Conservation Canines in Canada: Roles, Welfare & Environmental Impacts
People have been employing dogs to assist with conservation work for more than a century. While the literature documents the efficacy of using dogs in these roles, the welfare and experiences of these dogs has received little attention. I explored the lives of conservation canines in Canada through two case studies. My aim was to explore the roles, welfare, and environmental impacts of conservation canines in Alberta and Ontario in order to determine whether conservation canine programs offer humane and sustainable job opportunities – those that are good for animals, humans, and the environment. I employed qualitative research methods via interviews with canine handlers and participant observations, as well as quantitative methods to assess animal welfare using an ethogram. My findings suggest that conservation roles are good for dogs because dogs showed signs of enjoyment and little stress while working, and handlers primarily used reward-based training as opposed to punishment; however, aversive stimuli are used at times, thus welfare may be at risk in some cases. These roles are also good for people as handlers seemed proud of their work and showed strong connections with their canines. Finally, they are good for the environment as they help educate the public about conservation issues, such as invasive species, and deter natural resources-related crimes, such as poaching. This assessment is based on three major frameworks: animal studies, animal welfare, and sustainability. Based on my findings, I recommend implementing more rigid guidelines for the care of working dogs in order to ensure their long-term welfare in situations where welfare might be impaired. Future research should further investigate the handlers’ experiences and environmental impacts of this work and include physiological indicators of welfare. Other case studies should also be explored in order to provide a more complete representation of conservation canine programs and the extent to which they might be humane and sustainable.