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Article

Diving in Nose First: The Influence of Unfamiliar Search Scale and Environmental Context on the Search Performance of Volunteer Conservation Detection Dog–Handler Teams

1
Anthrozoology Research Group, School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Bendigo, VIC 3552, Australia
2
School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3083, Australia
3
Conservation Ecology Centre Cape Otway, Cape Otway, VIC 3233, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Kate Hill
Animals 2021, 11(4), 1177; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11041177
Received: 3 March 2021 / Revised: 15 April 2021 / Accepted: 16 April 2021 / Published: 20 April 2021
(This article belongs to the Collection Health, Behaviour and Performance in Working Dog Teams)
Conservation detection dogs (CDDs) are trained to locate biological material from plants and animals of interest to conservation efforts and are often more effective and economical than other detection methods. However, the financial costs of developing and appropriately caring for CDDs can make them inaccessible for smaller conservation organizations. Training skilled volunteers to work with suitable pet dogs may help increase accessibility. We sought to further develop the skills of 13 volunteer dog–handler teams that were trained in a previous study to detect myrrh essential oil in controlled laboratory conditions. We recorded the proportion of targets found, false alerts made and search duration of the dog–handler team group through progressive training stages outdoors that increased in size and environmental complexity. First, teams searched various-sized areas before and after 12 weeks of search training on a sports-field. Next, teams searched various-sized areas before and after seven weeks of training in bushland. Overall, teams found approximately 20% fewer targets in each unfamiliar context, compared to performance in familiar contexts. However, teams typically found 10–20% more targets after a period of training compared to baseline searches. Search performance varied between teams, yet six teams found at least 78% of targets after training in bushland. Our results help to validate our stepped approach to training and highlight the need to train volunteer CDD teams to work in various-sized areas and environments.
Conservation detection dogs (CDDs) are trained to locate biological material from plants and animals of interest to conservation efforts and are often more effective and economical than other detection methods. However, the financial costs of developing and appropriately caring for CDDs can nonetheless prohibit their use, particularly by smaller conservation organizations. Training skilled volunteers to work with suitable pet dogs may help address this constraint. We sought to further develop the skills of 13 volunteer dog–handler teams that were trained in a previous study to detect myrrh essential oil in controlled laboratory conditions. We assessed search sensitivity, search effort, search precision and false-alert instances through progressive training stages increasing in size and environmental complexity. First, teams searched various-sized areas before and after 12 weeks of search training on a sports-field. Next, teams searched various-sized areas before and after seven weeks of training in bushland. Overall, search sensitivity decreased by approximately 20% in each unfamiliar context, compared to performance in familiar contexts. However, sensitivity typically improved from baseline performance by 10–20% after a period of training. Six teams found at least 78% of targets after training in bushland, yet sensitivity ranged from 29% to 86% between teams. We maintain that the foundational skills developed previously were necessary to prepare volunteer teams for field surveys involving conservation related targets. However, our results highlight the need to also train volunteer CDD teams in search scale and environmental contexts similar to their intended working conditions. View Full-Text
Keywords: detection dog; detection dog training; search performance; search sensitivity; search context; search strategy; performance generalization; environmental influence; conservation detection dog; volunteer detection dog; detection dog training; search performance; search sensitivity; search context; search strategy; performance generalization; environmental influence; conservation detection dog; volunteer
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MDPI and ACS Style

Rutter, N.J.; Howell, T.J.; Stukas, A.A.; Pascoe, J.H.; Bennett, P.C. Diving in Nose First: The Influence of Unfamiliar Search Scale and Environmental Context on the Search Performance of Volunteer Conservation Detection Dog–Handler Teams. Animals 2021, 11, 1177. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11041177

AMA Style

Rutter NJ, Howell TJ, Stukas AA, Pascoe JH, Bennett PC. Diving in Nose First: The Influence of Unfamiliar Search Scale and Environmental Context on the Search Performance of Volunteer Conservation Detection Dog–Handler Teams. Animals. 2021; 11(4):1177. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11041177

Chicago/Turabian Style

Rutter, Nicholas J., Tiffani J. Howell, Arthur A. Stukas, Jack H. Pascoe, and Pauleen C. Bennett 2021. "Diving in Nose First: The Influence of Unfamiliar Search Scale and Environmental Context on the Search Performance of Volunteer Conservation Detection Dog–Handler Teams" Animals 11, no. 4: 1177. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11041177

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