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A nose for newts: Meet the world's first ever great crested newt detection dog

Great crested newt detection dog
© Wagtail UK - Twitter/Pearce Environment - Twitter

Dogs have a great sense of smell. Their noses can sniff out everything from drugs to people, and one Cocker Spaniel is lending his nose to help a protected species.

By Zoë Monk , 24 Jan 2020

It's well known that dogs have a fantastic sense of smell. Sniffer dogs help to find a whole host of items such as drugs, explosives, firearms, cash and even people.

But now conservation teams want to use the sniffer dogs to help them track a protected species of newt.

A five-year-old Cocker Spaniel called Rocky has been named the world’s first great crested newt detection dog. Sniffer dog Rocky is part of a team of highly trained conservation dogs at Wagtail UK, based in North Wales.

Protected species

Great crested newts are a European protected species. The creatures, their eggs and also their breeding and resting places are protected under UK law. But being able to find and relocate the newts can often prove to be extremely difficult.

However, detection dog specialists at Wagtail UK developed a safe, efficient and accurate search method to detect live great crested newts by harnessing the smelling powers of a sniffer dog.

First-ever great crested newt detection dog

It took 18 months of extensive scientific testing, but sniffer dog Rocky passed all the tests with flying colours and can now be crowned the first detection dog to detect great crested newts. No other dogs have so far undergone this type of ground-breaking testing which scientifically proves that Rocky can detect the scent of the great crested newt.

When Rocky gets a whiff of a great crested newt, he doesn't touch the animal in any way. He will instead either sit or stand and stare at the spot to alert his handler that he detects the presence of the great crested newt.

As part of his training, Rocky has been taught to ignore frogs and smooth newts that aren't protected in the way that great crested newts are.

Collin Singer, managing director at Wagtail UK told the Leader: “This work highlights the innovative manner in which dogs can be used in conservation and to assist with ecological surveys.

"Four years of research, painstaking trial and error - and now success has produced a brand new, innovative method of detection dog training by Wagtail UK and Conservation Dogs to find great crested newts."

Faster and more accurate detection

Using sniffer dogs like Rocky will mean that much larger areas can be covered much faster and more accurately without endangering any other wildlife. Without a trained sniffer dog, the area would have to be painstakingly searched by hand.

While there has been a growing interest in using detection dogs for ecological surveys, there is no standard methodology for testing and accreditation of dog and handler teams.

Rigorous testing

When Rocky and his handler were approached to take part in the research project, they had to undergo rigorous testing to determine whether they could reliably decipher the great crested newt from other amphibians and also be able to locate them in the natural environment.

But both Rocky and his handler passed the testing process and are now helping to protect this very special creature.

Well done Rocky.