“Who here likes dogs?”

A roomful of hands shoot into the air.

“And who likes being outside?”

The hands frantically reach a little higher as a group of kindergartners, first- and second-graders squirm in their seats, enthusiastic to show their support for the type of work that the Conservation Canines does: walking outside, sniffing out and collecting scientific data in the form of animal scat, analyzing the data to learn the age, health, and diet of wildlife, and using the information to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Pretty neat, right?

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Did you know that a dog’s nose has 150-200 million olfactory cells? That’s about 30-40 times more than a human nose. Dogs can locate scat under a couple feet of snow or catch the scent of whale scat on the surface of the ocean from miles away. And the Conservation Canines are trained to do just that.

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Ruffwear recently got to spend a couple days tagging along with the Conservation Canines on their carnivore study in the Colville National Forest, a rugged landscape the northeast corner of Washington that’s home to wolves, moose, black bear and grizzly, cougar, coyote and more. The Conservation Canines are collecting scat from wolves, coyotes, cougars, and bobcats, as well as souvenirs like moose sheds and deer skulls. They’re also visiting local schools to teach students about science, scat detection dogs, the local wildlife found in their forests, and the types of work you can do as a scientist (such as working outside with dogs).

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As if that were not enough to keep these dogs and handlers busy, they also play an important role in Ruffwear’s wear testing program. While working outside sounds pleasant — and it certainly can be — this type of work is not your average walk in the woods. The Conservation Canines explore all kinds of terrain around the world, from jungles to rugged hills, steep ravines, and even the ocean. They’re out there in rain, snow, extreme heat, and everything in between, and because they’re so tough, they put our gear through the toughest conditions. Ruffwear sends gear to help make the dogs’ job easier, and in return, they provide feedback and let us know quickly if some material or design is not holding up as it should.

So, what’s it like to spend a day with the Conservation Canines? Well, it helps to have a good pair of hiking boots, plenty of water, some curiosity, and a big appetite for adventure.

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On the first day, I followed Ranger, Jake, and Julie along dirt roads and through thick forest. Canines such as wolves and coyotes tend to deposit their scat out in the open, and many animals use the roads to move quickly and easily through the forest, so Ranger found plenty of scat right on the road. We also saw evidence of moose, bear, bobcat, and unfortunately, human (in the form of litter).

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Ranger finds a deer skull and is rewarded with a Ruffwear Huckama.

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Although we mainly stuck to the roads, a day in the field with the Conservation Canines wouldn’t be complete without a little bushwhacking.

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The next day, I accompanied Julie and Sampson into the field. The day started easily enough on an old logging road, but eventually the road gave way to a wall of trees and snow patches of unpredictable depth. We dodged branches and clambered over logs until we found another road. We seemed to be following an endless trail of moose scat, but Sampson was finding a steady supply wolf and coyote. He took us off trail to show us a giant moose shed, which was being used as a shelter by forest rodents. We left it behind.

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Late in the morning, Sampson found another moose shed in better condition, which Julie strapped to her backpack, and then a not-so-fresh moose carcass — all that remained was bones and fur. We climbed a steep slope to gain a ridge and took a break in the sun. Sampson begged for my lunch and I indulged him with the last bite of my PB & J and a few bites of apple.

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After lunch, our trail became snow, which revealed many other travelers, including moose, bear, wolf, coyote, and bobcat. As we trudged through snow that became deeper and deeper, our soaked and numb feet let us know that it was time to find dry ground. We made our way back over the snowy ridge and celebrated the sight of dirt by sitting down to pour the icy water out of our boots before bushwhacking and linking dirt roads back to the car.

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A wolf print in the snow.

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Julie uses the handle on the Ruffwear Web Master Harness to assist Sampson over a log.

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I’d be lying if I said a day in the field with the Conservation Canines is easy. However, it’s easy to ignore discomforts like wet feet, bruised shins, and tired legs when you’re learning to identify tracks and scat, watching a dog work hard to find scat, and seeing that dog overcome with joy (and maybe a little bit crazed) when he receives a ball as a reward.

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Want to follow along with the Conservation Canines? You don’t have to meet them in the field — Check our their website, Facebook and Instagram.

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