Surveys using conservation detection dogs have grown increasingly popular as an efficient means to gather monitoring data, particularly for elusive and low-density species such as carnivores. Working with dogs can greatly increase the area surveyed for wildlife and the detection rate of survey targets. Due to the confounding effects of scent dispersion and dog movement, however, it can be difficult to estimate the area searched in a survey. Additionally, although detection dogs have been used in studies under a wide range of air temperature, humidity, and wind conditions, little research has examined how environmental factors affect detection dogs' effectiveness for “wildlife surveys. Between 2003 and 2005, we trained 2 dogs to assist us with surveys for mammalian carnivore scats in northern California. We conducted controlled search trials to assess how the dogs' scat detection rates were affected by the distance of scats from the transect search line, as well as variation in six environmental factors. Both dogs detected >75% of scats located within 10 m, and the dogs' detection rates decreased with increasing distance of scats from the transect line. Among environmental factors, precipitation was the most important variable explaining variation in scat detection rates for both dogs. Precipitation likely degrades or removes scats from the landscape over time, and detection rates increase as scat begins to accumulate following the last substantial (>5 mm) rain event of the year. If scat accumulation is not controlled for in ecosystems with a strong seasonal pattern of rainfall, it could lead to considerable bias in study results. We recommend that researchers report the conditions under which conservation detection dog surveys took place and analyze how detection rates vary as a function of distance, temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind, and other locally important environmental factors.
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Vol. 75 • No. 1