Conservation Canines

Training efforts continue for conservation canines


By Ellen Voss, Climate Resilience Director

River Alliance of Wisconsin


Since 2020, efforts have been underway to train the finder/keeper teams at Conservation Dogs Collective, Inc. to sniff out New Zealand mudsnails in Wisconsin’s trout streams. Because of their small size and life-history adaptations, NZMS could be the poster child for the perfect invasive species, and traditional methods of detecting these snails have proven to be costly and time-consuming. If dogs can be trained to detect these snails when population densities are still low, this method could become an invaluable early detection technique and guide efforts to limit their further spread.


For the latest round of training to commence, thousands of snails needed to be collected from each of two known mudsnail locations in south-central Wisconsin. While these snails aren’t too hard to find in spring and summer, I wasn’t sure how easy the task would be in winter. But finding several thousand snails proved to be relatively easy once I knew where to look. At the two sample collection locations on Badger Mill Creek and Black Earth Creek, snails were tightly grouped together in massive colonies right along the shoreline on the undersides of rocks and pavers. With relatively little effort, we had thousands of samples in hand in a short amount of time.


To remove any competing environmental scent, the snails needed to be individually picked from the mud and vegetation and then cleaned in distilled water. The herculean task was accomplished in a matter of hours by dedicated supporters who volunteered their time at a snail-picking party hosted by our partner organization, the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association.


The snails are now in the hands of the CDCI finder/keeper teams, and training will commence this spring. Stay tuned for updates on this project.


Photo Caption:

Betty White and Ernie are two of the dogs being trained to sniff out mudsnails.