Dogs CAN Learn That … and That, and That!

Working dogs for conservation logo with a dog image

Do you know anyone who has more than one service dog because “one dog couldn’t be taught to do all the tasks” that person needs? Have you ever heard a dog owner (or worse, trainer) claim that dogs “can’t learn” to distinguish similar commands or tasks or learn multiple related tasks — for instance, detection of more than one type of drug or contraband or … the list of things that people claim dogs “can’t learn” is endless. And mostly wrong.

“Our conservation detection dogs are agile, portable, and endlessly trainable. They are an efficient, highly sensitive, and non-invasive way to gather high-quality data.” — Working Dogs for Conservation website

Fortunately for high-drive dogs in shelters around the U.S., WD4C does not believe these myths. This Montana-based organization trains dog teams that literally travel the globe helping to save endangered species, find and route out invasive species, and intercept contraband cargo that includes products from endangered animals. Many of these dogs are the “bad dogs” of shelters — obsessive about tug or balls, never tired, never giving up on a goal, too crazy for most pet owners to handle. Through their Rescues 2the Rescue program, they teach shelter staff to identify these dogs and help connect the dogs with organizations that train detection dogs.

They train each dog to do many jobs. Some of these jobs require identifying animals from body parts, scat, tracks, or other minimal evidence of their presence. Some require identifying plants, animal species, or contaminants in the water or on land. Some dogs are learning to detect diseases, like brucellosis, a highly bacterial infection that affects, among others, cattle, bison, and elk in Montana. The dogs are comfortable working in a huge range of environments, including traveling to international sites. They also excel at being loved companions at home with their human partners. The WD4C dogs are living proof of dogs’ versatility, intelligence, and ability to learn any challenge a human can put before them.

This is an organization that believes in collaboration. It shares its data, training methods, work with shelters, training organizations — and trainers. Love teaching and doing scent detection with dogs? Get in touch with WD4C. Support them. Learn from them.

About Pam Hogle

Pam Hogle is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on dogs. Her Thinking Dog Blog (www.thinkingdogblog.com) looks at how dogs think and learn and encourages readers to challenge their dogs' minds as they improve their relationships with those dogs. Pam also teaches at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park, California, an accredited university that focuses on the human-canine partnership. She lives in Petaluma, California with two thinking golden retrievers, Jana and Cali.

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