Right under our noses — dogs are saving the world | Megan Parker | TEDxBozeman

Right under our noses — dogs are saving the world | Megan Parker | TEDxBozeman


Translator: Ilze Garda
Reviewer: Denise RQ Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here
among this amazing event and these people. Wolves evolved into dogs, and humans have lived with them
for maybe as long as 15, 000 years. We have changed their physiology
and their behavior into this incredible variety of breeds
that you see today, all stemming from wolves. We have benefited also,
and we have been changed by dogs during that evolutionary time. People who live with dogs
live longer, healthier, and happier lives than people who don’t have dogs. And we’ve changed our own selves
to interact with dogs; they’ve changed
their whole evolutionary history to adapt to humans. They can understand human gestures, tone of voice and even our intent
to communicate with them better than any other species, even our closest living relatives,
chimpanzees and bonobos, who apparently couldn’t really care less. (Laughter) I’ve always been interested in
how canines communicate, which led me to Africa
for my PhD work on African wild dogs. These are huge, ranging,
endangered species who don’t bark or howl, and I was interested
in how they communicate with the chemicals in their urine
and feces across a huge landscape, which their compatriots
then smell to get information. So, yes, you can just get a PhD
by picking up dog poop. (Laughter) Anyway, I wanted to understand
this language of olfaction, and help decipher it
to help conserve them. We spent tens of thousands of dollars
on radio collars, and they often failed, so we darted and handled dogs
far more than we wanted. We also had to maintain and fly
an airplane a couple of times a week. Besides being really expensive
and making us worry about what kind of impacts
we had on the dogs, we probably should have been worried
a little bit more about ourselves; and the giraffe, as this is how one of our flights
began and ended. It did give me time, though, to reflect a little bit
on why we always reach for the most expensive, most invasive,
high-tech solution to getting information. So I went back to explore a highly-evolved, but low-tech
data gathering system. We have used dogs to hunt with
and to gather our game and livestock. For eons they’ve been
right under our noses. Only recently, we started to ask
what’s under their noses. It was only in the 1960s that someone first trained a dog
to detect a specific scent, and the field of detection dogs was born. It was in 1984, that the first beagle
was taken to an airport to look for illegal agricultural products. Their best tool for bombs,
and narcotics, and cannabis – a wealth of things that I’ll talk
a little bit more about later – but why are they so good
at finding things? It’s the nose. These guys have an incredible
chemical sensory system on the front of their bodies that leads them to the environment, sampling molecules
that float up off just about everything. And they have an ability
that we can barely understand, because we don’t have
the ability to understand it. But there are some comparisons
that are useful. Humans have about 5 million
olfactory receptor cells, and dogs have about 220 million. It’s also their brain: 60% of which is dedicated to olfaction,
while only about 12% of ours is. If you or I were walking down the street, we might smell baking bread
a few doors down, and we’ll be smelling
in parts per hundred. A dog might smell that same loaf of bread
baking from over a kilometer away, and be able to discriminate
strains of yeast used in that bread, and smell it in parts per trillion. So a few of us gathered in 1990s to figure out how to ask dogs
conservation questions. We started to train them
and develop new methods for fielding and taking these dogs out into the places that we needed
to ask these questions. We trained them on things that are nearly impossible
for humans to find in the real world, like a sub-species of a tiny plant,
a tiny bit of old poop, or maybe a snare wire. And this is what they work for, a toy. We select most of our dogs from shelters,
and we pick the craziest ones, the toy-obsessed,
high-drive, high-energy dogs that don’t make good pets. But they are the right kind of crazy. (Laughter) And I’ve got the greatest job
in the world, I get to walk my dog. We get to walk our dogs
in these huge, complex ecosystems. What it boils down to is we work in big places
looking for very tiny things. Our dogs consistently lead us
huge distances to find these tiny samples, from which we can then extract DNA,
hormones, disease information, or diet to understand a population of animals
without ever even having to see them. These are a few of the places
that we’ve worked around the world, and the species that our dogs
have worked on. From carnivores in the Rockies to plants, invasive and native
plants, across the West, tigers in Russia, moon bears in China,
snow leopards in Mongolia, invasive snakes in Guam; we really haven’t asked a question
that they can’t help us answer. All of these projects were stymied by a lack of information
that our dogs then provided. In few of the projects
that we’ve worked on recently, last year, we were in Zambia
finding out how many cheetahs used the national park
and the areas outside of it. The dogs had to learn that cheetahs
poop in trees, and they had to work at over 100 degrees [Fahrenheit],
which is why he is wearing a cooling coat. This is a Cross River gorilla,
rarest of all the great apes and found only in the highlands
along the Cameroon-Nigerian border. They’re a complete mystery to researchers
who need to know how many are left; there is certainty fewer than 250. So we were flown over from Montana to look for dung to get
disease and genetic information, which is particularly important because these guys carry disease
that affect humans and vice versa. It was an incredibly challenging
climate and terrain for us, but the dogs thrived. They hit the ground running and found dung from huge distances
in the tropical Forrest, and we got all this new viral information
about this species of gorilla. And who knew that snails
had enough scent for dogs to find, especially buried
in leaf litter in Hawaii? But this is Wicket on a wolf snail,
and she was able to let them know how invasive this snail is
in killing the native land snails there. This is Camas alerting on
Kincaid’s lupine in the Willamette Valley. To us, every lupine look the same there, – all six species – but fortunately, Camas
could tell the difference, and it makes a difference
for the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly which is entirely dependent
on Kincaid’s lupine for its entire life. So dogs are telling us
incredible things for conservation, but lots of other people are asking
questions of dogs that save lives, like diabetes dogs
that are telling their owners whether their blood sugar
is too high or dangerously low, they are able to predict
epileptic seizures, they are even able to smell bacteria
that is now invading hospitals. This is a picture of Daisy,
who is working on a woman’s breast sample, able to tell her whether she has
one of five different kinds of cancer. And she’s able to do this more accurately and earlier
than any other diagnostic technique. When we began this work, I had no idea where it would lead us
and where the dogs would lead us. We ended up going to Cameroon,
and stopping off at a school for the deaf, where these kids
had only seen dogs as pariahs. So we stopped and talked
about conservation and what dogs can do, and by the end of the talk, these kids
were willing to touch a dog, out of a lot of fear, and they touched a dog
for the first time with kindness. As we drove away, we saw one kid
balling up a little bit of garbage and throwing it towards a village dog,
but not to chase it away, to play with it. So dogs change us,
and I’d say for the better. I’d like to introduce Pete Coppolillo
who’s our executive director, but, more importantly, my dog Pepin
who will show you what he does. PC: Well done!
MP: Alright, buddy! PC: While Megan and Pepin get ready, we’ll take a look at this process in a condensed, but real world way. As the best goes on, that’s Pepin’s signal
that it’s time to go to work, and you’ll see his behavior change. When Meg and Pepin
start their transact together, his body language is loose,
and his noise is up and down, he’s just trying
to catch that first scent. Then, as soon as he gets it,
you’ll see his body tighten up, and his nose may go down,
he may change directions, – just like there, his nose goes down – and he’ll go straight over. He may zig and zag in the scent cone,
as he comes near to the target, but then, when he finds it,
he alerts just like that, and that’s called the passive alert. One of you has a little ball
of cheetah poop under your seat (Laughter) but don’t worry, you know who you are. (Laughter) And Pepin doesn’t know who you are, and he’s going to start and find it now. MP: This way! PC: Megan calls herself
the toy delivery system because that’s his reward, and a lot of other people call Megan
and our other scientists dog whisperers. In fact, they’re really dog listeners, because if you watch
this process right now, there’s a tremendous amount of very subtle communication
going on with body language, both Meg reading Pepin’s body language,
but also Pepin reading hers, so it goes both ways. MP: He’s got scent. PC: Pepin is used to working
in big landscapes outside, and often there is wind taking it,
so when it’s not moving, it may be a little harder to zero in
on what it is and where it is. There he goes. And here comes his paycheck, a tug. Well done, Pepin! MP: Good boy! (Applause) PC: Thank you. (Applause)

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13 thoughts on “Right under our noses — dogs are saving the world | Megan Parker | TEDxBozeman

  1. Well that's pretty much the best job ever! Being able to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world….with your dog!! How could it get any bettet?

  2. Very interesting, and at first I thought: maybe there's new evidence (for the cancer-sniffing accuracy of dogs)… but after the poorly executed example-performance I lost confidence in her.
    It's obvious SHE knew were the poop was, she more or less showed her dog.
    Don't get me wrong, I'd like for all she said to be true, but this talk lacks any scientific evidence, is poorly conceived and won't convince any but the hardcore-wishful thinkers.

  3. I've worked with dogs for 45 years. In never impressed by what humans teach them. I'm impressed by what you LEARN from them!

  4. Did you kill a giraffe with that plane? The least you could have done in this video was not to shrug it off, but to explain and apologise. I'm stunned.

  5. Is it 50,000 as she said or 15,000 years as the subtitle showed ? Did anyone proofread this thing before it was presented? How smart are they not to even proofread to spot 15,000 versus 50,000 years ?

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