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At work or play?

November 12, 2010 |  2:26 pm


Working dogs, with their keen sense of smell, have long helped authorities sniff out narcotics in airports, bombs in war zones, fugitives and lost humans, both dead and alive. Now their noses are being put to use in the wild -- helping wildlife biologists find cryptic animals, hidden animal scat and rare plants that so easily elude human detection.

Read more about it in a story in Saturday's Los Angeles Times, which follows one detection dog that shows puny-nosed humans how to sniff out grizzly bear scat in western Montana.

It's a rare dog that makes the cut in this line of work. Trainers look for those with intense focus and high play drive. Theirs is the kind of temperament that can drive casual pet owners nuts, but will power these pooches to race up and down mountains and across vast landscapes in search of their target -- all so they can get their ball or other reward.

Most come from the working dog breeds -- the shepherds herders, etc. But from the dog's perspective, are they working or playing? The line blurs.

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-- Kenneth R. Weiss

Photo: Pepin, a Belgian Malinois, loves to play tug with Megan Parker, director of Working Dogs for Conservation. He got his reward for following his nose to locate grizzly bear scat in Montana's Blackfoot Valley. Credit: Kenneth R. Weiss/Los Angeles Times

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