Dogs Unusual Skills Are Being Used to Save Turtles

The turtle, a beloved creature that has existed for over 100 million years, has been in decline for decades. This sudden decline came about due to humans harvesting these animals for their meat, eggs, and as pets. These poor turtles have been hunted to the point that they are now endangered.

With such a steep decline in turtle population, it is important for humans to do their part and help these animals by contributing what we can. This could change as dogs unusual skills are being used to save turtles. Dogs have been trained with skills that include sniffing out turtles and tracking them.

These animals are now saving the lives of these reptiles who face extinction by finding them before they die or get caught up in some other way. An article about this fascinating story was published in The Seattle Times, and it tells of how this idea came about.

Hiking Journey

John Rucker’s Boykin Spaniel loved to hike with him. They would run into the forest and always come back with a turtle. John was not sure what they were doing, but he assumed they were hunting for these small animals. He never thought much of it; usually, the turtles would escape their mouths once they got close enough to his feet anyway, so there was no harm done in the end.

John Rucker expected to find his two dogs running into the forest and returning with small game, but he was stunned when they brought him back box turtles. The Boykin Spaniels would lay their finds at John’s feet as if it were a gift from one friend to another–or food for thought.

After this unexpected discovery, he talked about it to several people and reached the University of North Carolina. With his new connection to the University of North Carolina, he was able to take a few biologists out with him on occasion and put transmitters on turtles so they could study them.

In the years following, Rucker found himself helping experts who were studying turtle populations. In an interview, Rucker said that he thinks that he could be a great help in finding these turtles because turtles are hard to find especially when they’re in the wild.


From then on he got more Boykin Spaniels and trained them via greased bacon and golf balls to find anything they had previously been taught. After 20 years of training and searching, Rucker’s team has been in demand anywhere in the country to search and sniff out-box turtles. The dogs usually do it by following the urine trails of the turtles. Rucker, together with his dogs: Ruger, Rooster, Lazarus, Yori, Jenny Wren, Scamp, and Skeeter, travel the country to help experts search for turtles.

For scientists or conservationists, they may find box turtles to be fascinating creatures. They can live up to 100 years old and have been studied because they always show the effects that our environment has on them, which is great for learning how ecosystems change over time.

This is the very reason why Rucker together with his dogs decided to help these scientists and experts in tracking box turtles. Every spring and summertime they go with the scientists and university biologists to work. They usually travel using a van from their home in Montana and live in a tent where they will be working.

They don’t care about the off dirt roads and isolated places they are working on just to find these endangered creatures. The dogs wag their tails and bark when they find turtles hidden in the tall grass, carefully picking them up with their mouths to bring them back for his inspection.

Finding the Turtles

When the dogs have already found these turtles, conservationists will swab the turtles’ mouths to test if they have any related diseases like ranavirus. This disease has been a threat to these kinds of turtles and has a high mortality rate. It has been found across the country and has destroyed large populations of box turtles.

Though it can be harmful to turtles, it doesn’t harm dogs which makes Rucker’s dogs safe. After testing for ranavirus, turtles were tagged with tiny transmitters. This tiny transmitter will help experts to follow the movements of the turtles and will be used in their study. There’s this one instance where a director from Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine in Missouri found out that the ranavirus has been around the Wildcare Park. They found out that four turtles have been infected with it.

This leads her to call the attention of Rucker and his team to retrieve more turtles. And eventually, Rucker’s team found three box turtles and was tested for the virus immediately and luckily tested negative. After this, Rucker’s team went to Illinois and worked with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

They work there for weeks helping the experts track ornate box turtles who were in danger because of habitat loss. After weeks of searching, Rucker’s dogs found 60 turtles and were given a transmitter immediately so they could track them easily. Sharon Deem, the director of Saint Louis Zoo, said that putting transmitters on the turtles helps them so much in developing management practices that can help these species survive.


Turtles, according to her, also act as sentinels, meaning they can be an indicator of the ecosystem’s health around them. Another thing this article featured is dogs as a sea turtle hunter, according to Rucker some other dogs can also be trained to find sea turtles, and some zoos have already taught some canines to find turtles. But Rucker also said that Boykin Spaniels are uniquely different as they are made for hunting these turtles because of their soft mouths and sharp smell. John Rucker quote, “They hunt for me out of love. And I love them, and I love turtles and grasslands. It’s a perfect match.”


Dogs are man’s best friend, but they can also be a turtle’s best friend. The unusual skills of dogs are being used to save turtles around the world from predators and man-made dangers alike. Dogs have saved hundreds, if not thousands, of endangered species; so it should come as no surprise that their skills with saving wildlife have been put to use in order to help save the world’s most endangered creature.

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