I’m Pete Coppolillo, executive director @WD4C.

Working Dogs for Conservation, is a non-profit based in Montana, that trains American shelter dogs for life-saving conservation work across the globe, including Zambia, Africa to help battle the elephant and rhino poaching crisis. The Zambia project is documented in the national PBS film “Shelter Me: Community Matters,” that is hosted by Dr. Jane Goodall. View film clip HERE and local listings ShelterMe.tv

Proof: https://twitter.com/WD4C/status/845400384948649986

Comments: 110 • Responses: 47  • Date: 

belle25480 karma

Could you please tell all of your dogs that they are good boys and/or good girls for me? They are good puppers and need to know.

wd4c46 karma

Message delivered, with scratches, treats and love!!

Snowbank_Lake45 karma

This is really cool! Do you hope to see more organizations find jobs for shelter dogs? Seems like a great way to keep them from being so lonely.

wd4c29 karma

Yes! We've created a web community (rescues2therescue.org) to do exactly that. Our hope is that more conservation organizations will join, and then we'll expand to search and rescue, police departments, military, etc...

yes_its_him27 karma

What does the dog do when it detects conservation?

wd4c32 karma

Good one! Unfortunately, the dogs just detect whatever we train them to (Ivory, rhino horn, guns, ammunition, or the scat of threatened or endangered species). it's up to the people to make the conservation happen!

we_re_all_dead17 karma

Are you hiring ?

wd4c29 karma

No positions actively open right now, but we're growing, so we will be hiring again in the not-too-distant future. We'll announce it on FB and Twitter and our web page: WD4C.org https://www.facebook.com/WorkingDogsForConservation @WD4C

we_re_all_dead5 karma

great ! what kind of qualifications would one need then ?

wd4c20 karma

Well, most new handlers are trained in anthrozoology (Human/animal bond) with an emphasis on dogs. Some background in wildlife biology helps too. Eventually, we may also be looking for folks to do community outreach for things like foster programs and working with shelters too...

Egypticus4 karma

I have lots of experience working with dogs, communicating with the public, and working in the conservation field. I want in too!

wd4c3 karma

Watch out! We may rope you in sooner rather than later, and there is NO ESCAPE!! Seriously, join our mailing list, follow us on FB and Twitter and keep an eye out for our next opening!

Chtorrr13 karma

Do you have a favorite success story?

wd4c90 karma

Yes! Ruger who was rescued from the Blackfeet reservation here in Montana, and who lost his sight during training, was on his first deployment in Zambia. An overloaded bus came to the checkpoint-- the kind of bus that in the past they would have just waved through without searching because it would have taken so long. With all the people watching, Ruger searched the bus in about 4 minutes, and he found a single primer-cap. It's like the cap to an old cap-gun, but nowadays they're used to poach elephants with illegal homemade muzzleloaders. All the passengers on the bus were watching and they couldn't believe it-- Ruger is now famous and poachers know that they are not safe when he's on duty!

mitymo9 karma

Love what you are doing! Do organizations/clients come to you with their needs and then you find the dogs with the drive to be trained for that need?

wd4c19 karma

Yes, that's usually how it works. Then we train them (the people) in husbandry, handling, etc. We support the dog/handler teams going forward so that they maintain the highest levels of care and performance.

We also start some of our own projects when we're trying something innovative or new-- for example when we started working on disease and aquatic contaminants (http://wd4c.org/diseasecontaminant.html) we didn't know if it would work, so we led the project as a pilot. (Both worked (!) so now folks can come hire us to do that kind of work too...)

inthe_hollow9 karma

Been following your organization for awhile. Using shelter dogs as a noninvasive way to track species is so COOL, and an exciting indicator of things we are able to accomplish if we work together. I know the Navy has worked with dolphins in the past, what are some other animals that you think have the potential to become "office coworkers," so to speak?

And if you could ask any of your pups one thing, what would you ask them?

PS- I love everything that you and organizations like WA's Conservation K9 program do! Keep up the good work!

wd4c13 karma

I'm sure that lots of species have good enough noses to do the work-- bears, pigs, and lots of ungulates too. The problem is getting them to tell you what they smell! The key to this work is not the dogs nose, as fabulous as it is. The key is our shared evolution and the bond we share-- that's what allows us to understand and work with each other.

If I could ask them one thing it would be how they feel about saving the world? Do they care about all the wild animals and wild places they're saving or is it all about the ball?

Thanks for the kind words and the support! Tell your friends! And if they are as moved as you are, encourage them to donate!!! http://wd4c.org/donate.html

tortsy16 karma

What is the most common dog you use?

wd4c17 karma

Almost all dogs have the olfactory ability to do the work. We select for drive, specifically, toy drive, which translates into an insatiable motivation to work and find their targets. We have german shepherds, belgian malinois, labs, border collies and mixed breed dogs. As you can see in the Shelter Me video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vzdE_HDnBo), both Vicka and Sara are mixed breeds. The ideal dog is also not too big (so we can load them in crates and cars and take them places), but also large enough that they can jump over logs, check high spots on cars and boats and such... here's the current lineup: http://wd4c.org/ourdogs.html

tortsy12 karma

That sounds very nice. All the best to your work!

wd4c6 karma

Thank you! We hope you'll stay in touch! At our website (WD4C.org) you can join our email list, or follow our FB and twitter feeds! And of course, you can support the dogs and our work by donating!

Skeeterpuss2 karma

Is there a reason you don't use pit bulls? They're some of the most driven and athletic dogs I've seen, and obviously there's no shortage of them in shelters.

wd4c10 karma

I hear you! We all have a soft spot for pits and we share your take on them-- great drive and great potential! They are a challenge because some agencies and local governments don't want them because they either have breed restrictions or are worried that "the public" (which seems to LOVE pits!) will object. In Africa, we need thicker coated dogs in places with tsetse files, because dogs are susceptible to sleeping sickness-- unfortunately, it's yet another set of circumstances that conspire against pit bulls, but rest assured, we're keeping our eyes open for the right opportunity!

chillax634 karma

This is great work you're doing! Has it been shown that having these trained dogs reduces poaching in the areas that they're deployed? Thanks for doing the work you do!

wd4c9 karma

The dogs have an amazing impact. They have seized scores of guns and put hundreds of poachers out of business! They also have great deterrence value, because word gets out among poachers. They're also effective at disrupting the smuggling of illicit wildlife products. We'd prefer to stop the poaching before animals are killed, but the the anti-trafficking work is important because it allows wildlife authorities to catch middlemen and the people who pay villagers to poach. Thanks for the support and the kind words!!

claymetz3 karma

This is my dream job. I have a masters of science in biology and love dogs. How did you get started? Any tips for a recent graduate to get into a job like this.

claymetz2 karma

Also I should add that I live in Montana and would love to volunteer if possible.

wd4c4 karma

Thanks!! You can get directly involved through your shelter and the Rescues to the Rescue program: http://www.rescues2therescue.org/ All 4 of our founders had backgrounds in biology and dog training. Nowadays our new handlers often have degrees in anthrozoology, and it helps to have some knowledge of wildlife biology. Good luck!! It's great work.

Strokeforce3 karma

Is there anything new you learnt about dogs because of this project?

wd4c9 karma

So many things!! For example, did you know that dogs can tell the scat of a diseased animal from that of an uninfected one?!? http://wd4c.org/brucellosis.html It's also wonderful to see the bond that develops between dogs and handlers, even in places like Zambia, where people don't traditionally keep pets. see Vicka and Namabanda in ShelterMe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vzdE_HDnBo

organicjo3 karma

It is wonderful that you are giving shelter dogs a new lease of life in this way! Do you need people to go into shelters and do initial evaluations of potential candidates? I currently train search and rescue dogs and the drives/ characteristics required for you work are probably very similar.

wd4c4 karma

Yes!! Please check out http://www.rescues2therescue.org/ ! Your shelter(s) needs to sign up, and then you can help us, and other orgs like us, find dogs. THANK YOU!!!

gio10gic3 karma

I have NEVER been able to teach a dog to target. I can teach a dog the name of a toy, and to go get a toy sometimes, but getting a dog to pick up something I am pointing at, or find my other shoe has been IMPOSSIBLE. Is the secret in the "reward" or the timing of a "clicker" or something else? Your dogs can find a just about anything you want. I have a Black and Tan Coon Hound and a Cardigan Corgie. These are smart breeds. Am I the dumb one?

wd4c8 karma

Our "secret-ish sauce" is dog selection. We screen over 1000 dogs for each one we put to work, so I'm guessing nobody in your mix is dumb. It may just bee that the corgie and the hound are motivated to do other things (herd and course, I would guess). Our dogs are WILDLY toy motivated, and the target (which they don't pick up-- we train passive alerts, so they just sit next to the target when they find it) is the gateway to the ball or tug or whatever that particular dog's reward is. Good luck with both dogs, though... I bet they're both super smart and fun.

Bridgetthemidget3 karma

Are you hiring????

wd4c3 karma

No positions actively open right now, but we're growing, so we will be hiring again in the not-too-distant future. We'll announce it on FB and Twitter and our web page: http://WD4C.org https://www.facebook.com/WorkingDogsForConservation @WD4C

3reptile2 karma

What exactly does your organization do?

wd4c3 karma

Historically, we have done a lot of ecological monitoring work-- non-invasive sampling of wildlife by finding where they live (by finding their scats) or counting them using fecal DNA. Nowadays we still do the ecological monitoring, but we also stop the spread of invasive species like weeds or zebra mussels, and we do lots of law enforcement work, stopping poaching and wildlife trafficking. You can check it all out at http://WD4C.org.

NotAnArdvark2 karma

As I understand, the dogs that end up in Africa need to be long-haired (to protect them against certain bugs, maybe?), do they have trouble with the heat?

Related, I imagine the handlers in Africa had/have a different attitude towards dogs than many in North America do. Do you address that at all with the recipients of these dogs?

wd4c3 karma

Yes, managing heat is a big issue, so we go to great lengths to keep them cool-- they have little dog-sized swimming pools for when they're not working, and when they travel they have crate fans, get watered down, and often ride in air conditioned vehicles.

And yes, people's relationships to dogs are very different in Africa. Most of the handlers we work with self-select, so they're already interested in and like dogs even before they start. Check out Namabanda here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vzdE_HDnBo it's great to watch!

DongleNocker2 karma

My dog has naturally become prolific detecting small animals and cheese burgers. How cold I harness her abilities to find something worth money instead?

wd4c6 karma

THAT is the question! The trick will be to find out what motivates her-- and it sounds like you know that: small animals and cheese burgers. Next step, to teach her that the way to get small animals and cheeseburgers is to find the OTHER things you ask her to...gold watches lost at the beach, rare coins, morel mushrooms...etc. Good luck, and please remember us when you've made your fortune!

DongleNocker0 karma

so you are saying that I should setup a reward program, where I give her a live mouse to play with after she find me a gold nugget?

wd4c3 karma

Well, We wouldn't recommend a live mouse! Maybe a stuffed one would motivate her?

TheCrawlingDude2 karma

All right, a nasty question: did you have dealings with PETA? What did you think about them?

wd4c8 karma

Our dogs LOVE the work they do, and anybody who has ever watched them do it agrees! We're also a little different from most organizations because our dogs live in homes with their handlers. A big part of that is for ethical reasons-- we want them to have nice working lives and long happy retirements-- but it's also because dogs and handlers that are well bonded and really know each other work well together, so they're more effective too. Finally, many of the dogs that end up working for us would have been euthanized had they not come to us (Sara, the yellow lab mix at the end of this video was 20 minutes from being put down when a volunteer saved her: https://www.facebook.com/ShelterMeTV/videos/1411675875572299/

LeonCompowski2 karma

I have started my dog in Nosework, and he is pretty amazing even as a novice hunter. Is there a way to get him a "real" job like what you all do?

He is a blind/deaf rescue dog. So nose is all he has and he is very driven. :-)

wd4c1 karma

Sounds like you've got a talented guy! We have two blind dogs (Ruger and Atlas-- you can meet them here: http://wd4c.org/ourdogs.html), but nobody deaf. Are you hoping to re-home your dog, or just do some work? If the former, you might check http://rescues2therescue.org and watch a video on how to screen the dog: https://youtu.be/eyAV2sAknlQ .

But if you're looking for work to do together, I wonder if the two of you could work out a method for doing search and rescue together... possibly on lead? Unfortunately, we don't teach classes yet.. maybe someday!

LeonCompowski3 karma

No, he is all mine and not going anywhere. :-)

He is so smart, high energy and talented, I just wondered if there was a way for an "amateur" like me to use his superpower for a good and useful real-life application. I wondered about S&R....

I am just new to all these scent activities, but trying to learn how to help him be the best dog he can be!

wd4c1 karma

He's lucky to have you! It's clear you're tuned in to him and his potential, so I'm sure you'll both to well. Good luck!!

Ks9h2 karma

What is the difference between toy drive and food drive in training? What's the difference between a dog that's toy driven and one that's more treat driven?

wd4c2 karma

Every dog is different, just like people. We prefer toy drive because they don't get sated after being rewarded over and over again, but the truth is a treat-driven dog (like mine) can work just as effectively as a toy-driven one. The handler just has to be prepared with lots of treats, and be prepared to knock off work if the dog eats so many that they might get filled up or sick!

PeanutButterMouth2 karma


wd4c3 karma

The top three things we look for are Drive, Drive, and Drive! Specifically, toy drive. That's their motivation and their paycheck. You can see a video on how to screen a dog here: https://youtu.be/eyAV2sAknlQ and a the folks at http://shelterme.tv made a great video about the Rescues to the Rescue Project, here: https://www.facebook.com/ifaw.na/videos/1343428275713636/

As far as handler qualifications are concerned, most new handlers are trained in anthrozoology (Human/animal bond) with an emphasis on dogs. Some background in wildlife biology helps too. Good luck! I'm sure you can figure out a way to be involved-- keep after it!

Chtorrr2 karma

Can you tell me about some of the dogs you have rescued?

wd4c9 karma

Sure... Sara, who is in the ShelterMe video with Vicka https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vzdE_HDnBo was 20 minutes from being put down, when a volunteer rescued her. All the dogs have great stories, and you can check them out on our website: http://wd4c.org/ourdogs.html

ConfidentiallyCovert1 karma

The fight is getting very heated now, lots of elephants are killed just because the locals find them destroying their stuff, and sometimes they don't even take their ivory. SO, in what ways will you be using the dogs for conservation? I see one method is to provide a detection service, but what would happen if 4 or 5 dudes with elephant guns and ak 47s come rampaging through your neck of the woods?

wd4c1 karma

We use the dogs for law enforcement. They work under the auspices and authority of national wildlife authorities, so essentially, they are police or para-military dogs. We take their-- and their handlers'-- security very seriously. They are housed in ranger stations and in addition to the tactical training that they receive as rangers, we also train for K9 operational security. Poachers and smugglers are nasty people, and unfortunately they're often the same folks that smuggle guns or drugs or even human trafficking, so you are exactly right: it's a serious issue, and we treat it that way.

[deleted]1 karma


wd4c4 karma

Thanks Moana88. Yes! There's enormous demand. Right now there aren't too many other orgs doing this work, but the number is increasing. Mostly, its NGOs and wildlife authorities adding dogs to their existing programs. Rather than doing the work ourselves, we have shifted to capacity building-- teaching others to do the work and then supporting them. That allows us to have a much larger impact.

moana883 karma

Impressive. I came back from Africa few months ago and the issues are pressing, especially poaching as you're well aware. Thanks for doing this AMA and spreading awareness !

wd4c2 karma

Thanks for joining the conversation, and thanks in advance for helping us spread the word. You can use the great videos that ShelterMe.Tv has made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vzdE_HDnBo

moana881 karma

Great vid, on my fb right now. Where in Zambia? I've spent some time at Vic falls and Kafue NP.

wd4c2 karma

We work in North and South Luangwa, but there are other dog programs starting up all over. Such a wonderful country!

Stormageddon6661 karma

Are you a dog or a cat person?

wd4c7 karma

I have a soft spot for cats, but "cat" and "collaboration" are rarely in the same sentence, and the best part of the human-dog relationship is working together-- that never gets old. So, if I had to pick just one, it'd be dogs.

ravenstar951 karma

What exactly do the dogs detect? And how? Is it similar to police dogs detecting drugs in a car by using smell?

wd4c1 karma

It's very similar-- in fact a lot of our work these days is law enforcement. They detect whatever we train them to. From the scats of threatened and endangered species, to noxious weeds, and nowadays to guns and ammunition, ivory, rhino horn, and even pangolin scales. Here's a cool video that the folks at http://shelterme.tv made: https://www.facebook.com/ShelterMeTV/videos/1411675875572299/

ravenstar951 karma

Wow! That's really amazing. The nose of a dog is truly a master sense lol. Go get 'em puppers!!☺

wd4c1 karma


ColeWeaver1 karma

What a coincidence, I recently decided I want to be a Conservation Officer and eventually be a K-9 unit. I'm in Canada but in America, how long do people typically work as Conservation officers before they get a chance to advance into such a position? What does the dogs training entail? Do you teach them how to track animals or are they more so looking for people? And what breed best suits the position?

wd4c2 karma

Great to hear you're interested in this work! We work closely with Alberta's invasive species program-- here's a video--https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok5PBe1OLfY perhaps you can reach out and observe, or maybe even intern for, that program! As you'll see from our "pack" page, almost all breeds can do the work http://wd4c.org/ourdogs.html Good luck in your career and keep in touch!

bchafes1 karma

As a vegan animal advocate who volunteers in a local shelter - LOVE THIS. Thank you for all you do! Now, to my questions: What is your background? How did you get into this work and did you already have experience training dogs?

wd4c2 karma

Thanks for the support! You can get directly involved through your shelter and the Rescues to the Rescue program: http://www.rescues2therescue.org/ All 4 of our founders had backgrounds in biology and dog training. Nowadays our new handlers often have degrees in anthrozoology, and it helps to have some knowledge of wildlife biology. Good luck!! It's great work.

forava71 karma

What is your favorite named pup? and why?

wd4c2 karma

Ooohh... Hard one: I have multiple favorites-- Sara (the yellow-lab cross, who comes in near the end of this video: https://www.facebook.com/ShelterMeTV/videos/1411675875572299/ ) is a live wire. She was a classic 'out of control' and 'crazy' pup when she came to us, but now she's happy and disciplined and (mostly) under control as she saves rhinos and elephants and other African wildlife.

I'm also partial to diesel (http://wd4c.org/diesel.html) because--full disclosure-- he reminds me of my personal (non-working) dog! He has the same serious and earnest quality about him. You can check out a video of Diesel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok5PBe1OLfY.

And here's the list of all our dogs http://wd4c.org/ourdogs.html Who is YOUR favorite?

outamyhead1 karma

This sounds like a great organisation (I wasn't aware of it until this IAmA), have the dogs had a major impact on hunting down poachers, over the usual park wardens tracking them down, or even preventing poaching?

wd4c6 karma

Yes! The dogs work directly with the local wildlife authorities, so they enhance their existing operations. Seizing trafficked ivory or bushmeat or other wildlife products is a big part of their work, but we are especially proud that they seize guns and ammunition BEFORE animals get poached. They've taken scores of guns out of circulation and prevented hundreds of elephants and rhino and other species from being killed. We're very proud of them!!

Treklow1 karma

Do you use operant conditioning to help train your puppers? I'm starting to train my dog as much as I can to become a service dog for myself (I will get professional help for training) but wanted to try and get some things down with her while I can. Any suggestions? Love seeing pups having such important jobs like this!

wd4c4 karma

We are committed to positive rewards for training. Our dogs are all VERY toy motivated, so the trick is figuring out exactly what they love (e.g. Pepin is crazy for a tug, but Ruger loves the squishey WestPaw toys, etc.) and then linking that to successful work. With the rise of agility training and scentwork and noseworks, there are a lot of great trainers out there, so I'm sure yo and your dog will be successful. Good luck to you both!

mushroomwarlock1 karma

Are you looking to expand at all to other states?

wd4c1 karma

We're always looking for new projects! If you know of other places where there's a need, please feel free to send folks our way or give them our coordinates!

theycallhimthestug1 karma

Is there anything like this in Canada?

wd4c1 karma

Yes!! Alberta has a spectacular program. Check them out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok5PBe1OLfY Full disclosure: we helped set up that program, but they're doing awesome stuff on their own. We're also working with Blanding's turtles too:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6hsyycX4kw

lennydotdotdot1 karma

How do I get in on a program like this?

wd4c1 karma

Most new handlers are trained in anthrozoology (Human/animal bond) with an emphasis on dogs. Some background in wildlife biology helps too. Eventually, we may also be looking for folks to do community outreach for things like foster programs and working with shelters too... join the email list, follow us on Twitter and FB and keep an eye out for openings! Thanks for your interest!

Chocolatelover6661 karma

This is amazing! I saw you said that the founders had backgrounds in zoology and wildlife biology, but how did they get the idea for this particular project?

wd4c1 karma

Back in the 90s, the founders were all working with wildlife and recognizing the difficulties, expense, and risk of capturing animals. That was about the time that it became possible to get DNA from feces (or "scats"), so they teamed up with colleagues to find a better way to find lots of scat. It turned out that dogs were not only good at finding scats, but also very good at discriminating the scats of different species, which was great, because nobody wasted their lab budget trying to get grizzly DNA from a black bear scat, or mountain lion DNA from a coyote scat. 20 years later, here we are, still using dogs for carnivore scats, but now also finding invasive weeds, invertebrates, aquatic contaminants and doing law enforcement!

Gejrlpfppr1 karma

How does it feel that Sweden and Norway has better shelter dogs? Nice try though.

wd4c1 karma

I guess we need to start getting Scandinavian shelter dogs!! Please share rescues2therescue.org and https://youtu.be/eyAV2sAknlQ with them!

foevalovinjah1 karma

Are dogs better people?

wd4c2 karma

I saw a bumper sticker that says, "I aspire to be the person my dog thinks I am", which is a nice sentiment. I often aspire to be my dog. I wish I could lose myself in my work as thoroughly and joyfully as he does. So yes, I suppose they are!

Xanza0 karma

You should contact Discovery to National Geographic to try to get this into a reality show to raise awareness. It seems very interesting.

How hard is it to train the dogs?

wd4c4 karma

Thanks! ShelterMe.tv featured us in episode 7- here's the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vzdE_HDnBo

The hardest part is selecting great dogs. Finding highly motivated dogs is key, and then it's relatively straightforward. It takes about 3 months for a dog to learn how the detection "game" works, and then after that they can be pretty fast to learn new scents.

Thanks for the questions, and please share our work with your friends and social media contacts!