Books to Read for Conservation Detection Dog Handlers

Getting into the field of conservation detection dog work can be incredibly difficult. There simply aren’t many jobs, and the jobs that do exist are highly competitive. We have discussed ways to enter the conservation detection dog field in podcast episodes including “Making It as a Conservation Dog Handler” and “How to be a K9 Conservationist.”

If you’re interested in starting or continuing a career in conservation detection dog work, here are some book suggestions that will get you on the right path!

Four Search Dog Specific Books: Textbook and Theory Heavy

Detector Dogs and Scent Movement: How Weather, Terrain, and Vegetation Influence Search Strategies

Scent dynamics are incredibly important for conservation detection dog handlers to understand. This book also covers the influence of weather, terrain, vegetation, and more on the movement of scent.

This book covers information on the physiology of the dog’s nose, their sense of smell, and the properties of scent provide the essential information on the process of scenting.

Finally, Osterkamp explains search strategeies for navigating the conditions at hand, including hills, valleys, fields, forests, rivers, and more.

Cadaver Dog Handbook

When I was being interviewed by Working Dogs for Conservation, this was the first book they suggested that I read. While this book is written with cadaver (human remains) dogs in mind, it covers the basics of search strategy, detection dog training, and scent theory.

Using Detection Dogs to Monitor Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Protect Aquatic Resources

Written by my friend Dr. Ngaio Richards, this textbook covers the disciplines of ecological monitoring, canine training, eco-toxicology, and resource management. This book is a must-have for any conservation dog handler who is interested in working in or near aquatic environments.

Dr. Richards covers the optimal use of dogs and other tools for a variety of purposes and with a variety of goals in mind:

  • Monitoring of presence/absence of species
  • Maintaining and evaluating water quality
  • Law enforcement and anti-poaching initiatives
  • Public education
  • Awareness and compliance
  • Standards and best practices

Canine Ergonomics: The Science of Working Dogs

While this book isn’t conservation dog specific, it is a complete overview of cognition, behavioral assessments, and physiology for working dogs from a scientific perspective. Most working dog knowledge is hearsay, and this book aims to fix that.

Sadly, this book was published in 2009 and therefore is a bit outdated as far as working dog science goes. It’s still a great staple!

Three Scentwork Training How-To Books

Super Sniffer Drillbook

This is a nice, easy-to-use drill book with a variety of games and exercises to do with your detection dog. If you and your dog are relatively new to scentwork or are looking for new exercises to try, this book is a great place to start.

Scent and Scenting Dog

This book is a bit outdated, but is an excellent primer on the basics of tracking and detection dog work. To be 100% honest, I’d suggest the Detector Dogs and Scent Movement book for more serious handlers – but this book is a great starting point if you’re just curious or looking for a gift for an aspiring handler!

Five Books on Dog Behavior, Cognition, and Ethology

Meet Your Dog

This book will change your life as a dog owner. Rather than viewing dogs exclusively through instinct or purely through the lens of behaviorism and learning theory, Kim Brophey views dogs through the lens of ethology. By understanding the genetics, learning, environment, and self of a dog, we can better train and understand a dog. This book is especially useful for understanding the challenges of particular breed groups in the working dog world.

Genius of Dogs

Brian Hare is an excellent writer with a specialization in evolution and cognition. This book highlights the discoveries made at the Duke Canine Cognition Lab to help you understand the intelligence and problem-solving skills of your K9.

Genetics and the Social Behavior of Dogs

While this book is over 20 years old, it still includes solid background information on genetics and the behavior of dogs. Scott and Fuller wrote this book after 40 years of research on dog behavior. This book summarizes the backbone of dog behavior science today.

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

I read this book years before becoming a conservation dog handler, and I think about it all the time. This book is incredibly readable, yet covers things like the scent processing and visual capabilities of dogs. If you really want to think like a dog and understand what your dog perceives, this book is an excellent starting point.

What the Dog Knows

This book chronicles the work of Cat Warren and her dog Solo as a cadaver dog team. Part storytelling and part interview, this book explores the cognition, history, breeding, training, and overall impact of search dogs. Like Inside of a Dog, this book is easy to read but will stick with you!

Three Training-Specific Books and One Coffee Table Must-Have

Conservation Canines: How Dogs Work for the Environment

This beautiful, photo-heavy book covers the various ways that dogs work for the environment. Rogue Detection Teams and Conservation Canines are heavily featured, as well as livestock guardian dogs and anti-poaching dogs. This book is a lovely addition to the home of any dog-lover or ecologist.

Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out

Let’s face it: lots of working dogs have a lot of pent-up energy that can leak out as unwanted behaviors. This book is one of the best I’ve read for managing and working with fired up and frantic dogs. While giving the dogs appropriate outlets and exercise will help, this book will help give you the tools to keep your working dog happy and relaxed in your home during the off-season.

Control Unleashed

Like Fired Up above, this book is an excellent reference to help high-energy dogs function in everyday environments. This book is more oriented towards sport dog handlers and will also help you help your K9 relax in seminars, training scenarios, and more.

The Culture Clash

This was the first dog training book I ever read. It is an excellent primer on dog behavior, dog training, and how to work with both towards your goals. If you’re new to professional dog training and behavior, this book is a must-have to start understanding working with your K9.

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