2023 Year-End with Rachel & Heather

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with co-founders Heather and Rachel for a year-end wrap up. 

Science Highlight: None

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Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt  00:09

Hello and welcome to the  K9Conservationists podcast, where we are positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every other week to discuss detection, training, welfare, conservation biology and everything in between. I’m Kayla Fratt, one of the cofounders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data from our land managers, researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today, I’m talking to my amazing co-founders, Rachel and Heather about what we learned in 2023, and what we’re looking forward to in 2024. Heather and Rachel, welcome back to the podcast. Why don’t we start out with a reminder of who you both are, who your dogs are and where you’re at nowadays, and we’ll do Heather and then Rachel.

Heather Nootbaar  00:45

Sure. Hey, I’m Heather. And my dogs are Ellie, the now four year old Australian Shepherd Border Collie mix. And I also now have Scottie, which we’ll talk about later in the podcast. He is a two year old Border Collie. And nowadays I have just recently moved actually from the Midwest, born and raised and now in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Kayla Fratt  01:08

Right after Rachel and I both left. Well, Rachel’s been out of Colorado for a while, but I was just there.

Rachel Hamre  01:18

Yeah, this is Rachel. I have Suki, my border collie. And I also have Howe, who is not a working dog, but she’s a hound boxer pit, some kind of mix. And I am still in Missoula.

Kayla Fratt  01:37

Excellent. Well, yeah, so why don’t we kind of start out with this is a very broad question. But what did each of you get up to this year? What’s new? And we’ll start with Rachel.

Rachel Hamre  01:49

Yeah, I started a grad program, working on my Master’s of Science in Business Analytics. That’s basically just a fancy way of saying statistics. And I have also been working on renovating my basement, which I initially told myself would take like two weeks, and now it’s been some number of months, and I’m finally getting close to actually being done.

Heather Nootbaar  02:16

And so far me, started off the year in search of another canine partner. So like I said, Ellie, she’s four turning five at the end of this March, so I felt like it was a good time to start and look for another dog. Knowing Ellie and her personality, I was definitely looking for another boy or a boy, not another female, kind of a dopey boy that would let her run the house. So I had initially put out some feelers on social media. That’s just a quick recap if you don’t follow us, or follow on journey and just listen to the podcast, but I quickly found Scottie, who was formerly known as Spot. His owner reached out via Facebook that he fit my wish list pretty perfectly. Some of his qualities included no interest in stock or poultry, lives with cats, has high toy drive, and food drive, can’t get his nose off the ground, very confident, travels like a champ. Like what else could you be looking for?

Heather Nootbaar  03:20

She was rehoming him because he wasn’t super interested in agility. And she lived off a busy road and he kept jumping her fence. So it was fate. I was actually in South Carolina at the time when I saw the posting or she messaged me, she lived in North Carolina. So quick two hour drive, he and Ellie met and were fast friends running around her little farm and let it like two days later picked him up, moved to Illinois to start for a start prepping for our wind farm field season. So picked him up in April. And then we’re ready to start fieldwork by May. And that is what we did for the rest of the year. So we had a successful wind farm season from May until October. And then right after the end of the month in October, we packed up real quick and moved out of the Midwest. Finally, I’ve been wanting to do it my whole life now. And we’re now in Colorado and have gorgeous mountains right outside our window. But it’s been a pretty hectic six months, but now we’re here in December and all settled in and yeah, looking forward to 2024.

Kayla Fratt  04:28

Yeah, and we are gosh, we are so grateful to have Scottie on the team. It’s really been a lifesaver already. And yeah, so I guess I didn’t say this  up top. But I’m going to answer all these questions as well. And this question, I guess, if you’ve been listening to the podcast religiously, you already know most of my answers here.

Kayla Fratt  04:45

But you know, I spent most of 2023 on the road living in the van. We started out doing a really cool field project in Guatemala with Ellen Dymit who’s now my roommate and labmate. Shortly after that, I found out that I got the National Science Foundation, Graduate Research Fellowship, and the Fulbright Scholarship, which was a really big deal really, really exciting. Two huge grants, really didn’t think I was gonna get either and let alone both. So you know, again, you’ve already heard me gushing about that, but it’s still pretty, very exciting kind of hard to believe.

Kayla Fratt  05:18

And then spent the June and July back stateside working on a carnivore project with Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant and Dr. Hilary Young working on some coastal carnivore stuff with the help of Scottie, again, that was a really huge, huge deal that he was able to come out and help on that project so early on in his career. And now I have moved to Oregon and I’m living in a house, I still have the van, I’m actually going to be in the van for a good chunk of December, and then almost all of the summer. So it’s going to continue to kind of being my mobile field housing and all things weekend adventure. But it’s nice being in a house with heat and indoor plumbing and showers, whatever you want. So yeah, it’s been a big year, lots of lots of big changes and updates. So now, what did each of you learn this year? And Heather, we’ll start with you.

Heather Nootbaar  06:18

Sure, so I learned that, I’m going to quote the other podcasts that I love the K9 Detection Collaborative, they’re always talking about lumping versus progression plans. So multitasking, I find is setting me up for failure. So I’m learning to make small successive steps, rather than trying to do too many things at once, and then not being successful in any of them. That goes along for dog training, as well as in my personal life. It’s been a big year now balancing having two high drive dogs, trying to meet all of their needs, trying to meet my own needs.

Heather Nootbaar  06:58

And then behind the scenes work that we do here at K9Conservationists work life balance, still not great at all of it, but trying to embrace that and move forward with that into the next year. And along with that, I guess I’m learning to slow down and have patience that circles back now to having the two dogs and dividing my attention to make sure each of them has their needs being met. And they’re both very different and working on different things. At their stage of life. Scott is that two year old goofy boy, and sometimes we think that he should be where Ellie is, and we’re like, oh, yeah, Ellie was like that, too. So we got to cut him some slack. So, yeah.

Rachel Hamre  07:40

Yeah, I feel like I’ve learned a lot this year. But I think probably one of my biggest takeaways is just being able to look back and noticing that, even if I don’t always see progress, like in something that I’m working on, like from one day to the next, when I look back over a longer period of time, I realized that I have seen a lot of progress. And I pee is definitely one of probably the primary way that I have seen that like, there are some times that I’ve done like training sessions with her or even just when we’ve been out on a hike or whatever. And I’m like, you know, trying to work on something. And like, in the moment or the week, I’m like, man, we have not made any progress on that.

Rachel Hamre  08:26

And then I look back like three months later, six months later, or a year later, and just try to remember where we were back then, compared to where we are now. And there’s so many times that I’m like, wow, like she has been able to do this thing. I guess one of the things that I’m thinking of is when I first got her, she could not drop the ball. And it’s funny, because it’s such a simple thing. And now we she’s got dropped down pretty well. And we play to ball fetch, like pretty fluidly. And yeah, it’s just so funny. Looking back. And that was like such a difficult thing that made reinforcement so difficult. And now I’m like, Oh, wow, I do have this like, reinforcement. What am I looking for? Yeah, like reinforcement chain of behaviors? That is coming along? Nicely. Yeah. So I guess it’s just really nice to like, think back on the work that I have put in and be like, Oh, that was totally worth it. And it has actually paid off.

Kayla Fratt  09:28

Yeah, definitely. I had the same thing written down and I can’t remember what specifically I was thinking of. But I also wrote that things pay off way down the line. And I think actually, I was kind of thinking at the time about not necessarily dog training as much, but kind of stuff with K9Conservationists. You know, we started K9Conservationists in like March 2021. And it’s been a long, slow, hard ramp up, you know, like we’ve had the podcast and those sorts of things, but for a long time, it felt like we’re this podcast that talks about conservation dogs. And then you know, each of the three of us is out working on our own as seasonal employees for someone else. And like, what do we do? And like, Is this ever going to actually work? And it’s been really cool this year to see stuff really paying off and coming back to us. Some of it really directly, thanks to the podcast and the people that we’ve met through the podcast and the connections we’ve made. And some of it not as much, but it’s really cool to see that finally happening.

Kayla Fratt  10:39

And then, I think, kind of on that note, as well, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is, you know, being kind and enthusiastic about other people around you, and how that comes back and reflects well on you. It’s not something I always do perfectly, but I have had a couple of people reach out to me even in the last couple of months about, you know, the fact that they came back to them that I had said something nice about that, um, to someone else. And just remembering that conservation in general is a really small field, and we’re all working on the same things. And, again, that’s not always an easy thing to remember, and particularly when we’re poor and stressed out and don’t have as much as work as we would like. But, you know, trying to be collaborative is I think something that I’m still learning, but is a lesson that was taught to me this year that we will continue working on next year. So yeah, the obvious follow up question to this is what did your dogs learn this year? So we’ll start with Heather, and, you know, you’ve got you’ve got a single child and only child that went to a non-only child!

Heather Nootbaar  11:52

Pretty much. Yeah, Ellie’s biggest thing was obtaining a new sibling. And so working on those inter-household dynamics and learning how to share mainly attention. We thought she would shift actually way better at it than I thought she kind of like is like, okay, Scottie. I don’t know if people know Scottie is the cuddliest boy I have ever known he will just come and set his face on your chest and then nuzzle into you and put his whole body weight on you. So Ellie, it made me realize that she can’t compete with that. So she’s like, okay, he’ll have it and then I make sure to give her her own attention. But she has been good accepting her brother. And Scottie has also been good at letting her kind of be the boss. If she has a toy, he lets her have it. And if she likes his toy, she, he also lets her habit, and then he gets a different one. So that’s been wonderful.

Heather Nootbaar  12:56

And we’ve also been working on wildlife distractions, she has just improved with age. I remember our first field season, she really was obsessed with birds in the sky. And like she’s totally fine with them. Now it’s more so just little critters that are running really fast, they get her attention. But after a consult with Kim Brophy this year, earlier this year, because we were actually near Asheville, and were able to meet up, she was helping with how to support her to be able to work through in the presence of triggers. So we’re still working on that, but, and then that is also leading to Mr. Scottie. He has a whole new set, or a different set of things that he learned this year, mainly, you know, the scentwork, that stuff all came super naturally to him. He moreso was working on kind of boundaries and basic house manners. Like when we first got him he was counter surfing, sticking his head in the trash pretty shamelessly. And when Kayla had him I know she was at a friend’s house for a wedding. She was like, yeah, he just full on like did not care. We were standing there and steal stuff out of the trash plastic bag.

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Kayla Fratt  14:11

It came out the other end, it was not great!

Heather Nootbaar  14:15

So it’s definitely that we’ve been working on but he did come with solid foundations, like recall and like a radius. So those have been a godsend, but other stuff. We’re kind of working on the more basic stuff. I think he kind of was able to run the roost at his previous homes. But yeah, like I said the scentwork stuff he took to so quickly I hadn’t thought he would be ready for our field season when I picked him up in April, knowing we were just going to start a month later. But as I was prepping Ellie, he was jealous. He has FOMO so I was like well, let’s follow Paul Bunker’s “How to Imprint Your Dog in 15 Days.” So I followed that step by step and he was ready in 15 days to be at the wind farm so he killed it. Yeah, those are I guess, both my dogs had a big year.

Kayla Fratt  15:03

Yeah, definitely. So yeah. What about Suki, and how we can celebrate Howl here as well.

Rachel Hamre  15:11

Scottie’s such a good boy. So when I first got Suki, I pretty much dove right into getting her ready to work on the wind farm. And everything else was kinda like, most other things were kinda like good enough. And I was like, I’ll just think about those later. And yeah, we really just focused on some work stuff, which was, it was definitely nice to be able to do that. But now it’s been really nice to be able to kind of put that scent work on the backburner and switch back to just like, pet dog, all the all the fun things and all the basic things. We started taking agility, just just for fun, something new to learn together. We are not going to win anything. She’s very methodical and thoughtful. And so we like trot through the obstacles. And it’s it’s very funny to watch in a way that yeah, the speed is not really there. But the thought is, so it’s it’s pretty funny. Um, we are also working on distractions, especially squirrels and deer are a really difficult one. Yeah, I think mostly just like back to those like fun pet basics and fun tricks is really been my favorite thing to work with her this year.

Kayla Fratt  16:38

Yeah, I think it was funny when I was trying to answer this question for myself, because the honest answer for Barley is, I don’t know if he did learn anything this year. I don’t know. I mean, like he technically like, yeah, he learned two new odors. And he worked in two new environments that he’s never done before. He’s never worked on beaches. And he’s also never worked in the jungle, I guess technically hadn’t know we’ve worked in the desert and sagebrush scrub in the desert are pretty similar. And he’s flown before, like, honestly, there just wasn’t much for Barley, like he’s just kind of seen it all at this point, and kind of has it. But Niffler on the other hand, like, wow, two to three has been a really nice transition for him. Like, he’s really maturing like fine wine. He’s really, he’s done a lot of hard work on kind of managing his arousal.

Kayla Fratt  17:32

And with that, like we’ve done a lot of detail work, I got a brick wall as soon as I moved into my house here in Corvallis. And just doing like, honestly, a couple exercises on that, like I haven’t hit it for like two months, but it’s just a couple exercises on that helped a ton for him, like learning how to search slowly and detail was really, really nice. I’ve seen him really kind of understand how to search when I asked him to where I asked him to when to focus around a ton of distractions in a way that he really really couldn’t even in like, February of this year, because he, Guatemala was hard for him. He was not super successful there. It was great that he was the understudy and we had Barley. But I feel like the dog he is today could go and be our primary dog and Guatemala again if need be, which luckily he doesn’t have to quite yet, but he could and that’s been really cool to see and some of that’s been my training and a fair bit of it has also just been him maturing.

Rachel Hamre  18:34

Yeah, I forgot to add Howl in also. Honestly, it’s so simple, but we’ve gotten a really great recall down this year and pretty quickly.

Kayla Fratt  18:44

Well, that’s no small feat with you know, pet dog, hound dogs. Yeah, I don’t think Norbert learned anything he just showed up to scream into the microphone. I guess Norbert did learn how to surf, and then promptly went for a swim. So he’s fine. He’s a good cat. Just useless. So now what was that? What are the some of the highlights of 2023? Because I can see in our notes that none of us just wrote one thing.

Rachel Hamre  19:17

I, one of my highlights. I was working at the shelter here in Missoula. I was on the behavior team. And I really loved it just like some different challenges and like working with people in difficult situations with their dogs. I felt like it was yeah, really rewarding in a different way than what we do with K9Conservationists. It was also an and I got some really great experience just like more dogs to work with and train that’s always fun. Honestly, 20 year old me would be super disappointed in this answer, but I really, I enjoyed just being home and like having a routine. And usually I’m gone for at least a few months out of the year. And this year, I was home for a whole year. And yeah, I grew my garden from start to finish, I cook dinner a lot. Yeah, just like, regular everyday things that I was like, wow, this is really nice. Yeah, that’s lovely. Also went biking wiht Suki a lot. Biking and running.

Heather Nootbaar  20:31

Yeah, a routine and some certainty of what your next month will look like is a breath of fresh air sometimes. I guess. So my highlight would probably have to be adding Scottie to the crew. Although stressful at times, it’s been super rewarding. And now can’t imagine life without him. I also attended my first in person seminar, where I had a working spot. And that was in June. And I brought Scottie and it was at the canine census there systematic searching. It was really great to kind of backtrack with him because like I said, he kind of got started pretty quickly in terms of like the whole set work thing. And to be able to backtrack to kind of more of the mechanics and systematic stuff, like we were on the brick wall a lot. I wasn’t sure how he was going to do but of course, he like, blew me away. He was like, Oh, this is what we’re doing. Okay, got it. And then like, yeah, he was solid, too. So but it was really a great learning experience being among like minded people, because in this field, you know, a lot of it, you’re out on your own, or kind of virtually talking with people. So it was really great to be around others and so beneficial for me as a trainer as well. And then just meeting other other great people motivated me to kind of step up my training game as well.

Kayla Fratt  22:00

Yeah, there’s nothing like a good seminar. Yeah, yeah, I think I mean, my like, short, little highlight, as far as conservation dog specific stuff goes, I guess, was seeing a Jaguar when we were in Guatemala. And honestly, like the fact of how that story kind of played out in that. So, Niffler had just made a find, which is funny, because I just, I just poo pooed him a little bit for that project, because that was one of the days where he did go out and he searched well, and he made a find. And it was grey fox scat. So one of the candidates we were looking for, and I had just thrown his ball. And as we all kind of look up to his watch him chase the ball, the jaguar crossed the trail, not far ahead of him. So I basically threw a ball at a jaguar, and Niffler honest to god, I’m not sure if he noticed it. But it’s just it was it’s nice. I mean, it was an amazing experience. Like you don’t expect to get to see that sort of wildlife when you’re out there. Particularly in Guatemala. Like there are places you can go in the Pantanal or even in Costa Rica, where you’ve got a pretty good chance of seeing a jaguar, but we weren’t expecting to see one there. And also to like have Niffler have that response and particularly have Niffler get to be the one who was out for that experience is a highlight because I would have expected Barley to do that. Not that I wouldn’t have expected Niffler to do that. But it’s nice to see the the rookie get to shine in a moment of pressure like that. It’s also nice to have that literal story to get to tell clients when they ask how our dogs are around wildlife. And it’s like well, I did literally accidentally send my dog towards a jaguar and it was fine. It wasn’t just fine through luck, I guess.

Kayla Fratt  23:46

And then honestly, my other big conservation pilot was getting to work with Scottie. You know, every day I get to work with Barley in the field is one of the best days of my life, and getting the trade off between him and Scottie was really fun when we were in California. But it was really really cool to get to work with kind of our, our newest, our newest team member and get to see how far he was coming how quickly and like get to see that he is you know, Scottie is our youngest dog and kind of the future of the program and like how cool he is and how sharp he is and how ready to go. This is just turning into like the Scottie podcast, but like, you know, Barley physically wasn’t in great shape at this point. So I knew that he could do the project, you know, skills wise, but he was still partially paralyzed from his tick-borne diseases. And yeah, it was just it was great to be able to have that help and also to like really see just how much how much go that dog has has and like how, how cool he is just a couple of months into this work. Like I can’t wait to see what he looks like when he’s got six years of experience under his belt. So now I guess it’s time to talk about the low light. Rachel, what was kind of the low side of your 2023?

Rachel Hamre  25:07

I had a hard time thinking of something for this one. I feel like anytime I can always complain, but I feel like there’s so many things that I want to do and there’s only so much time in a day.

Heather Nootbaar  25:23

Yeah. I feel that. I think one of our low lights was Ellie actually had an injury. This season, she had ripped her top carpal paw pad, so not on her foot, the one kind of like by the wrist, and it sliced pretty deep, so she was out for around three weeks. Thankfully, I did have Scottie to cover. But that was a bummer, having her being physically unwell, but mentally like, raring and ready to go, and then also hear me out. It’s a bit of a low light, but letting Kayla take Scottie after just having him for about a month. I knew he was like, we were like, we need to fill in a dog give Barley some backup in case he’s not ready. I think Scottie is ready. But yeah, it was definitely like helicopter parent looking forward to every text that Kayla was sending on how the boy was doing, and being proud of him when you know, he was killing it. So yeah, a low light and a highlight.

Kayla Fratt  26:29

Well, and then he did unfortunately get a foxtail up his nose. So I had to be texting Heather from the ER, like, “He’s okay, but we did manage to do the thing that we knew was a risk.” And we you know, yeah, we’ve got a whole episode about foxtails that I think is unfortunately actually gonna come out after this one. But unless it’s already come on, I’m tired. I’m so confused about what I’ve recorded episodes and when they’re coming out, but we’ve got an episode. I think it’s already out. So we already know. I’m so confused. Because I’m like, anyway, I’ve recorded these episodes, like months and months before they come out. And then I can’t remember whether or not they’ve come out or not. So kind of on that note, what was a struggle for you this year? So we can again start with Heather and then go into Rachel, then me.

Heather Nootbaar  27:23

Sorry, did you want to do your light light?

Kayla Fratt  27:24

Oh, my low light? Yeah, I guess. Yeah, this isn’t gonna be surprising to anyone. But it was Barley’s health stuff. You know. Like when he started getting sick towards the end of May and early June, it just progressed so quickly,  and like, seeing a previously very healthy dog progress through paralysis, and particularly when you’re living in the tropics, and it’s just like, it felt like it could be anything. And the vets were pretty seriously kind of preparing me for the worst, you know, like DM, degenerative myelopathy was passed around, you know, spinal lesions were mentioned, like there was just a lot of like, really, really scary stuff.

Kayla Fratt  28:08

And then he did start to improve pretty quickly once we got him on antibiotics. And he was on antibiotics within like five days of symptoms starting to show up maybe a little bit earlier. But it did take him a long time to get back to 100%. And there was like a while where I was really worried that he was just going to kind of be stuck at this point where he still didn’t have total control over his hind end. And I have videos of him from like, even around when we were in California, where we got we talked to the veterinary team and we had the go ahead to work with him. So I want to be totally clear on that. And he had the strength. But turning sometimes was hard for him.

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Kayla Fratt  28:47

So there was a couple times where he like the front end wanted to go up like a bank or a gully or something. And then if he decided to turn around in a tight space, like his hind end, wouldn’t necessarily pivot properly with him. And it was just really scary to look at that and be like, Oh my god, like is this just gonna be his life now. So, you know, luckily, it’s not, he’s made a full recovery, you would never know it now. And even actually, I was looking at him today. And we’re a little bit a year more than a year out of his TPLO at this point as well. And I think his muscle mass has actually come pretty much fully back in that other leg. I wasn’t sure if he was going to get back to like full, even muscle tone between the right and the left leg because he was getting that surgery a little bit later in life and you know, like nine year old neutered males 10 year old neutered males don’t build muscle the same way. So it’s been good to see it all turning up. Okay, but it was. Yeah, it was rough for a while there. So yeah, now let’s talk about struggles. So Heather, you can go first.

Heather Nootbaar  29:49

Yeah, I think we all are going to touch on this based off of our notes but definitely feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome. Like feeling Like I don’t know enough to be able to help people. But every year I’ve been at the wind farm. I mean, my first year, I had a great partner who kind of mentored me. And now I’ve been able to be that person for four years now with new green handlers at all the projects, so being able to kind of problem solve any issues that they that arise while on the job. And I also think attending that seminar I mentioned really helped, because we each kind of were working the same problems and watching each other go. So if I noticed something wasn’t clicking, or if modification was needed to meet the dog, where they were at, I would like, you know, think of what I would try and do and then the instructors would often give the same advice. And so that really helped me solidify, like, I do actually know some stuff. And, and, yeah, that that really boosted my confidence, I guess.

Heather Nootbaar  30:58

And then another struggle has just kind of been a bit of growing pains, kind of working to dogs. Like I mentioned, Scottie has some FOMO. So he would be a little upset when he was not the one being chosen to go work a plot and it was Ellie’s turn, but we’re working on that. And just making sure that Ellie gets her equal attention since Scottie does tend to insert himself in for all of the affection but yeah, it’s it’s a okay struggle to have, I will take it.

Rachel Hamre  31:32

Yeah, definitely. Imposter syndrome, probably primarily in the dog training realm and conservation detection dog realm. Yeah, I feel like it’s just hard to not feel that sometimes. But yeah, that’s okay. Here we are. Um, I, I guess another struggle. Maybe this would go in low. I don’t know, either. My leaving the Humane Society. That was my first time leaving a job on not an entirely positive note. So that that felt pretty sad and disappointing. Yeah, definitely. Like, I whirled that around in my head for a while. Yeah, again, you know, here we are, and life goes on. And that’s all okay. I’m also training struggles with Suki. It’s really interesting. Because I, I feel like I have such a pendulum when I’m thinking about things with her. Like, sometimes I like I was saying earlier, I look back and I’m like, wow, we’ve made huge progress here. And then other times, I just like stay, like frustrated or stuck on something. And I think sometimes I’m just not entirely sure, like, how much I need to adjust my own expectations versus how much my thinking about those? Like, yeah, I guess how much of those issues are, like just my perception versus is it actually an issue in reality, which I guess kind of comes back to them looking further back on things and realizing we have made progress? I don’t know. That was a little bit of a loop. But yeah, I guess when I’m thinking about training, a lot of like, what is my perception of this versus what is the reality of this? I think that’s been a thing that I’ve thought about a lot when I’m thinking about my training.

Kayla Fratt  33:40

Yeah, totally. That’s where it like, yeah, like training logs, and like, video can be so helpful not to turn this into like a sort of thing. But like, I know, for me, like, there have been so many times where I think that something didn’t go well or think that something doesn’t make sense. And then I go back and watch the video and it’s like, oh, okay, well, that’s why, you know, whatever. Or seeing video of, you know, one of the dogs from like, a year ago, okay, they Yeah, they haven’t.

Rachel Hamre  34:12

Sometimes I even am just like, looking through my old Snapchat videos. And I’m like, Oh, well, that is way different now than it used to be. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s just funny how that works. Yeah, definitely.

Kayla Fratt  34:23

Yeah, I think I struggled a lot with like guilt. While I was traveling, like I had this nine months of living in the van in Central America, and just like, really having this amazing experience and kind of like a prolonged vacation. And I thought a lot of like, I think like, I don’t know, yeah, I guess it is kind of an impostor syndrome related thing where people would say to me, like, I don’t know how you’re doing at all, or like, this is so impressive, and I’d be like, I’m working like four hours a day  right now, like I just surf, like, I guess I’ve successfully fooled you all, but like, I’m not doing anything right now, like, I’m on vacation. And like feeling kind of guilty about that about this, like, perception that I was working when I wasn’t and kind of, I think also being confused about it.

Kayla Fratt  35:18

Um, I’m so grateful that I took that time. And I’m so grateful that I was did that period where I was working like four hours a day, because now I’m in a Ph. D. program, and I’m stuck here. You know, and I love this program. I’m so grateful to be here. But I’m also like, you know, I’m in the same place for five or six years now. And I’m really grateful that I had that time. And then I’ve had a little less than I expected, but a little bit of imposter syndrome, kind of coming in to the PhD program, particularly not in my classes, but around my lab mates. I’ve got, I’m in a very large lab, and everyone is so smart and so accomplished. And also, you know, I’m the first term baby. So I’m talking to people who are in the fourth fifth year of their PhDs or postdocs, and like, obviously, they’re there. They just know so much. And like when I listened to them talking about the difference in like, which SNP panel are you using or like, microsatellites, or whatever, I’m just like, I have no idea what you’re talking about. And I will never know. And I don’t know why y’all let me in here. Like, I’m just here, because I’ve got a dog, like, what is happening. And I know that’s not true. And I’m doing okay with it. But it has been a little bit of a journey. And it probably will continue to be for a while, I guess until we get like our newest baby PhD student, and then I get to not be the baby anymore. So, no. So yeah, what was one of your favorite adventures with your dog in 2023? Rachel?

Rachel Hamre  36:58

Yeah, I have just like stopped so many times when I’m out. And then, like, just thought about how thankful I am to live in such a cool place. And also to have dogs that I can go outside and do such great things with. Like I yeah, I guess I just became very aware of, Oh, I get to walk out my door and take my dog on these amazing trails. And like, yeah, we have to be cognizant of wildlife and stuff like that. But for the most part, like, I get to go out and just enjoy her and it’s not that easy for a lot of people and a lot of dogs. So yeah, just being out with them. But mostly, we started bike during which Sookie is not a huge polar, but it is super fun. Like in the moments when she is pulling me especially uphill. And so we bike up and then she gets to go off the leash and sprint down behind the bike and yeah, that’s super fun.

Heather Nootbaar  38:05

I so relate to that. Because I was I felt like one of those people where you walk out the door in the Midwest and you’re like, well corn I can see as far as the eye can see flatlands. So now I am so stoked to be living in Colorado not as much access to like off leash trails and stuff that I know you guys have up there. But still much more, like, noteworthy, I guess, trails, like we could find a park to walk around outside of Chicago, but definitely a little different. Out here. There’s new trails and parks that we’re exploring. In our area. We did a hike in Boulder and Colorado Springs with the dogs and yeah, it’s just been so lovely. Being able to be in a different environment and that both dogs now have pulling harnesses I officially got them from nonstop when they were on sale for Black Friday. So Ellie got to try hers on I had done like, you know, some running with her attached to my waist. But when she was in like the official pulling harness, she was like, so stoked. I’m like, Oh, wow, girl you love this. So we’re hopefully going to try and do some skijoring over this winter, if possible. We’ll see how that goes, but yeah, I’m excited for all the adventures,

Rachel Hamre  39:30

I’m so excited for you to skijor, also.

Kayla Fratt  39:33

I know, that’s what I was gonna say I would like, because Niffler has also learned started learning to bikejor and we’ve been doing that as training, for, he’s going to fly with me for his first time in February to go to Wisconsin for a ski race. And yeah, we’ve got like, we’ve got a K9Conservationist mushing him in the making like we have to sign up for like a five dog cart event of some sort. I don’t know how we’re gonna manage all the personalities and not have a dog fight but. We can put the merle boys in between the girls. It’ll be okay.

Rachel Hamre  40:04

I was gonna say we’ll just put Suki and Ellie as far as possible and I think it’ll be fine.

Kayla Fratt  40:08

We will figure it out. We can workshop this later. I was just talking to Arden from New York New Jersey trial conference, she had a photo or a video on her Instagram Stories of her bike or think she was running with Pete. And like, man, we got to have a conservation dog Olympics coming up, like we’ve got some powerhouse dogs, doing all sorts of fun sports.

Kayla Fratt  40:29

Okay, get back on track, I think, you know, it was so fun to have my dogs be with me in Central America, I get to see both of them be Beach Boys. I have not generally lived somewhere that has access to a beach. You know, I’ve lived in Colorado and Montana and I live in Oregon, which does have a beach, has a coast. And it’s beautiful, but it’s very cold. And you know, just like getting to take particularly Niffler was such a good surf dog. Like he would just come down with me to the water. Every day when Dani and I were surfing and he would just hang out on the beach, we didn’t have to tie him anything. We didn’t have to tell him to do anything, he would just dig holes and chase the waves and entertain himself and like part of it is also the culture in you know, Central America, like nobody really cares about unattended dogs and nobody’s going to bother you and all the street dogs, you know street dogs perpetually get in fights don’t last very long. So it’s just not a big deal.

Kayla Fratt  41:28

And it was just so nice and Barley was less able to hang out unattended because he was he’s kind of perpetually recovering from an injury and would also harass the tourists with pieces of driftwood or coconuts and then would try to go home with them if they threw it. So Barley had a great time on the beach, but he did not get to be an unsupervised surfer boy. But it was just so nice to get to share that time with them and get to spend so much time every day with them. Especially now that I’ve started this Ph. D program I’m really thinking back with a lot of gratitude to the time that you know their needs were met at such a high level every single day and that are my life was just kind of revolved we our lives just got to revolve around each other.

Kayla Fratt  42:14

And that’s something I’m really looking forward to as I think about my next field season because you know, you would never recommend to someone who’s in a Ph. D. program to bring home to high drive working Border Collies, but unfortunately, as someone who has two high drive working Border Collies, I started a Ph. D program. And it’s been you know, like managing them over the last couple of months has been a lot harder than it has been to manage them for the last couple couple of years. Both and I’m not good at keeping these on one theme. So my favorite adventure was surfing. That’s the point. So what are you going to be working on for 2024? Where are you excited to kind of dig into? We’ll start with Rachel.

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Rachel Hamre  42:56

Yeah, we’ve been working on it. And we’re going to continue chipping away at it and hope that when I look back a year from now, I can see big differences, or at least some difference. But we are definitely working on, like wildlife. Interactions slash non interactions. Working around distractions. Yeah, like I said, deer are just really difficult sometimes. And we’re kind of perpetually working on just like, having Suki like, enjoy engaging and working with me. But that has been pretty good. So I think mostly focusing on like, disengaging from deer, being able to work around those tough distractions.

Heather Nootbaar  43:48

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think for me, I want to have written progression plans, no just like winging it have like a schedule and stick to it. I know life gets in the way but trying to get as organized as possible. So I don’t feel overwhelmed or that I have that I am able to look back and you know, see the progress that we’ve made, and that I stick to it. Since moving we’ve kind of just like help out of a routine. So get back into that really want to work on detailed searches. I know at the top, Kayla, you talked about Niffler just already being much more detailed from the time on the wall. So I think I want to try that.

Heather Nootbaar  44:30

I wonder if you notice as well but Scottie searches very fast. And so he just needs to learn to slow down and I’ll use hide placement to reinforce that as well. But just kind of like I said, go back to the basics with him. And yeah, really secure all that. Along with that, I guess brush up on safety skills for both dogs. Downs stays, emergency stops, directionals. Hopefully they’ll get good practice because we’ll want to do that when we’re skijoring. Or at least the directional, it’s not the emergency stops, I’ll hit a tree. But yeah, so that is what we’ll be working on. I guess also, I think one of my other things, it wasn’t as big of an issue when I first got Scottie, but it has throughout the course of the season. He does have big feelings about his ball. And he is he loves, you know, possession. But he has a hard time sometimes giving it back when we got to go search again. So I think we got to just work on more cooperative play, and it’d be more. Yeah, yep. Cooperative, I guess is the best word so that we’re able to be efficient as well as make sure he’s feeling like he got his paycheck for his find as well.

Kayla Fratt  45:49

Yeah, yeah, that was definitely the thing I struggled with most with him in California. And like, especially the first like, five, six days, which is like, of course, he doesn’t know me. He doesn’t trust me. He’s just been through, like so much change in the last couple months. But yeah, yeah, he doesn’t. Dropping it does not come easily to him, and giving it back.

Heather Nootbaar  46:10

And yeah, we’ll be using that a two ball switch that you said, Rachel, that you use Suki so. Two balls that are exactly the same, and then rope tied this same way, they have to be the same or else he was like No, this one is better. I will go take this one and jump on it. Thank you.

Kayla Fratt  46:31

Sometimes the different rubber feels different! Yeah, I’m really excited to continue working on like systematic searching with Niffler. It’s been really nice here where I live in Corvallis. My road dead ends into a disc golf Riverfront Park area that is off leash dog friendly. So it’s been really nice to like, I can load the dogs up and if I’m being really lazy drive like the three blocks down and then train just like right there. And it’s like, wooded, there’s a river, there’s fields, there’s like tons of interesting stuff, I was doing a really good job before classes started of like, doing a lot of good systematic searching there and like, getting Niffler used to searching in thicker undergrowth, which you know, for a guy who’s worked two seasons on a wind farm was hard. And I really started seeing a lot of improvement from him in that and seeing also like learning how to handle him and learning how to read him, he has a much, much more subtle in his body language. S

Kayla Fratt  47:29

o I think really getting on my own case about filming him and getting better at watching that back and studying his body language to see those changes of behavior. Because when he is like working in odor pool and sourcing kind of like a challenging puzzle, it is really easy to think he doesn’t have odor. And kind of like, move on, particularly if I’m doing blind hides, which I’m generally not. And I think knowing that that’s a weak point for us means that I should not be doing blind hides with him for quite a while. And yeah, I’m really just kind of excited to work on that.

Kayla Fratt  48:05

And then Barley, his big thing is that he is going to be living on a boat for six weeks with me in Alaska, and motoring around to all of these different like little islands. And he tolerates boats pretty well. But he does not necessarily like little boats, and he does not like swell. So kind of working on getting him used to that is going to be, it’s going to be a project, I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do it. Because I don’t, I don’t really know how to approximate the boat, but I’m gonna think about it. And if anyone’s got any ideas, feel free to reach out. And then we also he will probably be on a floodplain at some point. So I need to do some training with him to get him used to wearing ear protection. And he’s been on planes before but float planes are really different and way smaller and making sure that he’s kind of comfortable and ready to go on all these different forms of locomotion. I think that’s going to be his big exciting thing.

Kayla Fratt  49:05

And we’re also going to need to brush up on some safety of skulls, you know, where we are going to be working in Alaska is the highest dense and the highest concentration of black bears in the world. So, and it’s very windy, which means a bear spray is not always going to be an option for us. So we’re going to have some flare guns and some other options with us but making sure that he’s really up to snuff on safety around bears and then we’re also going to be actively looking for wolves during denning season. So again, making sure that just his wildlife interactions are top notch, that his radius with me is very tight. We’ve got a stellar field tech coming to work with us. In all likelihood. It’s going to be Toni, who was has been on the podcast before; she was my tech in Guatemala. You know it’s not 100% set in stone, but should, it probably is going to be her so we’re feeling good about it but it’s gonna be a lot of Um, yeah, excited. But it’s, it’s a lot. But you know, that’s that’s just what we’re working on for this coming year. And so I guess kind of to wrap it up here, then what are you guys looking forward to most for 2024?

Rachel Hamre  50:19

Yeah, having some work laid out is definitely exciting. Since I just started my grad program, a lot of my classes this – well, one of my classes this semester, I guess I would say I found pretty boring, I guess, honestly, is probably the best word for it just one of those, like, almost prerequisite classes. So I was definitely valuable. I did learn a lot even in that one. But I’m definitely excited to starting next semester, be diving. Meet, like the things that I really wanted to go to school for, things that I think are super interesting.

Heather Nootbaar  51:04

No. Yeah, I am also stoked to have our secured work for next year; it’s always a toss up on where we’re going to be. So that’s really lovely to have this early. We’ll be you know, at a wind farm, but working a new landscape. In the Midwest, it’s primarily agriculture. So we’ll be, you know, in grassy shrub land. So that’ll be different. Of course, there’s now going to be other risks such as cacti and rattlesnakes that I didn’t have to worry about in the Midwest, but I still am excited for that. And then any other projects that are kind of potentially in the works, we have, you know, some irons in the fire and waiting to see if they pan out. But any other non wind farm work that I could get Scottie and or Ellie on would be just a good change of scenery. So I’m excited if that pans out as well.

Kayla Fratt  52:00

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I’m also you know, just looking forward to my secured work. And I get to be more specific, because it’s my PhD stuff. So we’re, we’re very vague-booking because but that’s because we haven’t had all of our contracts signed yet. But we’ve got some exciting stuff to hopefully tell you about for 2024 once, once it’s actually started, we’re not gonna we’re not gonna jinx anything quite yet. But yeah, you know, so Barley is going to be coming with me up to Alaska, we’re gonna be working in the Alexander Archipelago, which is kind of around in and around Prince of Wales. But as I said, just like doing a lot of really cool work going out and working with these coastal wolves. And finding lots and lots of poop, and then, you know, eventually I’ll be bringing that back to the lab and learning how to analyze that, figure out who’s been traveling between which islands, what they’re all eating, and then we’ll be able to look at some kind of environmental factors to see what is corresponding to all of that, you know, like, is the island size, pushing the wolves to eat a more marine diet, you know, those sorts of things. And it’s just going to be, it’s going to be really, really beautiful.

Kayla Fratt  53:07

And then we’re also hopefully, so we’re in the process of grant writing for this, but I will probably be bringing one or both dogs with me back down to El Salvador, that would probably be quite late next year, because we’d want to do it in the dry season, which is like November, December, January, February. So it would not be for quite a while next year. But that gives us plenty of time to wrangle some money. And that’s going to be a really, really cool project, primarily focusing on pumas for that project, but also because the boys are cross trained on all of the other meso-carnivores in the area will be able to answer some questions about ocelots and teras, and what they’re what they’re doing in the area, who they’re, who they’re eating, how they’re using, the environment, where they’re moving, and those sorts of things. And that’s got the potential to turn into a really, really cool, really, really big project. My roommate, Ellen and I are already talking about kind of co-applying for some larger pools of NSF money and all sorts of things like that.

Kayla Fratt  54:03

So it’s just, it’s just all really cool. And kind of on the same note, as Rachel, like this term, my classes, I had to take the graduate orientation class I took GIS I took are not necessarily like the sexiest classes. And then next term, I get to take, you know, evidence in ecology and analytical workflows, which don’t sound super exciting, but they are going to be a lot more applicable. And I’m really excited about how they’re going to play out from my research and kind of make me a better scientist. So and then the classes just continue getting fun, more and more fun from there. And I’ll be learning how to how to do the lab stuff soon as well, which is going to be really exciting and actually get to start taking pretty pictures of glowing gels and shelling, you know, everything that’s showing up in the poop and really learn how to do the back end of this sort of stuff. Well, yeah. Is there anything that either of you wanted to kind of bring back to up or expand on before before we go here.

Rachel Hamre  55:07

I can’t think of anything.

Heather Nootbaar  55:10

No, I’m just excited for the year we had and how it looks like 2024 could be shaping up like, yeah, we’re hopping busy.

Rachel Hamre  55:19

This makes me excited for 2024.

Kayla Fratt  55:23

Yeah, exactly. We’ve got we’ve got a lot of stuff to look forward to. And we’re really excited to be sharing it with everyone on social media and via the podcast when we are able. So with that, I guess I wanted to ask people where to find me where they can find you. Because you can find all of us at K9Conservationists.org where you can also find show notes for this episode, you can join our Patreon, you can sign up for the waitlist for Heather running the live class. So if you have been waiting for another live session, now would be the time to hop on that. And yeah, again, all of that’s over at K9Conservationists.org. I did forget to say, I hope you’ve learned a lot and you’re feeling inspired to get outside to be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. We’ll be back in two weeks. Bye!