What is a conservation dog?

    A conservation dog is a working canine that uses its sense of smell to detect and locate a nature-related target odor.

    Very similar to arson, explosives, cancer, or bed-bug sniffing dogs, these canines are incredible sniffing machines. They can traverse vast spaces and trek for miles, all while using their incredible nose to lead the way to their target, which is often impossible for a human to see until they are right in front of it!

    A search and rescue dog doing water detection training

    One very common question we are asked is: what kind of dog makes the best conservation dog? The answer lies less in WHAT the dog is, and more in WHO the dog is. While they can come in any breed, shape, or size, we find that there are a few characteristics that most conservation dogs have:


    Physical characteristics

    Medium sized dogs with a low-maintenance coat are generally the most common conservation dogs. They need to be prepared to work in harsh environments with sticky burs, hot weather, and rough terrain. And in an emergency, it is easier to evacuate a 50lb dog than a 100lb one. But that doesn't mean a short-legged or long-coated dog wouldn't have the drive and ability to do the job! And every job can be different, which means a small-sized or winter-loving, thick-coated dog could be a perfect canine candidate.

    MCDI K9 Ernie doing fieldwork in heavy brush

    Mental characteristics

    Conservation dogs are working dogs. The desire to work is a driving force for these dogs. They like puzzles, like to investigate, and want to solve problems. They are incredibly smart. Due to the nature of their job, which can take them into remote areas with a variety of environmental conditions, they need an awesome working relationship with their handlers that heavily relies on trust and communication to make sure they are efficient and safe.


    Emotional characteristics

    Field work can be taxing! Dogs working with rare species are susceptible to disappointment, just like their human counterpart, when they work an entire day without finding their target. That is why training and teamwork are crucial. In our organization, we train our canine partners for appropriate-levels of real world working conditions to ensure both the dog and handler have the emotional stamina for continued success. We do this by training in "blank" locations (sans the target) so the team doesn't develop an unrealistic expectation that they'll always run into their target.

    MCDI K9 Ernie (and handler Laura) conducting fieldwork surveys

    Want to learn more about how MCDI is using conservation dogs? Click here to visit our Project page on our website!


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    Midwest Conservation Dogs

    Offering services in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and beyond!

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    P.O. Box 13032, Milwaukee, WI 53213

    501(c)(3) Tax ID #81-4961971