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With their keen noses, these very good dogs are helping to root out invasive species

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 4:25 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 29, 2021 at 4:47 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kyoko Johnson trains canines for conservation work.

Through her non-profit, Conservation Dogs of Hawaii, she teaches dogs and their handlers to detect invasive plants, insects and animals.

“While the dog has the good sense of smell, the handler is a support person and they have to help get the dog into the right places to find these targets,” she said.

Sue Chipperton volunteers with Johnson’s group.

Three of her dogs do scent detection, including Eddie, the dog featured in “Hawaii Five-0.” He’s learning to sniff out rodents and mongooses.

“It’s the best outlet for any dog, to be able to do what they were bred to do, which is use their nose and search for something,” Chipperton said.

Ten dogs Johnson trained regularly search out invasive species along Oahu’s hiking trails.

“Now we’re finding that the dogs are finding the targets way off trail that people can’t see or ones that are too small for people to see,” she said.

When they find a target, the handler alerts local conservation groups who go in and remove it.

“It could be just a little tiny plant sitting all by itself off the trail. The dog will just suddenly veer off and go find it,” Chipperton said.

Johnson founded her non-profit in 2018. She has trained 30 dog and handler teams on Oahu. Now she’s training rats to find hidden carcasses of dead animals and birds in taro fields.

“We’re trying to establish ourselves as the go-to people for all kinds of scent detection for environmental conservation,” she said.

Training a dog can take weeks or months, depending on the animal’s aptitude. Johnson is constantly looking for new conservation targets to challenge their sense of smell.

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