I’ve been working with dogs my entire adult life. I know from experience that dogs can detect any substance, in any environment, regardless of distractions, given the right training.For 16 years, I’ve been giving them the right training.
In the beginning, I trained sniffer dogs to detect the usual targets – drugs and cigarettes. As a volunteer, then a staff member, then director and head of training at a leading detection dog training company, I trained detection dogs for the police, the armed forces, UK Border Force and HMRC. We provided dogs to detect explosives, firearms, drugs, cash, tobacco, live bodies (stowaways) and even human remains – saving money and saving lives.
Despite my experience working with these wonderful animals, I found it astonishing, mind-boggling really, that dogs were able to detect even the smallest trace of odour no matter how concealed. I believed that I could train our dogs to find anything. I was desperate to put that theory to the test.
After seven years in the business, I took a call from a lady in South Africa. She needed help with training her dogs in cheetah scat (poo) detection for the Endangered Wildlife Trust. This was just the opportunity I’d been looking for – tracking down big cats in South Africa.
That was the start of my conservation story.
In South Africa, I met a wonderful woman who is now my friend, Rox Brummer from Green Dogs Conservation. Rox and I worked together to develop a feasibility study assessing the effectiveness of using dogs to detect cheetah scat in the hot and dusty South African terrain. By analysing the scat samples, conservationists would be able to track and document the cheetahs without the need for darting any of these shy and vulnerable animals.
Dogs, I soon realised, were ideally suited to locating samples over vast landscapes.
Whereas human search teams tend to look in the “usual” areas, a dog is unbiased. It is led by its nose not by sight. Literally working like a dog, a trained detection animal will work far quicker than a human, covering a larger area in less time. These qualities make dog-led searches very efficient, ethical, non-biased and cost effective – an important consideration in conservation these days.
Excited by this experience, I started to train dogs exclusively for anti-poaching and wildlife protection projects. The company I founded was the first of its kind in the UK to offer specialist dog detection specifically for the conservation and wildlife sector.
“What you do makes a difference and you have to decide
what kind of difference you want to make”
– Dr Jane Goodall
When I first started working in conservation, I did it with next to no business acumen or community supporting me. But I had total belief in my canine colleagues. Their instincts, and my training, led to some stunning successes. In fact, we quite literally set the bar for training dogs in the field of wildlife detection work.
When we began, no one had ever trained dogs to sniff out bat carcasses, for example, or pine marten scat in the UK as far as we were aware – some of our early wins. Nobody ever dreamed we could do what we are doing. I like to think that we opened people’s eyes to the amazing applications a dog’s nose can be used for.
You can read about some of our ground breaking projects here.
I travelled the world with my training techniques and worked in some amazing places – South Africa, Gabon, Tanzania, Mozambique, Montana – giving me a wealth of knowledge I am delighted to share. And I am thrilled to have won four business awards for my achievements – proof that my idea had the potential I always thought it would and a real incentive to accomplish more.
After a brief absence to start a family in 2015, I’m back in the conservation scene with the launch of Conservation K9 Consultancy. It’s the first standalone freelance consultancy in the UK to train dogs specifically for wildlife detection, logistical support, mentoring and training.
It’s been a labor of love, and I can’t imagine why I didn’t start it sooner.
In just a few months of trading, we’ve had features in Dogs Monthly Magazine and Dogs Today. We have done pine marten scat searches for Shropshire Mammal Group and have run seminars for the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers. We’ve had requests to train dogs for bat carcass and bat dropping detection. And there are plenty more projects in the pipeline!
I am privileged to do the work the work I feel called to do. Especially when I realise that my skills as a dog trainer helps researchers to collect quality data for some really significant causes.
And I am still able to consult with contraband and border control issues. These remain strategic and valuable services for many of my clients, and I extend a warm welcome to anyone wishing to enquire about my customs and security services.