In my 2017 article about jobs that dogs do, I mentioned how astonished I was at the variety of actual jobs canines are doing on a regular basis. While I mentioned search and rescue dogs, soldier dogs, and dogs as mascots among many other essential careers, they all had an emphasis on the ways that dogs help and even save humans.As we are not the only creatures on the planet in need of saving or help, I started to wonder if there were other jobs that dogs might do that went beyond merely helping out their human friends and families.
And the answer is yes. Really, it wasn’t a surprise to learn the many ways dogs contribute to the world around them, and not only the human-centric world. Though it is always important to recognize the many ways dogs improve human lives, health and safety, it is also just as important to look at the ways that dogs are actively contributing towards saving the world. So, before I start spouting off the amazing ways dogs improve my life, and the lives of all humans, let’s take a few minutes to acknowledge their generosity towards all fellow Earthlings.
In a late August 2018 report from Smithsonian, it was noted that different areas of the world have started to take aggressive steps in curbing the illegal trade of goods sourced from endangered or at-risk species. One shining example of this is the ban and fight against elephant ivory.
Noting that a near-global ban on ivory from elephants, gravely endangered rhinoceros’ and equally threatened pangolins is a good start, the report said it didn’t go far enough to end the issue. Poaching does not stop because bans are in place, and where the African continent is concerned, it does not end with ivory. There are also many types of rare and endangered woods, plants, and animals smuggled through airports and harbors daily.
That is why Kenya’s main port at Mombasa is now home to a potent anti-smuggling team. The port is famed as the hub of the ivory trade, with a BBC report indicating that up twenty tons of it have been seized there in just a five-year span. That translates to nearly 2,500 elephants.
“To crack down on the trade, the World Wildlife Fund, the wildlife trade organization TRAFFIC and the Kenya Wildlife Service teamed up to train sniffer dogs.” Through a process known as RASCO (Remote Air Sampling for Canine Olfaction), the dogs are trained to detect ivory, rhino horn and other materials. The team at the port then takes a sample of air from inside any suspect cargo containers and allow the dogs to examine it. If there is even a hint of forbidden materials, the authorities step in.
Has it worked? In the past, it the dogs were able to catch 26 individual shipments in just six months and tested around 2,000 containers each day. This took a toll on the dogs and the humans, though. The new method allows the dogs to remain in a climate controlled space and to simply sniff the air samples in a matter of seconds. It is also far more precise and does not demand that any suspect container be emptied. The suction device is strong enough to capture even trace amounts of scent, and the dogs are so well-trained that they never fail to catch the contraband.
Is this the only place such programs are at work against ivory poaching in Africa? No, and there is another program in the Maasai Maru Reserve of Kenya. Here, dogs are trained to detect the scent of weapons as well as contraband materials. Additionally, specialized bloodhounds are being trained to track down poachers throughout the enormous stretches of land contained inside the park.
In South Africa, rhino poaching is a real threat and here too, dogs are being brought in to save the day. Kruger National Park is home to 80% of the world’s rhino population, and so it is a huge target for poaching. In 2007 alone, more than a dozen of these beautiful and endangered creatures were killed for their tusks. Things are only worsening, and in July of 2018 a shootout between rangers and poachers resulted in the death of one of the dedicated rangers.
As an NPR report noted, “To combat rhino poaching, rangers have a bevy of sophisticated resources at their command, ranging from thermal-imaging cameras to aircraft. But one of the most effective is strikingly low-tech: dogs.”
Only introduced to the program in 2012, the dogs have assisted in around 80% of arrests made since that time. There are different breeds in the program with some capable of detecting the illicit materials and others able to track down the poachers almost anywhere in the park’s boundaries. The rangers operate a “specialized unit of pack dogs trained to run down poachers in the bush, while rangers follow from above in helicopters,” and they have caused poaching to drop by 24% in the past year.
There are scores of animals actively protecting and preserving other animals, and it is not always about herding dogs. Though, one incredibly sweet example of this involves the Maremma sheepdogs on Warrnambool’s Middle Island, off the south coast of Australia. These herding dogs keep the island’s Little Penguin population safe during the hours of low tide, when the birds are especially vulnerable to predators. With a strong bond between dogs and birds, the relationship is quite profound and just another example of why dogs should rate as some of the world’s greatest super heroes!
In addition to dogs helping to save the planet by saving endangered species, there are also many dogs actively working to protect and conserve the natural environment. For example, the organization Working Dogs for Conservation is “the world’s leading conservation detection dog organization…[combining] expert canine data collection with cutting-edge laboratory techniques to help answer some of the most pressing questions in conservation.”
While their specially trained pups are also trained to fight poaching, they also have dogs that can provide support for ecological monitoring and habitat mapping, aquatic species detection, invasive species detection, and disease and contaminant detection. This means that they can often detect unwelcome plants even as they emerge from the soil, monitor and map movements of such important species as bears, cougars or wolves without the use of any trapping or radio tagging, and so much more.
On top of all of this, the organization relies heavily on high-drive shelter dogs that would have, more than likely, been euthanized if not placed in one of the conservation or protection programs.
A similar organization exists in the UK, Conservation Dogs, and their highly trained pups are experts at live animal detection, scat detection and carcass detection as well as “product of animal origin detection,” also known as anti-poaching initiatives. Through their services they can help preservation groups and others to figure out such difficult issues as mortality rates of at-risk animal species (such as the numbers of dead birds or bats in an area around wind turbines), help to find and clear areas where endangered species may be at risk, and even find animal droppings to help organizations calculate population size, do DNA tests and more.
In fact, the ability to detect animal scat is not limited to land-based endeavors alone. In a recent Washington Post article, a dog named Tucker was discussed. Based in Washington State and the Puget Sound area, it seems Tucker is able to identify and find whale feces (that floats for only minutes) which is helping scientists figure out why the region’s crucially endangered Orcas are declining in population.
The article also looked at a dog named Remi, able to detect sources of water pollution, and explaining that humans never train a dog to smell. What we can do is train them to tell us what they may have found in all of their highly attuned sniffing.
It may seem odd, but if you pay attention to news about dogs with the intensity that I do, you’d find that there are a lot of people actively involving their dogs in recycling initiatives. Yes, it is to draw attention on social media or informational videos, but it is inarguable that these dogs (and their willingness to accept training in tasks associated with recycling) inspire many people to get onboard the “green” team.
Take Puglet, a sweet heart of a performer who shows how simple it can be to recycle in a charming promotional video on YouTube. Another pup gets in on the same recycling action, along with energy conservation in Power Saving Dog – Environmental Movie that will work well at shaming any energy wasters out there. Suffice it to say that this well-trained pup knows how to go about reducing energy consumption, avoiding food waste and conserving water, and all in under two minutes of screen time!
And if I haven’t convinced you that dogs are some of the world’s best recyclers, you can always take the example of Tubby. This yellow lab has made it into the famous Guinness Book of World Records under the “Most Bottles Recycled by a Dog” listing. In 2010, Tubby was able to help his pet parent Sandra Gilmore recycle around 26,000 plastic bottles over the course of a six-year span.
The secret to their success? Tubby simply collected every plastic bottle he found on his daily walks, crushed them and then handed them to Sandra. Though he passed away in 2016, it is believed that he was able to recycle more than 50k bottles in his lifetime by picking up at least six on each walk.
So prolific in his quest to green up the environment, he was even given a civic award from his hometown in Wales.
As you can see, dogs are not just about helping humans (or themselves). Yes, many dogs are people pleasers and take to training as a way of receiving the praise they love to get from their pet parents or families. However, many dogs have such a drive towards sniffing, hunting and tracking that they use their amazing powers for the forces of good.
You can also use this information to see if your dog can be trained to help out around the house or the community. As you might remember from an article I did a while ago about household tasks that dogs can do, it is possible to train dogs to help with things like sorting laundry, and keeping specific doors closed (I taught Janice and Leroy that the refrigerator door is never to left ajar). Go ahead and teach your pup to close the kitchen cabinets, or under the skin cabinets, doors to the outside of the property, and the fridge, too.
You can also ask them to help with trash cleanup, and maybe start challenging Tubby’s world record for recycling. Though I used this to teach Janice and Leroy to help me with items on the floor inside of the house, the commands can work almost anywhere. Just be sure you have a can (like a five-gallon bucket from Home Depot or Lowe’s) and you should be able to clean up your house, yard or community with their help.
I’ve also seen dogs trained to find things, pick them up and bring them. Whether this is lost keys or you train your dog to be a search and rescue dog, the basics are the same. Go ahead and make a game of this, and you can have a dog that can help you find the cat if it gets out and gets lost, one of the kids if they happen to wander or ignore your repeated calls to come inside for dinner, or even a lost person in the community.
I hate using the word “use” when speaking about dogs, but in this sense, they are incredibly useful beings to get to know. If you cannot train your own dog to save the world, take time to find at least one group that asks for dogs’ assistance in saving the world, and give them support in their efforts.