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Rogue Detection Teams

Nestled in the Huckleberry Mountains near Rice, Washington, sits a warm, cozy house. In the winter, you can see smoke coming out of the chimney as a fire roars to keep the home warm. Nearby, a small tree house stands waiting, as if it were a sentry for the land. There is a yurt tucked up in the forest not far away. Amid the 20 acres of wild terrain, there are miles of trails that wind through the forest and up to a bluff that provides an astonishing view of the Columbia River. It is a large parcel of land that is beautiful and rugged.

Cattle dog on a snowy hill

This is the home base for Rogue Detection Teams. Up to 12 dogs and their bounders (human partners) live here. Depending on the time of year, the house could be noisy with many dogs and people, or it could be serenely quiet, with only one dog and their bounder. The feeling of “dogs come first” permeates the buildings and the land, and that’s one of the reasons why I love it so much. The dogs truly do come first.

Conservation dog organizations use a canine’s amazing sense of smell to assist with various environment-protection efforts, often by sniffing out scat from endangered wildlife. This helps scientists understand how our world is changing and how it affects the animals on our planet. While there are numerous conservation dog organizations, Rogue Detection Teams is unique: the working dogs have been adopted from shelters. They are dubbed “Rogue Dogs” because their energy is limitless (they have an obsessive need to play fetch!). While they do not thrive in a home environment, the Rogue Dogs are happy and eager workers out in the field. They are trained to seek out specific targets (scents). With the encouragement of their bounders (plus practice and rewards), they are set up for success. The dog-human teams sniff out odors and collect data on cryptic species in the wild.

The people are called bounders because they are more like partners than handlers. Their philosophy is that the dogs are their teachers, colleagues, equals, and best friends. The bond is strong between the dogs and their bounders: they share a sense of complete trust.

Rogue Detection Team Dog looking smartly into the camera

This trust begins when Rogue Detection Teams first adopts a dog. Most of the new dogs have a lot of fear, and some of them do not trust humans. Many of them experience anxiety. Dogs like this generally do not thrive in home environments and usually shut down in shelters. Rogue Detection Teams’ bounders know this and begin to provide the dogs with a new outlook by teaching them that when they sniff out an odor, they will get to play fetch as a reward. Their scent-seeking tasks become a fun, fulfilling game (and their high ball-drive contributes to their success).

The dogs use their incredible sense of smell to detect scat from endangered species; this information helps scientists create conservation plans. The teams have worked around the world to gather essential data for analysis in remote and challenging environments in a noninvasive way. They have been deployed on numerous projects, including (but not limited to) gathering data about pangolins, wolves, cheetahs, orcas, spotted owls, Sierra Nevada red foxes, coastal martens, endangered butterfly larvae, and bumblebees’ nests.

As you can imagine, the dogs are living extraordinary lives as working dogs. The bounders are passionate about their dogs and view them as teammates. Without the dogs and their keen sense of smell, the bounders wouldn’t be able to collect the data they need. Not only are the bounders passionate about their dogs, they are also passionate about wildlife conservation. This passion fuels their drive, just like a well-earned game of fetch fuels the dogs.

small brown mix breed with Rogue Detectin Team vest on snowy hill

Rogue Detection Teams also loves their community: their overall vision centers on collaboration and community involvement. They offer hands-on instruction for researchers, aspiring dog handlers, and citizen scientists. The first step is a class called Introduction to Detection Dog Communication. This course provides the foundation for incoming bounders and is designed to assist the student in their journey towards entering the field of canine conservation.

Their work is not glamorous, but it is fulfilling. Long days in the field are followed by bounders preparing data for study, giving dogs their meals and massages (to check for anything from small injuries to ticks), and then, finally, preparing meals for themselves. They sleep heavily during the night, together, in whatever shelter they have brought with them. Everything they take into the field is brought back out again and nothing is left behind.

During their time in the field, the dog and bounder fall into a way of communicating nonverbally that they both understand. The dogs check in constantly with their bounders, and the bounders understand canine body language to the tiniest movement. A flick of an ear or a raised paw could be telling the bounder that the dog is on the scent. The dogs’ movements and behaviors are so subtle that most people probably wouldn’t even see them. The human/animal bond is built in these moments and goes beyond physical communication. The dog knows their job and works hard for the reward of their favorite toy being tossed for a game of fetch.

Currently, there are 12 Rogue Dogs working in various parts of the world, sniffing out targets. Their names are Beckett, Dio, Filson, Hugo, Indy, Jack, Jekyll, Maple, Pips, Willow, Winnie, and Whisper.

Heath, Jennifer, Abby, Justin, and London are their human partners; they’re committed to their dogs and to the protection of endangered species.

You can meet the entire pack by visiting

Written by Holly Cook

Edited by K. Sims

January 2023

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