Our Most Enthusiastic Team Member – Groot the Detection Dog!
Our youngest and most energetic team member Groot has been hard at work training to become a wildlife detection dog in the Science for Wildlife team. Groot will assist us in locating and tracking native wildlife by smelling and recognising their scat.
Groot is our third generation of wildlife detection dogs within the S4W team, following on from the great work of our previous team member Badger, and our current detection dog Smudge. The use of detection dogs to identify scat is relatively new to Australia and is an incredibly effective method of tracking wildlife.
A detection dog can cover in 5 minutes the same area that 3 people could cover in 1 hour. Our previous detection dog Badger was able to detect quoll scats up to 40 meters away in thick bushland!
Groot’s undergone considerable training and still has a few areas to develop before graduating to a detection dog, however he’s made huge strides in his progress over the past few months and has an extraordinary work ethic.
Developing focus and precision
In his first year on the team Groot showed an amazing work ethic with great signs of progress. You can read all about Groot’s first year with us in his birthday article here.
Now at the spritely age of 18 months, Groot has spent the past 6 months completing further training with his owner and handler Dr Kellie Leigh, and has shown great progress in his ability to track and recognise koala scat.
Dr Kellie is currently working with Groot to improve his focus and has been using toy rewards which Groot responds very positively to. It’s important that our detection dogs are incredibly focused when out in the field, so they don’t get distracted by local wildlife and always obey commands from their handlers.
As stated by Dr Kellie:
“Before we work him in the bush we need to ensure he is so focused on his work that he is never tempted to chase wildlife, and we need to make sure we have 100% recall on him when we need it, to keep him safe and wildlife safe too.”
Groot’s most recent field training has required him to complete runs past possum poo to test his sniffing abilities. His trainers will put out non-target scats to train Groot not to go for those scats. Possum scat can be very similar in smell to koala poo, especially Mountain Brush Tail Possums as they also have a diet of exclusively eucalyptus leaves. This means their scat has so many similarities in smell and look to koala scat.
Dogs won’t use visuals to identify the scat, they just go off smell, however the similarities in look between possum and koala poo makes it very difficult for the dog’s handlers to tell the difference! Some cheeky dogs have picked up on this and will detect possum scat in order to receive a reward. This is one considerable challenge during this aspect of training to ensure Groot knows the difference and won’t cheat when out in the bush!
Our work with Groot continues, and with his promising work ethic and eagerness to dive into any task, we’re confident he will be a successful detection dog in no time.
For further information on our other projects, visit our projects page here.
To learn more about Science for Wildlife, visit our website here.