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First knapweed location dog in history, Nightmare has a 93 percent success rate overall in locating the invading non-native spotted knapweed. She followed it up with 98% in the final trials in open fields, demonstrating that dogs can effectively detect low densities of invasive plants.



Have you heard about Knapweed Nightmare? She's the first-ever dog to be trained to find a single plant within a plant community! This allows her to locate low densities of invasive non-native weeds! Nightmare is a sable Rocky Mountain Shepherd dog was bred and trained by Montana based, Rocky Mountain Command Dogs.

Knapweed Nightmare with Charles Whelan, second handler, Assistant Trainer RMCD

The idea came from Kim Goodwin, a weed prevention coordinator at Montana State University Bozeman, who thought detection dogs could be trained to sniff out invasive non-native weeds, just like they can find drugs and bombs. So, she teamed up with a nearby dog trainer, and the two got to work on the project. The shepherd dog Nightmare, who is being trained for scent work, was picked to find the invasive plant..

Careful training and handling are essential for these specialized scent-detecting dogs to do their jobs safely and effectively. Hal Steiner, her trainer, mostly employs positive dog training techniques for scent work training. Game theory is a technique used to motivate the dog to look for the knapweed without using food rewards. The dog is focused on a specific item, such as a towel or a length of plastic tubing that is wrapped with knapweed. Handlers reward the dog when she reacts to the scented toy. The toy is then hid in spots that are getting harder to find.

Nightmare had a big responsibility locating tiny rosettes of knapweed in large pastures. She had to work alone and that meant she could not get distracted by other smells or animals around her. As she got better at her job, her trainers gave her more challenges to help her stay focused on her task. They used different things to distract her, so she would not lose focus. This training was important because it made Nightmare better at her job and helped her find the invasive species faster. She became a valuable member of the team fighting to keep the area free from knapweed.

Since digging vigorously at a bomb would be dangerous, the knapweed detection dog was trained slightly differently from other scent-detecting dogs. On locating the knapweed rosette, Nightmare was trained to spend at least 10 seconds digging at the weed which allowed the GPS attached to her collar to pinpoint the location of a knapweed find.

Knapweed Nightmare working in the field with Charles Whelan

Overall, Nightmare has a 93 percent success rate in finding the invasive non-native spotted knapweed, with a follow-up of 98% in the last test in open rangeland. This shows that dogs can effectively detect low densities of invasive plants. It's pretty amazing, right?


"A Nose For Knapweed". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. 2010. Retrieved 1 December 2003.

 "Using Canines to Detect Spotted Knapweed: Field Surveys & Characterization of Plant Volatiles". Goodwin, Kim Marie. 2010. Retrieved 30 August 2010.


"Your Dog's Ability To Track Scents". Whole Dog Journal. 2005. Retrieved 10 January 2005.

"Trained Dogs Outperform Human Surveyors in the Detection of Rare Spotted Knapweed". Goodwin, Kim Marie. 2010.

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