Stig the Wonder Dog

, 30 July 2015
Stig the Wonder Dog
Stig / Alex Learmont

By Fran Southgate

Living Wetlands Officer

I’m all for the joys of having a dog as a companion, but I also notice how much damage and disturbance dogs can cause to our local wildlife if they are not properly trained. It wasn’t until I heard about Stig the dog, that I began to see a lot more potential in the close relationships that we can cultivate with our canine friends.

Stig is a spaniel of sorts, and an ex police dog from the narcotics squad who used to help arrest drug smugglers. With his fine tuned nasal talents, you’d think he might be better suited to starring in some CSI style film, but instead he has turned his attention to helping reverse the fortunes of one of Britain’s fastest declining native mammals and star of Wind in the Willows - the water vole. As far as I know, Stig may be able to claim fame as the first dog in the UK who can sniff out rare wildlife rather than the next tasty snack. But better still, this dog is so well trained that rather than scare off the wildlife, he can just stand and point at it so that we can find it.

In fact, I’m sure my colleagues won’t mind if I say that Stig is now probably the best water vole surveyor in the Country and its first eco-dog. He can smell water voles rather than relying on field signs to find them like we humans do. It’s very easy to look for wildlife signs when the wildlife is abundant, but when species are scarce and scattered across a large landscape they are really hard to detect. We know that there are frequent occasions when we miss their presence, and in doing so we are missing the chance to protect and restore their populations where they are in decline. Stig can now help us to discover these places, giving us a much better idea of the true status of water voles, and better evidence with which to try and support water vole conservation work.

For me it’s a fantastic new development in conservation, and it has some potentially far reaching ramifications. In the past I’ve seen a ranger train his dog to point at birds sheltering young in nests on the ground. With enough patient dog owners, there is the potential to create a whole new line in wildlife recorders, each with its own smelling specialism!

I’m ever so slightly gutted that Stig lives in Essex and not in Sussex, but let’s hope has some pups who inherit his skills!

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