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Community spotlight: Penny the conservation dog

15 Aug 2018
Community & partnerships
15 Aug 2018

Penny is a working English springer spaniel who works in the Coffs Coast region with Lynn Baker, a Senior Threatened Species Officer for the Office of Environment and Heritage, to help identify the locations of endangered and threatened animals.


Penny the conservation dog


”My partner Lynn and I have worked together for most of my 5 years.

I like her a lot because she carries my tennis balls and my water. I live at her house and we work as a team.


Penny the conservation dog


Humans are good at using their eyes to see things, but dogs like me can locate hard to find things, such as koala scats that are buried under leaves and soil. My nose has about 300 million smelling cells compared to only 5 million in a human.

I smell differently through each nostril, and because I smell in stereo I can detect scents at concentrations 100 million times lower than humans can. I have a much better memory for smells too.

I’m most effective when an animal is very hard to find or exists in very low numbers. Most recently I’ve been helping to find where the NSW North Coast endangered emus are walking, eating, and trying to find where they are nesting. I’m excited to be returning to koala surveys soon.

Some people think that dogs can replace people, but we can’t; we are part of a team. Humans have better eyesight, and they know what we are looking for. Technology is another component of our kit bag.

At work, I wear a GPS collar which records my search pattern, and what we found and where. We use cameras and drones as well.

If dogs had their own FaceBook page, mine would say that I have a high hunt drive and a high retrieve and return drive and I am very well-behaved. In other words, I’m highly skilled for this line of work.

My first career, as a pet, was less successful. My family returned me to the breeder when I was still a pup because they thought I had too much energy!

I love chasing and retrieving things, but I’m not allowed to chase koalas and other animals.

I chase tennis balls and squeaky toys instead. One of the best things about my job is that I don’t have to wear a lead because a lead interferes with my ability to make decisions. Instead, Lynn tells me where she needs me to go using words and whistle commands.

I also get to work in the bush with Lynn. She and I are inseparable; it’s really fun."