A Day in the Life of a Conservation Detection Dog Handler

In this episode, we discuss a day in the life of a conservation detection dog handler on a variety of projects that Kayla has worked on.

We cover the daily schedule for projects ranging from wind farm work to jaguar surveys in Costa Rica.

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Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt  00:00

Hey everyone, it’s Kayla. I’m just dropping in to let you all know that our amazing editor Jenna is experiencing some laptop issues this week, so we don’t have a fresh episode for you. But that means I’m going to pick out an episode from our archives one of our more popular episodes that I think is worth revisiting for you all to listen to today. This means that today we’re going to be listening to a day in the life of a conservation dog handler. This goes through my schedule on a typical day working on the wind farms, which is not the only way to be a conservation dog handler. But it’s the episode we have. And I hope you enjoy it. We’ll be back next week with a nice, fresh episode. Thanks for listening; bye!

Kayla Fratt  00:51

Good morning, and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every other week as we discuss odor dynamics, and conservation biology and all sorts of incredible things related to the world of conservation detection dogs. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt, and I’m one of the co-founders of K9Conservationists where we train dogs to detect data.

Kayla Fratt  01:18

I am recording right now from my field truck, so sorry for subpar audio quality. It is 5:45 in the morning, this is the latest morning I’ve had all week. And I wanted to do a little bit of a bonus minisode about a day in the life of a conservation detection dog handler. So we’re going to start out going through a day in the life of the project I’m currently working on. And if we’ve got time, I’ll go over a couple of the other projects that I’ve worked on because it it does vary vary so much. It does vary so much.

Kayla Fratt  02:04

Anyway, okay, so I am currently working on wind farm project. So I’m working with Niffler, my nine month old puppy. I’m going to do an episode very soon, about, you know, my decision to work with an adolescent dog and some of the things I’ve been keeping in mind as I’ve been working with a very young dog. My older dog Barley, King Barley, is away at another field site right now, doing the same work with one of my very good friends who is an aspiring conservation detection dog handler, I guess she now is she’s made it, I was able to lend her my dog. We’ve lent her Barley.

Kayla Fratt  02:42

So okay, so we’re working on wind farms, which means the dogs are, they’re trained to detect bats. And then if we find birds, incidentally, we’re also keeping track of those, although the dogs were not kind of specifically intentionally trained on birds, which is just a study design choice. And where we’re at right now, I can’t tell you the specific wind farm or specific town or anything like that. But it has been very hot and humid. I’m recording this on July 30. And this week, I think every day we had highs in around the 90s. It’s been extremely humid. Luckily, it has been windy, obviously because we’re on a wind farm. But the reason I’m mentioning the weather is that is the biggest informer of how early we are starting every morning.

Kayla Fratt  03:32

So my days this week have been starting around 4:45 in the morning with my alarm, been getting up, I’ve been brushing my teeth, putting on my field clothes, and basically leaving I’ve been getting in the truck to go to work by about 5am because I’m not ready for breakfast yet. And if there’s not ready for breakfast, and there’s not really anything else to do, which I’ve just been setting up my truck and everything so that I’m able to leave right away at 5am It’s about a half hour commute to our worksite. So by the time we’re getting there around 5:30 In the morning, it’s starting to get light out it is the sun hasn’t quite crested the horizon, but it’s light enough to work. And that’s a safety thing. We’re not allowed to be on the wind farms and out of the vehicles in the dark.

Kayla Fratt  04:23

But once it’s light out, we’re basically trying to get out and start working with the dogs as early as possible because the dogs are, even with all our fancy Ruffwear cooling gear and water and everything that we can possibly do, the dogs are getting really hot and the dogs don’t work as well when they’re hot because obviously if they’re panting with you know, a big gaping open mouth pant, their mouth breathing, they’re not going to be able to send quite as well and it’s also obviously just a comfort and safety thing. We want the dogs to be safe and we want the dogs to enjoy the job.

Kayla Fratt  04:56

So been starting around 5:30 in the morning and what this particular wind farm project looks like and I assume most wind farm projects are broadly very similar. So we basically have a list of turbines that we’re going to check every day. And we go from turbine to turbine, serving the area under the turbine looking for our fatalities. And there’s a huge team behind us that is doing all sorts of data analysis and looking at, you know, looking, I don’t actually even know, which, you know, by my dog trainer is showing, my conservation biologist is a little ashamed right now, I don’t know much more about the study design.

Kayla Fratt  05:35

But you know, we’re just kind of the hired guns who come up and shop and look for the fatalities. And then there’s all sorts of GIS people and scientists and statisticians, and other people who have done pre field work, you know, before construction of the wind farm, or, you know, in previous years, and they’re combining all that data together to look at the environmental impact, or the wildlife impact of these, these farms of these turbines.

Kayla Fratt  06:03

Each turbine search is taking us 15 to 30 minutes, it kind of depends on how hard the wind is flying, because that can make our scent cones, longer and narrower we were having yesterday, it was quite windy, and it was quite a bit cooler, it was just in the 80s. And Niffler was having detection distances with his for his fatalities of around 50 feet. So we were working really, really quickly because we weren’t really having to walk really, really tight transects because as long as our transects were 50, 60 feet apart, and if there was able to pick up every single fatality as far as I can tell, obviously, I don’t know the ones we miss.

Kayla Fratt  06:44

When he finds his fatalities, when he finds his casualties, were able to reward the dogs. Niffler is currently getting a mix of ball and toy rewards, or ball and food roids. I mark it with a pin flag and mark with my GPS and I go on to the next one. And we’re walking about 20 meter transects. As I said, I’ve actually been walking tighter transects because my dogs work fast. But they also might miss things because they work so fast. So I’ve actually been walking closer to 15 or 20 meter transects. But I’m actually still getting done in about the same time as the other handlers because their dogs work much more slowly and methodically to these wider transect distances.

Kayla Fratt  07:27

So once, once we finished our plot, I’m then putting Niffler away in the truck, I’m giving him water, I’m turning the truck back on to run the air conditioning for him. And then I’m going out to process each casualty. And that might look like for this project, I’m taking a bunch of photos, I’m measuring the wings of the bats because that kind of help with species identification. I’m taking, you know, compass measurements and more GPS data, and all sorts of stuff to really hammered down what exactly I’m seeing how fresh it is, what species it is, where it is in relation to the turbine, etc, etc. And then back up our casualties.

Kayla Fratt  08:11

And then well, and I go to the next one, we’ve had some turbines, where we’re finding several casualties per turbine, we also have a lot a lot a lot of turbines where we don’t find anything. But it seems like you know, as these as our as our bats are migrating, they, you know, the the turbines may be hitting several bats in a in a migrating flock. Do bats flock? I know a colony of bats is a group of bats that are moving, but I’m actually not sure birds flock is a group of bats a flock, let me know, I could Google it. But actually I can’t because I don’t have internet where I live right now.

Kayla Fratt  08:49

So then we load up and we go to the next plot. Some of our plots are actually human only plots where I’m just walking on the access road to the turbine, walking around the turbine. There’s kind of like a gravel patch under these turbines, and then walking back to the truck and marking any fatalities I have there, I assume that the scientists are doing something there to kind of confirm or compare efficiency for these really fast, really easy human searches to the more intensive dog searches. I just have to assume that they’re just kind of comparing that’s part of the study is that they’re looking at different types of searches and how efficient they may be at actually finding these casualties. Maybe the theory being once they really know what and I’m totally speculating here, but this is what I might be thinking about if I were writing the study is okay, so if we can get dog teams out for a couple seasons, and we can get a really good handle on how many casualties there are under each turbine because we assumed the dog teams are missing. Far, far, far fewer than human teams are.

Kayla Fratt  09:58

But then at the same time, we can also compare that to what human teams are finding at comparable wind turbines at the same year, then going forward in the future. Maybe in other years, we might not use the expense to hire a dog team. And we might be able to just get tax to biology tax to walk those, those roads, the ways that I’m doing right now, and then, you know, we can do some fancy math and kind of extrapolate out to figure out what the casualties are looking like. Again, I don’t know if that’s what they’re doing. But that would be a question that I would be interested in asking. Obviously, as a conservation detection or handler, I’d prefer if they continue hiring the dog teams. But you know, conservation biology doesn’t always have a lot of money in it. So I understand if they’re, they’re looking for ways to save some money.

Kayla Fratt  10:45

Okay. And we kind of rinse and repeat that all day. Yesterday, niffler searched about 10 turbines, I searched on alone, about five. And we were working from we were on site at 5am. And then we actually unfortunately, had some lightning, which slowed us down, we weren’t able to start working until about 8:30 in the morning, maybe around nine, which was much, much slower. Luckily, because of the storms. It actually stayed a little cooler yesterday. But I worked from about 8:30 in the morning until about 7:45 at night. We were on site from 5am until 7:45, from 5am to 8:30. While we were waiting for the lightning to clear I just was doing some data entry and extra processing from work that I had fallen behind on earlier this week. And then once I got home around 8:30 last night, I took a quick shower, I stuffed my face full of this zucchini black bean dish that I’ve been making, because our Airbnb hosts keep giving us zucchini. And then I did some data entry and then I passed out. And that’s been relatively standard for me all week.

Kayla Fratt  12:01

And the past couple of weeks on those projects, you know, we’ve been working, again, kind of from 5am, till I’ve had days where I’ve finished at noon, I’ve had days where I finished at four, I’ve had days where yesterday, I finished at 7:40, 7:45. So they’re very, very, very long field days, this project is not all that physically challenging, because we are kind of walking, you know, flat prairie under wind turbines, and you’re only walking for maybe a half hour at a time and then you get in the truck and you drive to the next turbine. So it’s a lot of driving and a lot of it’s a lot of being paid to drive up to a cattle gates, put the truck in park, get out of the truck, open the gate, walk back to the truck, drive through the gate, put the truck back in park, drive back to the gate, close the gate, get back into the truck, and then go on.

Kayla Fratt  12:53

 We have some turbines where you have to do that four or five times from one turbine to the next. So I feel like sometimes I’m just being paid to be a professional cow gate opener. And that’s more or less this project. I am in working on this project for about three months. And yeah, two, three months. I can tell I’m going to be exhausted. I already am exhausted, I’m getting an average of five or six hours of sleep each night. Because by the time I finish all my data processing, it has often been 9pm. And then I need to do a little bit of unwinding before bed. And then I’m getting up again at 4:45. So that’s kind of brutal. But again, this job hasn’t been physically challenging. And I’m hoping this week was a little unusually challenging for me because I was actually working ahead so that I could take a little bit of a long weekend. And then we had some weather issues. So for example yesterday, I would have been able to wrap up yesterday closer to 4pm. Had we actually started searching at our normal 5am time. But yeah, that’s more or less a day in the life for this particular project.

Kayla Fratt  14:12

I guess I will talk about what it looks like when I’m searching a dog plot. So when I’m out with the dogs there, the dogs are working on or off leash, it depends on the dog. They prefer that the dogs work on leash, but both of my dogs actually worked better off leash. I have my GPS in one hand and a bunch of pin flags and the other hand I have a fanny pack on that carries a teeny tiny emergency first aid kit. It carries citronella spray, in case we were to encounter any off leash aggressive dogs, it carries poop bags, it carries treats and it carries toys for Niffler and then there are a couple other kind of emergency things in there. I I have a kind of emergency grooming kit that’s much more important for Barley, because he’s a long-haired Border Collie versus Niffler, who’s kind of my my quick dry version. But I have a teeny tiny folding flea comb. I have tweezers, I have trauma shears. And I have hemostats, which are really helpful for handling things if need be. I’ve I’ve used those to deal with cactus spines, I’ve also used them, which the tweezers are generally better at. I also use them quite frequently for handling samples as I’m processing them. And that’s not just on this project. And then I also have a teeny tiny bottle of lube. And that is not for me, that is actually because squirting a teeny tiny bit of lube on to things like foxtails and other grass seeds that can be really dangerous if they get into your dog’s eyes or ears or nose. That lube particularly up their nose can be really helpful in washing those grass seeds out so that they don’t, because those grass seeds will actually kind of spiral and burrow into your dog’s flesh. So yes, I have lube in my pocket every day, all the time, while I’m doing conservation dog stuff. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but it is 5:45 in the morning, and I cannot make it.

Kayla Fratt  16:14

Okay, so and then you know, Niffler is working off leash, for the most part, I’m putting him on leash, if we are near cattle; cattle have been kind of the bane of our existence on this project. Sometimes they think that we are driving up to feed them. So I’ve had several wind turbines where I’ve driven up to try to get my search started. And I look up as I’m kind of doing my my data entry for the fact that I’m about to start the turbine because I’ve to write down the turbine number, the date, you know, the time that we’re starting the search all those things. By the time I’ve written those things down, I look up and the vehicle, or we’ve got 40 or 100, Black Angus cattle kind of running towards us thinking they’re going to be fed. And they’re, they’re not afraid of us. And they’re mixed herds in a lot of cases. So you know, it’s Mama’s with babies, it’s pregnant mamas. And it’s bulls. So when that happens, we sometimes we can wait them out. And they’ll just kind of realize we’re not going to feed them and then they’re going to wander away. And then a lot of times, I actually just end up having to drive away and come back to that turbine later, which does slow us down quite a bit.

Kayla Fratt  17:23

Sometimes the cows are not interested in being fed, and they just kind of are lying around sleeping or whatever. In those cases, I generally can kind of get out of the truck, shoo him away. And then I keep Niffler on leash because he is a herding dog. And I do not need my conservation dog learning about herding cattle is just as much fun as working, particularly when I’m expecting him to work alongside cattle. And I want him to be able to focus on finding bats, not chasing cows. So it’s really important for me that he does not practice cow chasing behavior, particularly in this context. One day, I do probably plan on doing herding lessons with him, just because I think it’s really fun. And I think it’s really, really amazing for dogs off leash obedience and their relationship with you. But I never ever want to mix hurting, and conservation dog work so. So we’ve got cattle.

Kayla Fratt  18:15

Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry. This is such a crazy episode, because it is so early in the morning. But I really wanted to record it. And I have time now. And as you’ve heard, I don’t have a lot of time to be recording podcasts right now.

Kayla Fratt  18:27

Okay, so then we get out, we walk up to the upwind side of the turbine, and we start walking crossways. So the wind is always kind of out my shoulder hitting the side of my face. And I am watching Niffler’s nose and then glancing back at my GPS. And luckily with this project, there’s not a ton of badger holes, we don’t have rattlesnakes at this particular study site. So I’m actually far less situationally aware, or I have to be far less situationally aware than normal. And then we’ll talk about that with some past projects coming up soon. I walk all the way across my plot, I turn I walk downwind, as I said, kind of 10 to 15 meters. And then we walk across again. And we do that over and over and over again, until my dog finds bats. And as we said, we have a lot of zero plots where there’s nothing to be found. And then we’ve had some plots where there’s, there’s more.

Kayla Fratt  19:21

That is really what kind of slows us down each on each project, or on each plot of the bats. And casualties take maybe 20 minutes each process. So if we have a plot where we have multiple casualties, that can really slow us down, and that’s always really stressful if it’s that’s starting to happen, you know, around 10am. So like when it’s still cool enough that it’s really prime dog working conditions, and then you’re getting slowed down processing these casualties that can be stressful.

Kayla Fratt  19:53

As far as kind of the broader weekly schedule for this particular project. As I said, I’ve been working probably 14 or 15 hour days most days this week, we are supposed to be working for 10 hour days a week, I am grateful for the overtime. Although it has meant that I’ve had to suspend a lot of my other normal projects, I’m normally someone who kind of has my finger on a lot of different pies, and I’ve had to suspend those, which is unfortunate. And part of that is also because our, I keep saying Airbnbs, but they’re not Airbnbs. They’re these little these adorable little hunting cabins that we’re staying that don’t have Wi Fi. So we’re using these, these signal booster, like Wi Fi puck sort of dealios, but they are capped at 20 gigs of data and with the amount of photos that we’re uploading each day of the casualties. We we burned through that really quickly.

Kayla Fratt  20:45

So I’m working 14, 15 hour days, which is kind of a bummer. But quite frankly, I’m in rural Nebraska. I don’t know anyone here. I don’t mind working really, really long days for this particular project. Although I can I can tell that at the end of this project, I’m going to be exhausted and very excited to you know, go to coffee shops and hang out with friends and like go for hikes.

Kayla Fratt  21:10

One of the biggest things that is hard for me about this particular project as far as kind of quality of life is the fact that because we are working so much and it’s been so hard. I actually haven’t worked out at all this week. I am recording this on Friday. The last time I went for a run was Sunday. And that is really unusual for me. I’m normally someone who works out five or six days a week. I am pretty much always either training for a marathon or the American Birkebeiner which is a cross country ski marathon. So it’s really unusual for me to to not be able to work out I’m also not reading which is a bummer. I was really excited to read a bunch with and you know kind of enjoy my solitude this summer. And so far I’ve not had time to read I have not read at all this week, I’ve barely had time to journal. Most of my journal entries have just been me writing like, I’m tired. Niffler did really well today. Good night, I bet you would do. Very dramatic.

Kayla Fratt  22:07

But anyway, so we’re supposed to be working four times we’re working more like I think this week, I worked 15 hours Monday, 14 hours, Tuesday, eight hours Wednesday. And part of that was because my rental car actually had some issues. So I had to do, I had to do quite a bit of extra kind of emergency work on Wednesday, to deal with my rental car 15 hours Thursday. Today, Friday, expect I’ll work about five hours. And I’ve worked three hours on Sunday, actually before before starting. And I expect to probably work another three hours this coming Sunday.

Kayla Fratt  22:42

So you know work life balance, not a thing. And that is not unusual for field biologist jobs, kind of in general. Because when it is the season to work, it is the season to work. I think that there’s an interesting discussion to be had eventually, hopefully on this podcast about work life balance and you know, kind of ethical employment for conservation biologists for ecologists and try not to burn out our text this way. But there’s definitely a balance that needs to be struck between. Yes, I’m tired. Yes, I’m bummed. I haven’t gone for a run. Yes, I’m bummed that I’m not sleeping as much as I would like. But I also do understand the you know, the literal reality of when migrations happen and how much work we have to be able to get done in order to in order to do that. And it’s not like, oh, well, I’ll just work 40 hour weeks all summer, and then 40 hour weeks all fall and winter to make up for it like no, I you know, the migration only happens when migration happens. So there’s, there’s no ability to say like, oh, well, I could just push this off until November.

Kayla Fratt  23:56

Okay, so that’s kind of a day in the life for this particular project. Let’s circle back to some other projects I’ve worked on. So one of the projects I’ve worked on, is black footed ferret work. And that is the study designed for that project is actually quite different. So for that project, we were actually staying in hotels for maybe two to six weeks at a time. And again, really, really early mornings; black-footed ferrets live in prairie dog towns. And while it doesn’t always mean that it’s hot, it often means that it’s hot.

Kayla Fratt  24:33

And then there we were actually searching 300 acre plots, so really, really big plots. And we were doing maybe one and a half searches a day. So maybe one 300 acre plot and then a couple 100 acre plots as well. And that was just again, kind of part of that study design. Those 300 acre plots were taking King Barley and I have five or six hours, which is a ton to ask of a working dog. I would not be working Niffler if I were working on that project this summer, there is no way that I would be asking my my itty bitty nine month old teenage boy to be doing that. He just wouldn’t be able to there’s, I might be able to get him to do it a couple times, but I think he would probably build a lot of bad habits. And I think it would really squash his motivation. You know, let alone the fact that we might not actually be gathering great data and doing a great job for our clients. I’m just not willing to risk my dogs motivation, enthusiasm and skill for projects, but Barley was able to do it well.

Kayla Fratt  25:38

So that project, we were working in scrub, it’s kind of desert, scrubby sort of stuff. And that’s true. I’ve done black footed ferret projects in Montana and Arizona. And black footed ferrets are these little these little weaselly things. So they’re mustelids. They’re incredibly incredibly, incredibly dangerous. endangered, there’s kind of between 300 to 600 left in the wild right now. They were declared extinct twice in the 70s and 80s. And they’re there. They’re not extinct, obviously. But they are in extreme peril. There are really cool captive breeding programs going on.

Kayla Fratt  26:14

And that’s actually quite a bit of the work that we were doing was actually monitoring those captive, the the individuals that had been released from those captive breeding programs, to see how they were doing out in the wild and see if they were surviving or not where they had emigrated to if they were moving around, etc. So they live in prairie dog towns, prairie dogs are their their main sticky snack. So the the black footed ferrets are in these prairie dog towns. So that means you’re searching in an incredibly high distraction environment for the dogs.

Kayla Fratt  26:48

So Barley was generally working off leash we are walking 100 meter spacing transects in that job, or we were obviously, not all black footed ferret projects, by law have to be 100 meter spacing, but for that particular project we were so I was watching my GPS, we were walking across the transect, then walking 100 meters and then walking across the or a cost the plot again, sorry, the the walking as a transect. At some point, I’ll I’ll sketch out kind of what this actually looks like for a visual for those of you who are not familiar with kind of transects, and plots, and GPS, and all those sorts of things. And I’ll put that in the show notes. So I’ll get that up for the show notes for this, this episode.

Kayla Fratt  27:29

So, yeah, we’re walking those transects. And again, kind of keeping our eye on the wind for those really, really large plots. You know, as I said, they were like 300 acres. We’re trying to work with the wind at our shoulder. But because you’re out there for five or six hours, that’s not always possible because the wind is shifting. So then, again, I’m doing very similar things where I’m watching barley for change of behavior, I’m watching to see if he speeds up slows down starts bracketing, where his paws are kind of going back and forth, and back and forth. Or crabbing, or you know, walking sideways or any of these other cool kind of body language things that tells me he’s caught odor. I’m also keeping an eye out for patches of holes.

Kayla Fratt  28:15

So because we are walking these kind of 100 meter transects there’s a chance you obviously are missing things, you’re obviously not searching every single hole. But because the ferrets live underground, what I want the dog to be doing is sniffing as many holes as possible, because obviously there’s not a whole lot of a whole lot of odor coming out of each of these burrows. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, that was terrible. I really didn’t intend to do that one. And, but I mean, you know, being salads being weasels. Ferrets are quite stinky, but still. So I’m then keeping an eye out for patches of holes of furrows. So Farley is off 20 meters to my left searching awfully. She’s doing a great job. He’s beautiful. He’s perfect. We love him.

Kayla Fratt  28:57

And then I look over to my right and I see like 10 burrows that he obviously hasn’t been searched. And especially depending on the wind patterns, there’s a very good chance he hasn’t got any odor from them. I will actually call them over ask him to check here. That’s a cue he’s learned. And then we move on. And I actually try to do that quite frequently. Because I really want him to know that just because I’m asking him to check something does not mean he’s going to find something. When we first started teaching him that check here cue. He’s just he would like sniff the hole and then alert because he just kind of like, oh, well you told me about it. So there must be something here and like obviously that’s not helpful.

Kayla Fratt  29:30

And so, super early mornings getting out doing these really, really, really long searches it is is a special dog that is able to do black footed ferret work. I honestly kind of hope I never do black footed ferret work again, because of the next thing I’m going to mention, which is the fact that because so black footed ferrets are nocturnal, solitary, and they live underground. They’re subterranean, which makes it incredibly difficult to know whether or not your dog is correct when your dog is alerting to a burrow. Sometimes the parents will actually chatter about you, and you can actually hear them because they’re pissed that your dog just stuck his nose down their burrow, and then you can obviously reward the dog. That’s great. That’s awesome. But then there are other times where you’re not sure.

Kayla Fratt  30:14

Some of the projects I’ve worked on, they have had some radio collared ferrets. So if the radio collar crew or spotlight crews that were out in the middle of the night, the night before looking for ferrets, mark where they saw a ferret, you know, at four or 5am, and then my dog is alerting to a burrow very nearby, at 7am, there’s a very, very good chance that my dog is correct. And we will then as long as that information has been relayed to us appropriately. And I can see on my GPS that my dog is, you know, a couple burrows away from where a ferret was last seen just a couple hours ago, I will reward my dog in that case.

Kayla Fratt  30:46

But in, you know, the study design in the black footed ferrets I’ve worked on in the past say that if you are not right in that area, if you do not know that a ferret was there a couple of hours ago. And if the ferret does not chatter at you, you do not reward the dog, which is incredibly, incredibly challenging because these dogs are working five or six hours 100 acre plot or 300 acre plots. They’re hot, they’re tired, they might be correct. And studied design protocol in the past when I’ve worked on these projects, has said do not reward the dogs if you cannot confirm. We will do an episode at some point about, you know, the pros and cons of that approach. Because that is obviously really challenging for the dogs.

Kayla Fratt  31:31

We saw a lot of dogs demotivating over the course of those projects, not wanting to work much anymore starting to false alerts starting to pick other things, or stopping alerting altogether and really just kind of not working and doing what we would call cratering where they’re actually just looking for bunnies instead. Because of course they would. Why would they work so hard to find these darn ferrets if we’re not going to give them their ball when they find the ferrets? So seems obvious. I would do the same thing.

Kayla Fratt  32:01

If you were walking me around the county fair, and really, really wanted me to find I don’t know every single redheaded child at the at the county fair. But then you didn’t give me any sort of reward when I found those redheaded children because you were colorblind and you didn’t know I know colorblind people can see your hair color. But let’s say that you’re completely colorblind, you can’t tell a blind person from a green haired person from a redhead. And you’re like, Well, I don’t really know if you’re correct, so I’m not going to reward you. I’m not really going to keep looking.

Kayla Fratt  32:33

And so anyway, so the other thing that is interesting with that project with the ferrets is that prairie dogs do tend to cohabitate with snakes, badgers, there are quite a few more environmental hazards that I’m keeping an eye on for myself, as well as for my dog, you know, I don’t want to step on a rattlesnake. I don’t want barley to step on a rattlesnake. I don’t want to fall down a badger hole and break my ankle, I don’t want barley to fall down a badger hole and break his his tall his wrist. I guess dogs have ankles. You only ever talked about their hips and knees, but they must have an ankle.

Kayla Fratt  33:10

And again, then that project we tended to be done by noon. So they were much shorter days and the project I’m currently working on. But part of that is because it’s not as seasonal of a project. Black footed ferrets obviously exist year round. And you know, we’re not monitoring like a microchip or anything. And then once we get back to the hotel room, I often in my previous job had more than one dog that I was caring for. So then at that point, I was taking care of the other dog that maybe hadn’t worked that day. And then in that project, I did tend to have time to get a workout in. And then I was doing data entry and my job in the past was quite a bit more varied. I wasn’t just a fields tech. So I then also was catching up on other parts of my job, like working with reporters, talking to other researchers about potential future projects, et cetera, et cetera. So still working really, really long days, but a little bit more of a mix of you know, being in the field for maybe seven hours a day, and then working from the hotel room on our computers in the evening.

Kayla Fratt  34:10

Hey everyone just popping into this episode with an update on our Patreon, we still have the $3 a month dunk detector level which allows you to ask questions for me and the guests to answer each episode. But now also lets you join our monthly training video analysis calls. These calls are going to be recorded of course and will also publish the video afterwards for everyone to view and ask questions about prior to the call to ensure that all timezones can participate fully. So we’ll basically publish the video we’re going to analyze so that you can ask questions and view it and prepare ahead of time, then we’ll have the call where we talk about it. We can have beverages, it’ll be a good time. And then all of that is going to be shared later so you can participate before during and after again just for three bucks a month. Now at the $10 a month sensational scientist level you get everything that we got before the $3 level. Plus you get to submit videos of your training expressions for those calls. So this is perfect for the aspiring canine conservationist. And your target odor doesn’t really matter here as long as you do communicate what it is, so we can think intelligently about your goals. So this is going to be great for nosework competitors and other canine handlers as well. And we’re really striving to make these video calls super kind and supportive and helpful. So it’s going to be a nice safe place on the internet to get good feedback on your training sessions, because I know how much of a struggle that can be, especially in the network world. So then finally, the canine conservationist patrons get everything from those other two tiers plus a private 30 minute training call with me to go over whatever you’re running into with your dog, that tear is just 25 bucks a month. And that’s cheaper than booking my time at journey dog training.com for behavior modification. And that’s just because I love you, and I love my patrons, that’s definitely something to check out, you can join that Patreon over at patreon.com/k9conservationists or at the link at k9conservationists.org. It’s like a tiny link up in the top bar. And then we also drop that link into our show notes. So if you’re listening on your podcast app, you should be able to find it just right from there. So thank you guys so much. And let’s get back to the episode.

Kayla Fratt  36:06

And that is more or less kind of a day in the life with the black footed ferret project. I think you know, it’s important, we’ll do one more project. Well, maybe two more. So the next project, this is actually the very first project that barley and I ever worked on was zebra mussel work. And this is really interesting work. In a lot of ways, the dogs, I think can find it really boring, but I actually loved it. Zebra mussels for that particular project, what we were doing is we were showing up to boat launches, at national parks or at fishing tournaments, those sorts of things, showing up and searching each boat as they were getting their launch permit. Each search took about two to three minutes, kind of depending on the type of boat, obviously a big pontoon or a jetski with all sorts of complicated jets and tubing and all sorts of things may take longer than you know like a canoe is very fast for the dogs to search.

Kayla Fratt  37:02

And so still relatively early mornings, but not quite as early because you’re not dealing with heat as much because each search is so short, and you’re able to kind of rest in the shade while you wait for the next boat to show. So you know, still early mornings, I think I was tending to work, you know, maybe 6am there instead of 5am an hour. Holy cow guys that hour, makes a big difference. Okay, so then we’re working maybe 6am to noon or so, because the reality is most people aren’t launching boats after noon. And then so the dog teams might go home and the normal aquatic invasive species invested, inspectors may stick around all day, in case there are some people who are launching later in the day.

Kayla Fratt  37:43

And then the dogs are sniffing for zebra mussels, which are these teeny, teeny tiny, horribly invasive mussels The adults are often smaller than my pinky fingernail. So and I’m tiny hands I’m five foot two. I don’t know if you guys know this about me, I’m tiny. So teeny tiny little zebra mussels obviously the the young I want to the offspring, I suppose I don’t know, the little baby Baby, Baby zebra mussels are much, much smaller. And then they also have a larval villager stage, which there have been studies showing that if trained appropriately, dogs can actually find those villagers, which is incredible, because obviously, they’re microscopic larvae. So there’s no chance in heck that people are going to find them if you’re doing a visual search about trying to determine whether or not there is zebra mussels on that boat.

Kayla Fratt  38:35

Okay, so we show up, the part of what I love about this job is I am an educator, I’m an extrovert, oh my gosh, I love this part of the job, I get to talk to the anglers and tell them about my dog. And I get to tell them what I’m looking for. And most people are actually kind of psyched about it, you can tell they’re like initially a little disgruntled to have to stop and get this permit whatever before they can go launch their boat, and especially sometimes the you know, they’re like we were just here last week. We don’t have zebra mussels on our boat, we haven’t been out of the state. So and part of the reason zebra mussels are so important is they’re horrifically invasive. They’re really, really nasty. They they also are not currently present in Montana, Wyoming and a couple other states.

Kayla Fratt  39:20

So you know, sometimes people would get a little irritated with us where they’d be like, well, but I haven’t been out of the state. I haven’t been to Lake Powell, which has just kajillions like probably, if gajillions is a real number there might be that that zebra mussels in Lake Powell It’s horrifying. You know, they’re like Well, anyway, so the anglers sometimes can be a little disgruntled, but then they see Mr. Barley and they see his tongue that is too big for his mouth. And his tail is wagging so hard. He’s hitting himself in the ears, and he is coming to search about and he’s wearing his adorable, adorable little booties so that he doesn’t scratch their boat when he puts his paws up on it to search. And then he searches their boat in law. For what, three minutes, and then we give them and I have I trained Barley to do this, he would give them this little card that said, “You’ve been sniffed,” with a little bit of info on zebra mussels on it, and his face on it. And it was just the cutest thing you guys. I just Oh my gosh. And then they would go on their way.

Kayla Fratt  40:20

And then we would go back to the shade, we would talk to people, we had lots and lots of people particularly early, I worked on an amazing project in Yellowstone National Park working on this. We had lots and lots of people who didn’t have boats, who would come up and just talk to us. And then I wouldn’t get to do demos with barley. So I had these little vials of dead zebra mussels that we had all sorts of fancy permits for, I would go and I would put them on the we had a boat that was just sitting in the parking lot so that we could do demos, I would put them on that boat. And then I would let Barley do a search, to to show off his stuff to the general public.

Kayla Fratt  40:53

And like, as you guys may have noticed, because I’m running a podcast, I love doing education, I love bragging about my dogs. So I love that part of the job. And also that job is pretty physically easy. That’s one of those jobs that I would love to get contract for, again, going forward. Particularly as Barley ages, because it would be such a great project for him to continue doing. As some of these other projects start feeling harder for him physically, you know, the wind turbine project, the black footed ferret projects, both of those projects, actually physically aren’t that challenging for the dogs.

Kayla Fratt  41:28

But you know, even as you know, yeah, it might still even though it’s not horribly physically challenging if there’s an injury or as a dog ages. Further, something like these projects might still not be something that the dog is capable of. But those zebra mussels do tend to be pretty easy searches. And they’re fast. So that is actually one of the other only other projects that I’ve ever worked on, that I would consider working Niffler, my teenage dog on. I’m not sure if I would just because of his specific personality, because as we’ve talked about on the pandemic puppy podcast, Niffler can struggle with some stranger danger. So he can be a little nervous of strange people. So I’m not entirely sure if he would actually be up for that project. But for a teenage dog, hypothetically, that zebra mussel projects may work well, particularly if you’re able to do a lot of demos and keep that find rates really, really high. If you’re not able to do demos, and you’re really being rather industrial about it, I wouldn’t necessarily work a teenage dog on it, because you might search hundreds of boats between each find. So that obviously makes it a lot less fun.

Kayla Fratt  42:34

All right, last projects that I will talk about kind of a day in the life and I’m actually going to be quite brief on because I haven’t actually worked on a project like this full time yet, so I can’t really tell you. But many, many other conservation detection dog projects are physically much more strenuous. They might involve driving out on these crazy four by four roads in the dark to get to your site. And then you might be working off trail in like the mountains of Idaho looking for big cat scat.

Kayla Fratt  43:06

Or I did I’ve shadowed a project in the mountains of Costa Rica looking for Jaguar scat I’ve shadowed you know, Montana’s mountains looking for Puma scat, all of these projects are physically incredibly challenging for both the person and the dog, I have personally had the experience of falling down a mountain and in Costa Rica, and as I’m kind of falling, I’d be like grabbing a vine to keep myself from tumbling. Just having the thought of like, Gosh, I really hope this isn’t a pit viper. And it wasn’t and I was okay. But, you know, ton way more physical way, way, way more physically challenging, certainly something that I’m glad I’m doing now in my 20s. Because I’m not sure if I’m gonna be up for that in, you know, 30 years. And also quite challenging and scary for dogs can still be really, really long days. And again, just physically much more challenging, because you’re often off trail, or at best following little like game paths or poachers paths.

Kayla Fratt  44:12

And there, you might not be working transects, you’re more actually kind of walking. A lot of times, what we’ll do is you start at your your truck, you walk out at an angle, and then you walk across, and then you walk back at an angle. So if you guys can, if you can imagine kind of a triangle. And that allows you to kind of canvass a little bit of an area, search a little bit of an area without doing transects because those can be incredibly taxing if you’re off trail and having to climb over deadfall and avoid snakes and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But you’re also able to get back to your truck relatively easily.

Kayla Fratt  44:46

So, I hope that is helpful and interesting as far as a day in the life of a conservation dog handler. I will also say I suppose that you know, we’re obviously not always in the field. So when I’m not in the field, although I do also have days where I basically I wake up at a normal human time, like 6:30 or 7am, I get up, I brush my teeth, I actually, like have a morning routine, I might wash my face, I might put something on my face other than sunscreen.

Kayla Fratt  45:15

And then I for the bulk of my time working for, for conservation detection organizations, I worked from home. So that was actually one kind of nice thing for me personally, um, COVID wasn’t a huge shift as far as working from home, other than the fact that I often wasn’t working from home 40 hours a week that I’m doing computer stuff, I might be talking to researchers who are thinking of hiring us, I might be talking to reporters and media about the work that we do. I might be writing blogs, I might be working on this podcast, all sorts of things a lot, a lot of email, a lot of catching up on all of the emails that had just been auto replied to while I was away on field deployment being like, oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, it’s been two months. But Hi, let’s talk about that email that you sent me. You know, so that’s, that’s a lot of my non fieldwork time.

Kayla Fratt  46:05

And then we’re training with dogs, making sure that the dogs are physically fit, and ready to work. So that might mean going for runs, I count that as part of my job, massaging the dogs, training dogs on specific scent, work training them on directionals and leave it and on buys and all these other cues that help them be really good responsive field partners. And that also might include some of that training may include driving around to different places to go do a search in a new area, or go meet up with some other trainers to work together. And that honestly is quite a few of the days as well.

Kayla Fratt  46:42

Oh, one of the other things I do quite a bit of that time is grant writing. That’s another big computer thing that takes up a lot of my time right now. As well as just kind of in general. So it’s a very, very job. I would love to hear if you have any further questions about the specifics of kind of a day in the life of a conservation detection dog handler. I do need to go now I have I’ve actually been parked at the at the first cattle gate of my day to go search for these search for our dead bats. So they’ve learned I have to get out. There’s some storms rolling in and we we need to get to work before we get shut down by lightning because we obviously don’t work on their wind turbines when there’s lightning.

Kayla Fratt  47:19

So my name is Kayla Fratt. I run K9Conservationists, and you can support the work we do over at K9onservationists.org, we have sweet T shirts, you can donate to us we are fundraising for crash proof crates for the dogs, GPS collars, you can join our Patreon. All of those links are just over at k9conservationists.org letter k number nine. You can follow us on the social medias. My most active Instagram is actually collies.without.borders, but k9conservationists has an Instagram as well. I would love to hear from you. I’d love to hear any questions you’ve got about a day in the life and if you’re a conservation detection dog handler who has worked in projects that sounds really different from the broad outline of any of these that I outlined today. I would also love to hear that so thank you for listening and we’ll be back soon.

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