What can’t a dog sniff out once it puts its snout to the task?

Conservationists around the world are putting dogs on the trail—and tail—of at-risk animals with the hope of protecting and breeding them. The dogs’ hunt begins indecorously with a healthy whiff of an animal’s scent—usually in the form of scat (droppings). After all, dogs can divide scads of info just by sniffing the scents of fellow canines—who’s in the neighborhood, what they’ve eaten, or if danger is lurking—so why not use a dog’s astonishing nasal radar to track down a species that’s in serious trouble, like the critically endangered Baw Baw frog of southeastern Australia?

What makes border collies such excellent sniffers? First and foremost, they’re dogs so their noses have about 50 times more olfactory receptors than people’s noses, and the part of their brains that analyze smells is proportionally 40 times greater than it is in humans. The result is a living “scent-analyzer” whose sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours. Border collies have many other invaluable skills that make them well suited for the job like their stamina too.

Yes, conservation can be a tough business all right, but someone’s needs to save endangered animals—and dogs might just be the answer we are all looking for. 

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