Wildlife detection dog training: A case study on achieving generalization between target odor variations while retaining specificity

Cor Oldenburg, Adee Schoon, I.M.A. Heitkönig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Wildlife detection dogs are required to correctly discriminate target wildlife species odor from nontarget
species odors (specificity), while enabling some degree of target odor variation (generality). Because
there is no standardized training protocol, and little knowledge on training efficiency, we conducted a
case study to test a dog’s training efficiency in detecting 2-week-old wild otter (Lutra lutra) feces (spraint)
odor among feces odors from 6 other large mammal species that often share the otter’s natural habitat,
including fox (Vulpes vulpes), hare (Lepus europaeus), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and cattle (Bos
taurus). The dog was trained using a standard multiple-choice carrousel in a stepwise protocol. We
started with odor samples from fresh captive otter spraints and progressed toward 2-week-old spraints
from wild otters among other mammalian dung odors and tested for specificity and generality after each
training step. We show that training on only 2 variations of spraints from captive otters enabled the dog
to detect all desired spraint odor variations in our protocol, indicating a rapid generalization to variations
of spraint odor the dog was not trained on, while retaining specificity. Testing such concept formation of
target odors should be included in detection dog training and certification and could serve as a quality
control measure of detection dog performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-38
JournalJournal of Veterinary Behavior
Volume13
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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