CCF’s Next Generation of Scat Detection Dogs

Trained scat-sniffing dogs help CCF Ecologists find cheetah scat in the field. DNA is then extracted in the certified genetics laboratory at CCF Headquarters in Namibia to identify individual cheetahs and understand cheetah population structure.

Several months ago, we received four Malinois puppies from one of our local CCF friends. Quinten, CCF’s previous dog trainer, had trained the father and in return, the four puppies were donated to CCF. Two of the puppies were sent to the Ongava Game Reserve to serve as future anti-poaching dogs, and the other two stayed at CCF to be the next generation of scat detection dogs.

These two puppies, Gamena (Mena) and Enyakwa (Enya) are very active, and it has been a pleasure to see them grow up and take their first steps to become working dogs. Unfortunately, Mena broke her toe while playing with her sister. Therefore, she had to wear a bandage, which was taken off for training over the past few weeks. Thanks to our vet team, she is recovering very well, and we were able to remove her bandage fully last week. She is now joining us in the field again even though she still has to take it slowly, which is a lot to ask from a high energy dog like the Malinois breed!

These two dog sisters could not be any more different. Enya is very self-confident and has the typical temperament and energy which her breed is famous for. She picks up the given tasks very quickly and is already able to perform the basics of a scat detection dog. We use a set of 4 pipes in which we hide a ball together with the target scent, which is cheetah scat. Then we ask the dog to find the pipe containing the toy and scent which she indicates by sitting in front of the pipe. After a few trials, we were able to hide only the scent and then reward her with playing with a ball after she had indicated correctly. This way we were able to teach her that she would only receive her reward when she showed us the target scent. This is a very effective way to make detection work exciting and fun for the dogs. We will soon be able to increase the level of difficulty by adding samples the dog is not meant to indicate at, such as jackal scat.

Her sister, Mena, is very shy and cautious which is partly due to her injury which prevented us from building up her drive in the past few weeks. Still, all dogs have different personalities, and it is up to us to find the right way to teach each dog. We are starting by slowly building up her confidence and increasing her physical fitness. While doing that we will be getting her interested in cheetah scat by placing it next to her toy. Although she loves her toy, she also works very well with food motivation, so we are now using treats to get her use to the pipes. We can already see her improving, which makes us very happy. Even though she works differently from her sister, she is showing us that she is very smart and persistent at her job and, as we know from previous dogs, their performance now does not necessarily predict their working abilities in the field in the future.

It is very exciting to watch these sisters develop in such different ways, and we are excited to see them becoming the new generation of scat detection dogs for the Cheetah Conservation Fund.

Tim Hofmann, CCF Scat Dog Trainer

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