Off-campus South Dakota State University users: To download campus access theses, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your South Dakota State University ID and password.

Non-South Dakota State University users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this thesis through interlibrary loan.

Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

First Advisor

Kenneth F. Higgins

Second Advisor

Thomas M. Cheebrough


black-footed ferrets, south dakota, scent dogs, wildlife reintroduction


The nocturnal and fossorial lifestyle of endangered black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) has made studying them difficult for biologists. Due to the nocturnal nature of black-footed ferrets, a limited number of monitoring techniques are available for use by site managers. Initial ferret surveys at the Meeteetse, Wyoming site indicated that spotlighting, snow tracking and radio tracking techniques were the best methods for monitoring the species (Clark 1986). Today, nine black-footed ferret reintroduction sites exist in North America ranging from central Montana and north-central South Dakota to northern Mexico. A variety of Federal, State, and Tribal entities currently monitor and manage ferret reintroduction sites. Specially trained detection dogs were tested on their ability to detect presence or absence of ferrets. Training and testing of the dogs was broken up into three progressive sessions: Pilot Study A, Pilot Study B, and Final Field Test. Pilot Study A tested four specially trained dogs on their ability to detect above ground black-footed ferret scat. Two of the four dogs were then tested on their ability to accurately and efficiently detect presence/absence of black-footed ferrets at the Conata Basin reintroduction site in southwest South Dakota. In Pilot Study B the dogs were trained on live ferret scent in ferret habitat and then tested. The Final Field Test was an evaluation of the method after the dogs were adequately trained to detect ferrets in their natural environment, and after handlers were acclimated to working the dogs in those areas. Field tests with scent dogs to detect black-footed ferrets in the wild had never been done before, thus training trials (primarily Pilot Study A and B) prior to the Final Field Test were necessary. Pilot Study A was conducted near Whitehall, Montana from August 18-20, 2003 to determine the ability of four specially trained search dogs to detect black-footed ferret scat above ground prior to field testing them at the Conata Basin reintroduction site. Only Dogs 1 and 2 were used in Pilot Study B training trials and the Final Field Test at the Conata Basin reintroduction site. From September 15 - 28, 2003 the two dogs were exposed to live ferrets, live prairie dogs, prairie dog towns with no ferret scent, and multiple ferret scents planted on prairie dog towns. The Final Field Test was conducted from October16- 29, 2003. Eleven prairie dog towns averaging 27 ha (ranging from 9-38 ha) were selected for each dog-and-handler team to search. In addition, two larger prairie dog towns (100 ha) were also searched. Five of the selected test towns had no record of ferret presence and eight test towns had resident ferrets inhabiting them. Mean correct positive identification of test towns with ferret presence during Final Field Test for first-time searches of test towns by both dogs combined was 81% (n=16). Mean correct identification of test towns without ferret presence was 90% (n=10). No false positive alerts (alert given when there is no ferret presence) were recorded for either dog during the Final Field Test. False negative (no alert given where ferrets are present) rate was 13%. No significant difference (p = 0.409) in detection rates between dogs was found. Detection dogs are difficult to estimate cost for simply because of the variability in dog ability. Currently, contracting a trained handler and dog team can cost approximately $400 a day (four hour day). The average search rate for Dog 1 and Dog 2 during the Final Field Test was 21 ha/hr, so an estimated cost for one dog to work four hours is $4.76/ha. Spotlight surveys are the best method available for determining which individuals are in a population as well as population estimates; however, using detection dogs may be a useful alternative method to supplement spotlight surveys and to determine dispersal. Detection dogs may also prove useful for locating ferret "hot spots" within a complex, or to investigate reported ferret sightings.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Black-footed ferret -- Monitoring -- South Dakota
Wildlife reintroduction -- South Dakota
Search dogs


Includes bibliographical references (page 51-54)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 2004 Sara A. Reindl. All rights reserved.