Rogue dogs — Canine work that makes scents

Rogue dogs — Canine work that makes scents

Image Credit: Dave Mast

There were a pair of Rogue dogs in Killbuck recently, but these Rogue dogs had a purpose.

On Monday, April 11, team members from Rogue Detection Teams brought a pair of their canine friends into Killbuck Elementary, where they spoke to the fifth-grade classes about the work they do in performing scientific studies around the world.

Rogue field biologist/canine handlers Abby Smith and London Smith brought their dogs, 3-year-old German Shepherd Hugo and 6-month-old Black Lab Yara, to school for a presentation of their field research that relies heavily on their canine counterparts.

Abby Smith said many of the dogs in the detection program are rescue dogs and soon find a home working for Rogue in the scientific realm.

“We’re basically taking rescue dogs who have nowhere else to go, and they become useful pieces in important scientific studies,” Abby Smith said.

Quick to learn and eager to please, the scent-detection dogs quickly adapt to the field science world, where their sense of smell becomes a critical tool in developing scientific experiments.

The Smiths, who were married last year, recently completed an avian field science experiment in Iowa, where they were conducting research on the effect of windmills on birds. The dogs were trained to sniff out birds that perished after hitting one of the windmills, and with a massive field to cover, they can efficiently locate fallen birds that would take people much longer to find, if they would locate them at all.

Their visit to Killbuck marked the first time the duo has gone out into a community to share their work, and the Smiths said their dogs did a great job of staying calm and relaxed in a classroom full of children.

Abby Smith said science is a collaborative effort, and they are excited to be able to bring the unique skill sets of the dogs into the mix.

“It’s a beautiful thing that we have the power to explore what is happening around us in our ecosystem,” she said. “For many of these shelter dogs, it is a second chance to use their gifts and help us perform very valuable scientific research.”

For a young girl who grew up pretending to be a dog and loves everything about dogs, this work is a dream come true. She said while they are not dog trainers but rather handlers, they do train the dogs to sniff out specific scents they are researching.

London Smith said it is more like the dogs are training them at times.

“Picking up the game is easy for the dogs,” London Smith said. “The biggest thing for us is developing trust and a rapport with the dogs so they are comfortable around us and we can work as a team. I think there is a bigger learning curve for a handler than there is for the dogs.”

He said the dogs learn scents extremely quickly, and it can be a simple matter of hours that the detection dogs grab ahold of a scent and it becomes ingrained in them.

While growing up in Northwest Ohio, Abby Smith said she spent many of her summers cavorting around Holmes County, specifically Killbuck Creek, where she spent her days finding crayfish, catching rat snakes and exploring nature. She said it was exciting to come back to a place she knows so well to talk to fifth-graders eager to learn. The Smiths gave a presentation that included talking about their two dogs and a video presentation of other Rogue dogs in the field performing scientific tasks.

As for the usefulness and time-saving factor the canine brings to the research, it has become quickly evident to each team that their work is sped up because of the field dogs.

“If we were to have humans try to locate whatever is being researched, whether it would be disease in trees or animal scat, it would take forever,” he said. “With their incredible ability to smell, dogs have sped up the research project in ways we can barely imagine, and the data they collect is invaluable.”

Various Rogue Detection Teams have utilized these canine detectives for studies on whales, birds, butterflies and many endangered species as they work to find clues as to how they can learn about these animals and help their numbers grow.

The dogs have aided in the location of live animal detection, nests, fecal samples, diseases or viruses, or invasive and rare plants.

Once the couple had talked about their research efforts, they opened a time of Q-and-A to the students, who came up with many interesting questions.

Teacher Shelby Evans, who helped organize the visit, said fifth-grade teachers Mary Smith and Charlotte Baird have a science fair test soon.

“Our hope was that this would open the door to talk about the use of scientific method, something our kids are working on right now,” Evans said. “We felt like making a connection with the dogs and spurring their interest in this field might help the kids gain some better understanding of how the scientific method works. I think we saw from the students’ response that they were very involved with the presentation.”

In addition to aiding with the test, the Smiths reiterated that in visiting schools, they never know when they might spark an interest in a young person who might find this type of work interesting as a career.

“We basically want people who are teachable,” London Smith said. “I wasn’t educated in the sciences, but I loved the outdoors, and I wanted to learn, so they brought me on board. Who knows? Maybe one day one of these students will find their way into the field.”

The love of dogs and the outdoors brought the Smiths together as they find satisfaction in their work, and knowing they have given rescue dogs a second chance at life makes it even more worthwhile.

To learn more about Rogue Detection Teams, visit or check out Smith’s Instagram at @science_sniffers, where she posts informational updates, quizzes and more.

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