that they can be analysed to identify the presence of cryptic fauna in the area (i.e. marsupial moles, Night Parrot, threatened cryptic species, etc);
  • find threatened Bilby and Northern Quoll scats and latrine sites;
  • find the optimum sites to locate traps and cameras for threatened species and feral animal management;
  • find fox dens for management and fumigation;
  • turtles (both critically endangered Western Swamp Tortoise and Southwestern Snake-necked Turtle) while they are aestivating or their nesting burrows (i.e. eggs and buried hatchlings);
  • find Northern Quoll maternal dens, Bilby burrows and feral cat retreat sites; and
  • identify habitat utilised by Bilbies, Northern Quoll, feral cats and foxes for mapping.

Wildlife or conservation detection dogs are now widely used in Australia and overseas to locate native and feral animals, their scats and retreats. They are also used to find particular plants and for locating drugs and explosives (Wasser et al. 2004, Smith et al. 2005, Arnett 2006, Long et al. 2007, Cablk et al. 2008, Dematteo et al. 2009, Duggan et al. 2011, Reed et al. 2011, Vynne et al. 2011, Cristescu et al. 2015). Their capacity to find objects using a very well developed sense of smell has also enabled them to assist with finding missing people, and police and other law enforcement agencies use them to locate suspects.

Dogs are very well adapted to locating objects based on their scent as approximately one eighth of their brain and over 50% of the internal nose is committed to olfaction (Syrotuck 2000). We are aware that the Department of Parks and Wildlife has used detection dogs to locate Cane Toads in the Kimberley and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) has some specially trained wildlife detection dogs working at its Mornington-Marion Downs property in the Kimberley to locate feral cats.

But how useful are wildlife conservation detection dogs?

Specifically selected and professionally trained detection dogs are faster and more efficient than human searchers, they are non-biased and remain focussed for longer periods. For these reasons and many more, dogs can stretch limited budgets a long way.

A detection dog has considerably better hearing and vision than any human, and a nose which is able to detect odours 1000 times more effectively than humans. A detection dog can find animal scats and odours in places humans would never find them (e.g. dense leaf litter) and they can detect the odour of animals and humans that have long since passed through an area and have left no visible signs.

On Macquarie Island (12,780 ha) which is a World Heritage site administered as part of the Australian state of Tasmania rabbits were introduced for food in about 1879. By the 1960s there was increasing concern about damage to vegetation so a rabbit control program commenced in 1978 when the rabbit population had reached ~150,000 with the release of the myxoma virus and this program continued until 2006. The rabbit numbers were estimated at 124,000 in 2006, so there had been some control but the problem remained. All cats on the island had been eliminated in 2000 and in 2011 an aerial baiting program was implemented to kill rabbits and rodents. This was a very successful program, but a small number of rabbits still remained. In July 2011, wildlife detection dogs were used to search the entire island and the remaining 13 rabbits on the island were found and destroyed. Had the last remaining 13 rabbits not been found, then the $25m control and management program would not have been successful, as this small number was sufficient for rabbit numbers to once again increase.


Terrestrial Ecosystems is the first environmental consultancy in Western Australia with a nationally certified and professionally trained wildlife conservation detection dog. In a recent published research program testing the efficacy of Dazzy to find Bilby scats, a human searcher located six of 90 scats (6.7%) compared to Dazzy who located 89 of 90 scats (98.9%; Thompson et al. 2020)

Dazzy is available for fox den detection, searching for feral cats, and Northern Quoll and Bilby detection. Knowing that Northern Quolls and Bilbies are in a project area is an important consideration in assessing environmental impacts, and knowing their specific retreat sites and which burrows are active will enable proponents to either plan around these areas and minimise potential impacts, or to trap and relocate individuals out of harms way. Monitoring of Northern Quoll and Bilby populations is also an important aspect of the management of these two threatened species, and being able to locate and census populations using wildlife conservation detection dogs is seen as a very cost-effective alternative to the current live trapping and camera trapping programs.

Dogs don’t have a perceived concept of where the target fauna live, so they will search everywhere. They will work longer, they’ll work harder and they’ll work for a tennis ball reward.


Arnett, E. B. 2006. A preliminary evaluation on the use of dogs to recover bat fatalities at wind energy facilities. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34:1440-1445.

Cablk, M. E., J. C. Sagebiel, J. S. Heaton, and C. Valentin. 2008. Olfaction-based detection distance: A quantitative analysis of how far away dogs recognize tortoise odor and follow it to source. Sensors 8:2208-2222.

Cristescu, R. H., E. Foley, A. Markula, G. Jackson, D. Jones, and C. Frere. 2015. Accuracy and efficiency of detection dogs: a powerful new tool for koala conservation and management. Sci Rep 5:8349.

Dematteo, K. E., M. A. Rinas, M. M. Sede, B. Davenport, C. F. Argüelles, K. Lovett, and P. G. Parker. 2009. Detection dogs: An effective technique for bush dog surveys. Journal of Wildlife Management 73:1436-1440.

Duggan, J. M., E. J. Heske, R. L. Schooley, A. Hurt, and A. Whitelaw. 2011. Comparing detection dog and livetrapping surveys for a cryptic rodent. Journal of Wildlife Management 75:1209-1217.

Long, R. A., T. M. Donovan, P. Mackay, W. J. Zielinski, and J. S. Buzas. 2007. Comparing scat detection dogs, cameras, and hair snares for surveying carnivores. Journal of Wildlife Management 71:2018-2015.

Reed, S. E., A. L. Bidlack, A. Hurt, and W. M. Getz. 2011. Detection distance and environmental factors in conservation detection dog surveys. The Journal of Wildlife Management 75:243-251.

Smith, D. A., K. Ralls, B. L. Cypher, and J. E. Maldonado. 2005. Assessment of scat-detection dog surveys to determine kit fox distribution. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33:897-904.

Syrotuck, W. G. 2000. Scent and Scenting Dog. Barkeleight Productions, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.Vynne, C., J. R. Skalski, R. B. Machado, M. J. Groom, A. T. Jacomo, J. Marinho-Filho, M. B. Ramos Neto, C. Pomilla, L. Silveira, H. Smith, and S. K. Wasser. 2011. Effectiveness of scat-detection dogs in determining species presence in a tropical savanna landscape. Conservation Biology 25:154-162.

Thompson, S. A., G. G. Thompson, P. C. Withers, and E. M. Bennett. 2020. Conservation detection dog is better than human searcher in finding bilby (Macrotis lagotis) scats. Australian Zoologist.

Wasser, S. K., B. Davenport, E. R. Ramage, K. E. Hunt, M. Parker, C. Clarke, and G. Stenhouse. 2004. Scat detection dogs in wildlife research and management: application to grizzly and black bears in the Yellowhead Ecosystem, Alberta, Canada. Canadian Journal of Zoology 82:475-492.

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