In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Lindsay Ware of Science Dogs of New England about breed selection for unique uses, big game tracking, and more!
- Different dogs place different priorities that we really have to be aware of
How do you start training a dog for tracking?
- Similar to the conservation world with hides, but instead they are mock trails using animal blood or animal hooves
- The goal is to not be 100% realistic, but to be able to gradually increase the difficulty
- Train alongside an experienced dog
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Transcript Thanks to Volunteer Miriam Chen
Hello, and welcome to the K9 Conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior, and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt, and I run K9 Conservationists where I train dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs.
Today I have the pleasure of talking to Lindsay Ware of Science Dogs of New England about breed selection for unique uses, big game tracking and much more. Lindsay and I do spend quite a bit of this episode talking about big game tracking. So if you are squeamish about discussions of blood or minor discussions about hunting types of organ wounds, those sorts of things, this might be a good episode to skip. But I do encourage you to stick around because Lindsay’s knowledge is really deep. I really enjoyed this conversation. And again, I think it’s worth sticking around.
I’m super excited to get to this interview. But before we get to it, we’re going to dive into our science highlight. So this week, we are talking about a paper that is hot off the presses published in February 2022. The title is Effects of Learning an Increasing Number of Odors on Olfactory Learning Memory and Generalization in Detection Dogs. This was published in Applied Animal Behavior Science by Paul Wagner et al.
Their main question was: how does the number of target odors impact learning memory and generalization? What they did is they took nine dogs, all Labrador Retrievers, and trained them to learn a bunch of new odors. The big thing to know is that the dogs rapidly learned new odors with no decrease in recall of previously trained odors. I’m going to quote from the abstract now. They found that alert generalization to similar odors was unaffected by training on many odors.
They trained the dogs to respond to up to 40 odors in an odor discrimination task over the span of 16 months. The odors were trained in sets of 10 every three months and recall of previously trained subsets was assessed at intervals of less than one month, four months and 12 months since the last exposure and after learning 10, 20, 30 and 40 cumulative odors.
They assess the effects of training on these large number of target odors on generalization to untrained but related target odors, and dogs rapidly learn to do odor discrimination across the 40 odors with little to no decrease in the recall of previously trained odors, or in generalization to related odors.
Furthermore, the dogs recalled odors not experienced within 12 months with 100% accuracy and no increase in false alarm rate. These results indicate that the limits of odor identification recall capabilities were not challenged by training on a cumulative total of 40 odor discriminations, nor by up to a 12 month gap and exposure to these odors therefore establishing the robust capabilities of dogs for learning and remembering many target odor identifications.
So in their different sets of target odors they included in set A smokeless powder, ammonium nitrate, TNT, C-4, safety fuse, etc. And then in set B they had tea bags, nitrocellulose, vinegar, baking powder, a couple other things. Set C included things like tea tree oil, poppy seeds, butter flavoring, ranch flavoring, butterscotch candy, aspirin. Then set D – and all of these I’m not including all 10 Because I don’t want to read all 40 of these – and then in set D they included antibiotic cream, concrete ready mix, antacid tablets, beef flavoring cube, sesame oil, crayon shavings, and again a couple other things.
For their generalization test odors they used a couple that I – gosh I’ve never heard of any of these – Pirate X, Tannerite, cast TNT, Flex-X, Aman sugar and PW-4. Really, really interesting study here again looking at the dog’s ability to learn a whole bunch of different odors and remember them going on forward. So really, really interesting stuff. Again, you can find that over in Applied Animal Behavior Science. Without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Lindsey Ware.
Well, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Lindsay, do you want to tell us a little bit about who you are and how you got into this field?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 5:09
Sure. So I guess, depends on what you mean by field. I’ve been in wildlife biology for a long time. I started out studying wildlife biology for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and traveling all around as a technician in a variety of different places, working field jobs.
As far as starting to incorporate dogs into conservation work, I guess you’d say that started back in about 2011. That’s when I got really interested in using dogs to find, or at least to track wounded game animals for hunters. I actually got into that because of a dog that I had. I was looking for something to do with him that involves his nose, and wasn’t really looking to get into anything professionally. Kind of looking into fun stuff.
I ended up learning about wounded game tracking, and realized that it was this thing that was legal in my State of Maine, but no one ever talked about it. And I had never heard of it, despite being involved in the hunting community. I ended up cold calling the one person I could find that was doing it in the state kind of out of nowhere. I was so nervous about it, because I thought she was the most amazing woman running around, tracking things. And begged her to come along with her and to learn what this was all about. This whole idea of using dogs to find animals for hunters and just to use them in conservation in general.
She was really – actually I can say this now, because we’re best friends – she was really resistant to the idea at first. And then when I finally wore her down and started tracking alongside her, we just became instant best friends.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 7:08
Oh, that’s funny.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 7:11
She’s been one of my closest friends and mentors, and I just totally fell in love with this whole idea of working together with dogs for conservation purposes. So that’s really how I got involved with tracking and then snowballed from there of bringing back in the wildlife biology portion of my life from my past and getting into conservation detection.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 7:35
Wow, yeah, I’ve been really loving lately how different so many people’s stories are of how they get into this field. That so much of us have either started out dog crazy, or we started out in the wildlife conservation/biology world. But then the exact path from how we get from there into this field is so interesting. I didn’t realize that you had done the big game stuff first.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 8:00
That’s really how I learned about conservation detection because I really didn’t mean to get that much into tracking. I just started loving it so much. It was like the first week of following Suzanna around and we were in the middle of the night in the swamp. And you wouldn’t think that this would elicit this reaction, but how ‘This is so awesome, I’m just gonna do it casually.’ And I just was like, ‘I have to do this all the time.’ And so it kind of went from there where I started to become more aware of other conservation uses for dogs and the fact that it went back to what was my first love, which was wildlife biology. At the time I wasn’t working in that, I was working in laboratory science, and I just desperately wanted to get back into wildlife biology.
It worked out really well. I just happened to also be becoming dog crazy at that time, because I was so unsatisfied with the laboratory work that I had recently gotten hired as a dog trainer teaching/instructing training classes. I was doing that on my free time and just learning. So it all merged around the same time.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 9:12
It all came together. Oh, that’s cool. So tell us a little bit about tracking versus detection because I think we haven’t talked about tracking at all on this show yet. I’ve never tracked, I know nothing about it. But I also wanted to talk to you. I think I messaged you right after our last conservation dog yappy hour, “Oh my gosh, you have some interesting dog breeds and I want to talk to you about your dogs, how you selected them, talking about breeds”. Why don’t we start out with the dogs you’ve currently got, and maybe also tell us about that first dog if he’s no longer with you. Or she.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 9:52
My first dog Gander, he is still with me. He doesn’t work anymore. He’s very much retired. But yeah, he was the original. He’s a lab mix. Because I wasn’t into any of this yet, there wasn’t really any selection that went to him. I was really into rescuing dogs at the time. I had rescued dogs previously. And I just thought it would be so cool to rescue a dog, and then do something with him.
I was really into hunting at the time. So I was like, oh, maybe we could go duck hunting together. But I also want the dog to kind of dictate what we were going to do. And that’s sort of what Gander dictated. Something that really suited him was tracking. So yeah, that’s Gander, and he was the original tracking dog.
And then my next tracking dog right after that was Aldo. And it was a different situation. Because I wanted to do more tracking at this point, I was becoming completely obsessed with tracking. So he was selected for that goal in mind.
Aldo is a standard wirehaired dachshund. It was so fun in the days where I was tracking both dogs. Because you’d show up with this big Labrador in the backseat. And people just expect like, oh, yeah, that’s the dog that she’s gonna pull out to go out on this track. And then if it was Aldo’s turn for a track, then I’d go to the little side door and pull out this tiny 15 pound dachshund.
Sometimes people will think I’m joking. But those of us in the blood tracking community, it’s actually a pretty solid choice for tracking when you’re tracking on lead, you’re tracking in super thick areas, we track a lot of bears here in Maine, and their habitat is insanely thick. It’s really advantageous to have this little tiny dog that can kind of crawl under everything and through everything, as opposed to just kind of crashing through which is more of the Gander technique.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 12:04
Yeah, that tracks with what I know about labs. It’s so cool because I think we talk about this a fair bit on this show. We’ve got some breeds where we still see them working. I think people are broadly aware of labs are hunting dogs and border collies are herding dogs. But I think most people, when they think wiener dog, they don’t think working dog, they don’t think tracking, even though they’re hunting dogs. So tell us a little bit about how he’s kind of a subset of the breed or a specific kind of working lineage.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 12:50
Yeah, I would call him a working line just like we would have breed splits here. He’s from European lines. And primarily we get our tracking dogs when we are looking at dachshunds from European lines. Because it’s just like you said, here a lot of dachshunds are geared more towards pet or show dogs. Where in Europe that tradition of hunting with dachshunds is very much alive. And they’ve never really turned into pets as they have in the United States. So we like to get our dogs from working lines over there. And some people might hear them referred to as teckels is kind of like a regional term for the working line european line dogs.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 3:43
I think that was the term I was trying to remember.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 13:47
They’ve never stopped being hunting dogs as far as their lineage goes, and they are tenacious little hunters. Dachshunds were originally bred to hunt badgers, to go into a badger hole and basically fight with a badger, right?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 14:03
Oh my good, yeah.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 14:06
So that tells you a lot of what you need to know about some of their temperament traits. They’re tough little dogs and we often – less so now that dachshunds are becoming more popular for blood tracking. But especially back in the beginning, I remember Suzanna who has been tracking with dachshunds forever, and all the looks and stories and things that she would have about people saying things about our dogs.
I had this one track where the hunter was so quiet the whole time. And then we found the deer and his true personality just came out. And he’s like, I thought this was just going to be like, total BS and you’re just taking your dog for a walk. And, you know, just things that people tell you afterwards. After success.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 14:58
I can imagine too, depending on who has hired you, potentially they’re not only like, alright, we’re bringing in the crazy dog person. And then we’re bringing in the young lady. And then now she’s pulled out this toy dog. So you’ve got like, three levels of ‘How nuts am I feeling right now?’ And how little do they trust you? What has that experience been like?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 15:32
On top of that, these people are in distress when they call me for tracking. Most hunters, they are so concerned about the welfare of the animal that they’ve wounded. I try to really put myself in their shoes a lot. Because they’re upset, they’re very worried, they are terrified of leaving a mortally wounded animal out there and not recovering it.
And then on top of that, they’re putting their trust in either something they saw online, or a buddy that told them that they should call me, or whatever it is. I really can’t imagine all that they’re feeling. I see a lot of it. Aside from all the dog work and the navigating and everything else that goes into being a tracker, you really have to deal a lot with people when they’re being very upset and emotional. It makes it all very interesting. But yeah, it’s a challenge for sure.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 16:42
Yeah. And then I think we derailed because you’ve got at least one other dog, right?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 16:47
Oh, yeah. I have two other dogs actually.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 16:50
Lindsay Ware (LW) 16:52
Yeah, so I also have two dogs that are dedicated to scent detection. So duck conservation detection, and an Australian Shepherd named Delta, she’s working line Australian Shepherd. And a field line Labrador Retriever named Chili Bean.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 17:08
Lindsay Ware (LW) 17:09
For their selection, I wanted two scent detection dogs that were very different from each other. That was kind of my goal. I wanted different styles to help me grow as a trainer. To be able to have these different dogs to work with and to apply to different types of projects. So that’s kind of where their selection came in.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 17:33
You really got quite the variety. And are all those still working as well? There’s only one who’s retired?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 17:41
Yeah, Gander’s the only one that’s retired. I’ve basically got three young working dogs right now. It’s a lot. But yeah, Gander. Aldo is just about to turn five.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 17:54
So he’s right in the prime.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 17:56
Yeah, he is. He’s so experienced, but still has all that young dog energy and ability to work a lot.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 18:04
I think five was probably my favorite age with Barley. He’s now about eight, eight and change. I feel like five was when he still had the most spunk but also knew the most stuff.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 18:19
That’s one of my favorite things about working with dogs. Just like us humans are always learning, the dogs are. Every year it’s a little different and better. Or maybe not always better, but it’s always different. And always learning.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 18:37
I found it really – I don’t even want to say surprising because I’ve taught puppy kindergarten and whatnot before – but living with Niffler and watching literally from week to week, month to month, how much he changed. And he’s still only 15 or 16 months old right now. So he’s still got a lot of growing up to do but just how fast it goes is really, it’s fun.
So let’s go back to Aldo and his selection. Did you go towards the teckels, towards the dachshunds because of Suzanna? Because you said she ran some dachshunds as well.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 19:26
She’s from Germany originally so dachshunds are a super common breed there just in general, but especially for any type of hunting work. She had dachshunds when I met her, and I tried actually really hard to not be influenced by that. Just because my mentor has this breed, I don’t know that this is going to be the right fit for me.
So I went to some tracking events – our blood tracking organization has training events where I get to watch a lot of different dogs work. I watched a lot of different breeds. There’s actually breeds out there that are more – dachshunds aren’t considered blood tracking specialists. They’re actually, as far as hunting breeds go, supposed to be a versatile breed. And they are.
There are actually breeds out there that were bred to be blood tracking specialists. So I looked into some of those and tried to keep an open mind. But I also got to work really closely with Suzanna’s dogs and really did decide that I wanted a dachshund. And a lot of it was just my familiarity with their tracking style.
Blood tracking is such a misnomer, because we call it blood tracking. But we’re throwing the trailing and the tracking terminology and blurring them together. Some dogs do more trailing whether they’re going to be using a bit more air scent. But the dogs tend to stay really tight to the line, to track in the footsteps of the animal. And for me as a tracker, I want to be the little detective and find every little bit of evidence.
Honestly, with tracking most of the time, the animal actually isn’t mortally wounded. And it’s your job to figure that out, and to know when to quit and just be able to say, “hey, hunter, you can have peace of mind because this animal, this isn’t a mortal wound.” But in order to make that determination, you need to have evidence. You need to see what the animal’s doing. As far as how they’re traveling, how often they’re resting or laying down, what type of evidence are they leaving on the trail. And so I found with a slower, working more closely tied to the line, breed like dachshunds that that could be the kind of tracker that I would want to be. Where we’re getting every little bit of information that we can, and trying to make the best decision.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 21:52
That’s so fascinating. I know so little about tracking, and I am sure I’ve read it before, but I don’t think I had fully solidified in my mind the difference between tracking and trailing. What are some of these other blood specialist breeds or some of the other breeds you considered?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 22:14
Bavarian mountain hound is one that is considered more of a tracking specialist and used a lot for game tracking. And I mean, we call it blood tracking. But really what we’re doing is tracking one specific animal. Often there’s no blood at all, which is the whole reason that we’re there.
Bavarians have really cold noses. They can usually work with an older trail compared to some other breeds, including probably dachshunds. So that’s one. There’s a breed I wasn’t really considering, but the other specialist breed I can think of as is the alpine dachsbracke. Some of these are really obscure European based breeds. But yeah, the Bavarian was really the other one that I was really thinking of.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 23:12
Yeah, I just had to google them. Even having worked in a shelter I’ve never heard of this, which is pretty unusual. I don’t run into dog breeds I haven’t heard of before. For anyone who’s at home, they’re kind of a stocky hound. They’ve got the huge ears. Looks like a generally coppery body but a much darker face.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 23:36
There’s not a lot bred in the United States. A lot of people haven’t really come upon them.
Kayla Fratt (KW) 23:43
They almost remind me of, if you had a Rhodesian Ridgeback build body, and then a Coonhound.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 23:52
Redbone Coonhound they sometimes get mistaken for. Blood tracking has such a rich tradition and history in Europe. So that’s why you see so many more European breeds actually specializing in it. It’s such a part of hunting over there and in some countries it’s required. If you have an organized hunt, you must have tracking dogs and handlers on call. Where it’s quite different in the United States. It’s more or less popular depending on where you go, but it is so much more ingrained over there that usually if you find a breed that’s specifically for blood tracking, it’s a European breed.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 24:38
That makes a lot of sense. I could imagine, if you said that you were looking for a tracking dog for hunting, I would have been thinking of Coonhounds or some of our other kind of southeastern US hound dogs. What are they bred for? If not for blood tracking, what do they do more of?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 25:02
The other hounds?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 25:04
Yeah, breeds? What is the difference as far as working style?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 25:13
I’m actually not super knowledgeable about different hound breeds. But I do know that in terms of blood tracking is that if you were to look at all the different breeds that we have, especially the group that I’m a part of (United Blood Trackers), we have all sorts of dogs. And there are Coonhounds. And there are, you know, Plott hounds and Bloodhounds. There’s all sorts of different hound breeds that people have and train with lots of success. And the big reason for that is because tracking is really all about teaching the dog to keep on the thing that you start them on. And a lot of dogs are capable of that.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 26:00
I know plenty of dual purpose dogs, that are what we think of as your traditional detection dogs, also do tracking. Or trailing. Again, I’m not sure which one I’m talking about, because I haven’t seen how the dogs work. I’ve got a friend with a Rottweiler Chihuahua cross that she does tracking for fun with. So that makes a lot of sense.
All dogs have noses. While we might have different genetic propensities that help us out a lot, I’m sure there are some fabulous tracking – I don’t know, like a Pekingese or something. You could teach a Pekingese how to do this. It just might not be the most – the dog might not have quite enough stamina, let’s say.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 26:55
It really just depends on what your goals and priorities are. This conversation could almost apply to a lot of other things. When you’re talking about choosing a dog or choosing a breed. It’s really, what’s your goal? Are you going to be tracking every day? You’re going to be kind of crazy, like me and out there all the time all day long? Well, you probably want to take that into consideration when choosing. People might not think of working line Dachshunds as a dog that could go go go all day, but they they really are very high energy dogs. So it’s just another thing to take into consideration.
We have a member of United Blood Trackers that got this dog, this rescue dog named Brutus. She calls him a pug hound. He’s this very small little dog with a little smushed in face and cute little underbite. And he’s a great little tracking dog, especially for the terrain that she has and the type of training schedule she keeps. He does great. So we find excellent tracking dogs in all sorts of shapes and sizes and breeds.
Taylor (T) 28:09
Hey, I’m Taylor and I’m the handler for Kepler, a Mini Aussie in training for mussel detection work. Before K9 Conservationists. I didn’t even know about all the possibilities with dogs and conservation. Now I’ve jumped feet first into the training. I wouldn’t have been able to without the support I gained from being a part of the podcast Patreon. My favorite support comes from the group calls. I’ve been able to get alert training help and felt completely welcome even though I’m a complete novice to this kind of training. The group calls also helped guide my questions for my one on ones with Kayla. The information is invaluable and the community is kind. I hope to see you there.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 28:41
Where I grew up in northern Wisconsin, I think we must have had some backyard breeder who did a bunch of Pug Beagle crosses. Because half of my friends growing up had Puggles, which I’ve since realized is not a popular designer breed. It’s not like Labradoodles where everyone knows what they are. So it must have just been a local thing. But I had a bunch of friends who did all sorts of fun stuff with their little Pug Beagle crosses.
I’m trying to think of what else we wanted to talk about within breed selection. Maybe we can pivot back towards detection then, and talk about – you said when you were picking out your other two dogs. You wanted dogs that were going to work really differently. So what drew you to – we’ve got a herding breed and we’ve got a retriever. What about their workstyles – instead of doing, I don’t know, a Pointer and a German Shepherd or a German Shepherd and a Cocker Spaniel or something else.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 29:42
I was for sure interested in having a working line Lab. I’m bringing in my personal biases here where I grew up with Labs, had worked a bit through dog training with some field line Labs, and just knew that I wanted one for one of my detection dogs. So from there, what breed or dog potentially is going to be a bit different than that and have a little bit of a different style. Again, kind of some biases of dogs that I’ve worked with or lived with.
Working line herding dogs is something that I was really comfortable working with. To me, it just felt so different. As far as generally being less independent, a little bit more handler focused, all the typical stuff. In your other podcasts you’ve kind of talked about this when it comes to herding dogs. That’s something that I knew and really knew I wanted to go into. And then from there going into all the typical stuff. Looking into pedigrees and what the dog’s relatives are working in, things like that. It’s been really, really interesting. I just was really attached to this idea of having two dogs with different styles and going from there and really narrowing down what the future would look like, as far as future dogs, based on that.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 31:33
I really love what you’ve done, because I think as far as an individual handler, or at least that I’ve spoken to, you’ve got the widest variety of breeds. It’s so fascinating because I have thought about the idea of working with a bunch of these different breeds. But then when it comes down to it, and it comes down time to pick a dog, I’m so enamored with Border Collies that, you know. We’ll see, never say never.
I think so many of us, we fall in love with our breeder or working style or whatever. I think it’s a smart business decision to be able to have really varied dogs. And also a really admirable choice, as far as pushing yourself as a trainer to learn how to work between all of these different – I mean, I can’t imagine having, with only four dogs, having a much more varied set than what you’ve got.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 32:31
It definitely makes living with them very interesting. One thing I noticed between the Labrador and the Aussie is that the Labrador had never lived with herding dogs before. Herding dogs, communication wise, can be a little bit different than the bunch of Labs that Chili Bean had lived with in her young life. So it’s interesting, too, it helps me learn more, managing all that. Then you have the Dachshund to throw into the mix. It keeps things really, really interesting.
I’m not saying I don’t have preferences. In the future, things might look really different. I definitely see the benefit to knowing a breed really well and sticking to something that you’re really knowledgeable and comfortable with. I think we all have to admit that preference plays into it a ton. And I think part of that is why I chose working line Aussie as my not-Labrador breed versus something else. There’s a lot of different breeds that are different than Labradors. It’s been really interesting. I think it does create some interesting trading opportunities and learning opportunities.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 33:59
Let’s talk more in the detection realm, just because that’s a little bit more what I’m comfortable with. Does your handling style have to change dramatically from dog to dog if you’re working similar puzzles? Can you tell us a little bit about what that’s like?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 34:17
With Delta, the Australian Shepherd, I have to remember to be so much more careful about my accidental cues. Unintentionally giving her hints and things that I might not notice that I’m doing. Making sure that I’m not looking towards the hide or doing anything else intentionally that’s going to create problems.
An example of this and some work that we were doing with her is – we had some known targets out that had radio telemetry units. We were having to be really careful about making sure that the telemetry receiver had the headphones on so that Delta couldn’t hear the telemetry beeps to know that we were close to a known target. This is sort of the thing with her that she’s gonna cue in on. She’s gonna use everything available to her as far as information. Not saying that Chili Bean, the Labrador, won’t. But I can be, when I’m working with her, a little bit more forgiving with things like that.
So on the other hand – not to do a negative on Delta and a positive on Chili Bean. But on the other hand when I’m working with Delta, it’s that close working, handler oriented style. In some cases, especially with certain field conditions, it is really nice. I don’t have to really worry about her going off the riverbank and things like that, that I find with my Labrador. Flinging yourself with no holds barred or abandon off of a steep bank or something like that.
I don’t know if that’s a general herding dog thing, or just Delta, but she just seems to have a little bit more sense of self preservation. Among those that I work with, with the field line Labradors, they tend to agree with some of my sentiment about the lack of self preservation that some of these Labs can have. I just feel that my focus has to shift depending on the dog.
It’s always surprised me how mentally taxing it is when you’re working with your dog, because you’re doing a million things at once. To the casual observer that you’re not doing as much mentally as we are, but we really are. You shift whatever needs to be shifted for that dog.
So do you agree, is that pretty common with the Border Collies as well? That border collies seem to be a little bit more in touch, not launching themselves off really steep embankments or something like that.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 37:24
They seem to do a little bit more problem solving on the fly versus the labs that I’ve worked with will just charge through things. And they’re fast workers. They’re really, really fun to work with. But I would say a little bit less thoughtful. And sometimes you don’t need or want thoughtful.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 37:52
I don’t think either one of us is saying that one is better than the other. But I know for me, personally, I really like a really responsive dog in the field, probably because I’m a little bit of a control freak. So that’s partly where the Border Collies come through.
But back when I was at Working Dogs for Conservation, and I got to handle a variety of breeds, Barley was my favorite dog to handle because he was mine. But he wasn’t necessarily the easiest, even though he was mine. There are a couple other dogs there that I found easier to work with, in a lot of ways. It’s a little bit of give and take.
At Working Dogs for Conservation, they generally taught the new handlers and trained people up using more of the Labs or even the Malinois before they worked with the Border Collies. Border Collies and I would imagine Aussies are pretty similar, I actually haven’t worked with an Aussie. They are just so quick to pick up on patterns before you’ve even realized that you’ve made one. Not that Labs don’t pick up on patterns, but Border Collies are pretty notorious for being preposterously sensitive to that sort of thing.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 39:06
It’s good, right? I mean, it keeps us on our toes to be aware of that. It just shifts what you have to be most aware of, I guess. Different dogs place different priorities on things that we really have to be on top of.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 39:24
Yeah, exactly. It reminds me, one of the other experiences that I’ve had is working with one dog that has relatively significant prey drive and would actually take off after animals, and another dog that never ever – she didn’t even look sideways at Prairie Dogs that were skittering under her feet. She was just a really spectacular dog in that way.
Working one of those dogs was much more exhausting. She was a spectacular detection dog, but you really had to be so on top of everything that was going on in the environment. And so on top of watching her body language. Just to tell that when she disappeared into the bushes, that last bit of her that you saw? Did it look like she was on scent? In which case, that’s great. Or did it look like she was after a critter, in which case you need to call her back right now.
I think it’s really cool to be able to switch back and forth. Especially those of us, like myself, maybe Laura Holder, a couple of us who have fallen into our breeds. Even though I have two dogs, and they do work differently, I don’t get as much day to day practice switching as you must. Pivoting towards tracking and detection. So you don’t have any dogs that do both?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 40:48
At this point, I don’t have dogs that cross train. I’m not against the idea. It’s just that I don’t currently do that. I think if I had started scent detection earlier, that Gander actually would have been a candidate for both. But I think he’s pretty unusual in that regard. One of the biggest things that would prevent me from cross training a dog is something that you just mentioned, prey drive.
With tracking dogs, for blood tracking anyway, that prey drive is a really important piece of the reward system because we are actually rewarding the dog with the thing that they are finding. It keeps the training really simple. Basically, they are being rewarded with the thing that they’re finding. They are allowed to interact with the animal, the deceased animal.
When you’re allowing a dog to do that, you’re allowing a dog to go over and put its mouth on, and lick and smell and interact. Aldo even tugs on the little leg and things like that. You just have to be really careful about that. Because here’s two fields, despite all their similarities, the worst thing you can have is animals interacting with your target when you’re doing conservation detection in that way. So we just have to be really careful about that. Like I said, I think for sure there’s dogs out there that could do it. And I wouldn’t be opposed to it. But currently the dogs I have, there’s not going to be cross training.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 42:35
That was something I’d always wondered about. Before I got into the conservation dog world, I joined a bunch of different search and rescue learning groups and all sorts of stuff. And was always a little bit confused about the tracking and trailing dogs and being like, “Wait, so they’re not ball driven, and you don’t reward them with food”, not understanding these other reinforcement contingencies that you could be using. If he finds something, you actually let Aldo go up and investigate it and scratch that prey drive with whatever it is.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 43:12
It keeps things really nice and simple. And it makes dog selection nice and simplified. You can focus on finding dogs that are really prey driven and really motivated by the animal. And the interesting thing too, is that more than half of the tracks that we do, the animal actually isn’t mortally wounded. So it’s really intermittent reinforcement by nature of the entire field where they’re only finding 30 to 40%. But just the tracking down something that’s wounded. Taking in the adrenaline smell that a wounded animal puts out and then once in a while you get some blood evidence and things like that. Having a dog that’s motivated by that, it’s nice and straightforward.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 44:09
You can imagine these things on a neurochemical level, it makes sense that they would be some sort of primary reinforcer. The animal isn’t getting a piece of food, they’re not getting a toy, but it makes sense if you watch nature documentaries. They’re tracking down injured animals, they’re tracking down females in heat. This is all part of the evolutionary history of most predators. I would imagine that when we’ve got dogs that we’ve just bred for generations and generations to be even better at it, it makes a ton of sense that this simplest, cleanest training is just relying on that and not complicating it with other reinforcers.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 45:02
We always have to be really careful, making sure the animal doesn’t still need to be euthanized and things like that. The safety element of allowing your dog to approach an animal.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 45:18
Especially a bear.
Lindsay Wate (LW) 45:19
That’s mostly what I was thinking of. Actually moose are one of the scariest ones.
Kayla Fratt 45:27
You’re too far east for elk, but they’re not great either. Really pretty much anything that you would try to track down, it’s probably something you don’t want your dog just running up to. And you said you work Aldo on leash for tracking, right?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 45:41
Yes. I would anyway due to his size, but legally we’re required in Maine to track on leash. And that’s the case in all the northeastern states. There is some tradition of off leash tracking in some of the Southern states. And I think maybe somewhere in the Midwest? But for us, it’s all on leash. And that actually loops back to the whole breed selection thing, where that’s one thing that you consider when you are looking.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 46:15
I’ve heard of some of the poaching tracking dogs in South Africa. It’s a pack of dogs, they’re released, they work together. And I believe there’s a guy in South Africa, where they’re following the dogs in a helicopter. They’re that hands off with letting the dogs do their work on their own.
Again, they’re working in a pack, which is really different from what you’re doing. Maybe it’s just because I know so little about it, but feels like the tracking trailing world has so many different variables and so much more to it. I don’t think you would ever work multiple detection dogs at a time. I know I’ve heard of people using them to confirm each other. But I don’t think generally people run multiple dogs at once. And in the tracking world that’s not atypical.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 47:15
Especially in the off leash states, I know some folks that will work more than one dog at a time. Or even on leash states. Sometimes with training they’ll have one dog and handler go ahead and then a leash team behind for training purposes.
I’ve never done that personally. The thing you have to be careful of too is when you’re dealing with the reward being this actual prey animal, then you have to worry about resource guarding and competitiveness and things like that. Between two dogs, you don’t want there to be an issue.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 47:55
I could imagine that definitely being a concern. So my first thought when you’re talking about having one dog follow another and you said you haven’t done this, but what if the first dog goes off track? Is there a chance that you’ve accidentally trained the second dog to follow the first dog instead of following the track?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 48:14
I’m not super familiar with folks that do it this way. But I think what it is, is the second dog would be super experienced. And then the dog that goes ahead would be the inexperienced dog. That’s almost like your backup because a lot of experienced tracking dogs are really used to people having searched around for it themselves. So there’s a lot of track contamination. And then we’re also used to, even though it’s not legal in my state, people trying their personal dog first. So a really experienced tracking dog actually has learned that “Oh, I’ll just ignore that other dog’s scent” kind of thing.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 48:55
That makes sense. So it’s actually the more experienced dog that’s going second. If anyone who’s listening knows, they can always write in and we will amend. And maybe there are different exercises in which maybe it could be both even.
So how do you start a tracking dog for the sort of work that you’re doing? Because I know when I’ve looked at, Fenzi Dog Sports Academy has an Intro to Tracking Course, they’re doing a lot of cookie crumb trails, and then teaching the dog by spacing out those cookies. But if you’re using the prey animal as the reward, you’re not doing that I assume. Right?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 49:39
Right. So of course, like anything, there’s a lot of variability in how people train. But just like in the conservation detection world where we have setups, we have a hide situation. We have these mock tracks that we do, especially for our young dogs, and we like to use actual animal materials for this.
Step one is making sure that if you live with someone that they’re very tolerant of your use of freezer space. So we would have frozen animal blood that we would use. In the case of deer we would use a hoof, where we would attach to something, a stick, or people even have these tracking shoes where the hoof actually attaches to the side of your foot and you’re just walking. You’re kind of stamping off the interdigital glands. Because there’s a gland in a deer’s foot that is responsible for a lot of this scent that they’re tracking. So that’s really how we do it.
The goal is not to be 100% realistic, because these dogs know the difference between a training track and a real one. The idea is being able to gradually increase the difficulty. Putting in some turns, maybe laying this practice track over some fresh deer scent that you know is out there, something like that. So that they can have an opportunity to practice, especially the young dogs.
With a young puppy, I’d take something really obvious like a piece of liver on a string, deer liver, and I would drag that along and make a training track and let it age for a few hours. And then even leave the liver chunk at the end, and have the puppy track to that and then have that liver chunk to chew on a little bit as a reward.
So that’s a training scenario. The things that I really like to do too, when you have an experienced dog, is to take that young dog along when you go on tracks. And so if it’s a pretty short track, say that the animal is found within two or three hundred yards, you can run back to the car while the hunter is field dressing that animal, put your experienced dog away, take that pup out and have the pup run that track just to get a sense of what a real track smells like.
There’s so much scent profile that you can’t mimic on a training track. Places where the animal brushes up on vegetation. There’s that crushed vegetation that the animal is walking on. We have a lot of reason to suspect that that’s a lot of what the tracking dogs are using. We’ve got the interdigital glands. So we like to do that if we are lucky enough to already have an experienced dog that can find the animal first.
What we suggest for people training their dogs is if they are a hunter, or they know hunters that have an animal that doesn’t really need to be tracked because it’s a very obvious trail, to where they can go and harvest their animal, to still give them a call and have them practice with their young dogs so that they can just start putting things together and have a really cool set up opportunity to be rewarded. If your friend doesn’t mind if the dog hangs around their deer and sniff it and play with it a little bit.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 53:21
That makes sense. My dad is a big deer hunter. The whole time we’ve been talking I’m like, “Oh my gosh, my dad would so love having this sort of help”, and would also be the sort of person and he mostly hunts on his own property. If there’s anyone in northern Wisconsin who wants to get into this, my dad would absolutely be the sort of person who would let you run your dog out to practice even on a known thing.
Lindsay Ware (LW). 53:46
It is legal in Wisconsin and there’s some trackers there for sure.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 53:52
Good to double check that it’s legal. Forgot about that [laughs]. I had one more question on the tracking thing. Maybe a couple more, but one that’s in my head right now. What are your average distances? You said a shorter one would be two or 300 meters, something you could take a puppy on to test? Or to do some practice? But I would imagine sometimes it’s longer than that.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 54:23
One of the longest recoveries we’ve had, it’s been close to six or seven miles. I’m trying not to delve into the weeds too much. But this is when you start getting into how the animal is wounded and if it needs to be humanely euthanized or not. So that sort of track, a really long one, would be a devastating wound. The best strategy to euthanize and recover that animal was to be going kind of hard on it and pushing it in order to do what’s best for the animal, which is euthanize it. Most mortal hits are organ related. And those are things that really if left alone, they should be expiring within a few 100 yards.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 55:14
Gotcha. So there, you wouldn’t necessarily be pushing the animal. I will probably put a little content warning on this episode just for anyone who’s really squeamish about that. But now I’m curious. And we can dive into this now and again, warning, we’re about to get gross, it’s fine. What would that be like? You’ve hit it in the haunch?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 55:37
The really long track?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 55:40
Yeah. Where has the hunter hit it where the animal’s not going to die very quickly, but still needs to be collected because they’re not going to recover?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 55:50
It would be a leg wound on an ungulate. Not on a bear. Ungulates have to really lean on these broken limbs. Often with bears, we don’t recover a limb wound or leg wound. But yeah, these long ones are leg wounds. And it’s where you start getting into content warning things, because it’s not an organ wound. So the animal, if left alone, isn’t going to die on its own. It’s going to actually lay down and clot that wound and actually be able to walk around on three legs.
The problem with leg wounds is that that wound has then caused that animal to be susceptible, really susceptible to other things. So the responsible thing is to try to euthanize that animal if we can. That’s the only type of wound where we would go for miles and miles. A lot of the wounds that we get are non-fatal muscle wounds. We might track that animal for a mile or two, then gather all the evidence that we found along the whole track, then be like, “Yep, this seems like a muscle wound based on this evidence, we’re gonna give up the track”. Often these are the animals that the hunter gets on trail cameras a couple of weeks later with a nice scabbed over wound.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 57:13
The only other case where we would go a really long way on a mortally hit animal that might be similar to some distances with leg wounds would be, there’s certain organ wounds that take a little bit of time before the animal expires. And sometimes hunters, they don’t know this. They’re either inexperienced hunters that are still learning, or they haven’t identified that wound as one of these types of wounds, of fatal wounds. So they just keep tracking and they keep tracking and they’re pushing that animal and they don’t realize that they are, so they’re creating this very long track. Where if they had just waited, it would have laid down when it was comfortable and then expired at a short distance. A lot of what we do is informing hunters about this.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 58:04
It’s so fascinating. There’s so much to it. I remember my dad hunting when I was a kid. He hit a deer and was so mad about this. But this is the sort of thing that a more experienced hunter would recognize. This is what happened. He basically grazed across the point of the shoulder blades of the deer. If he’d been a couple inches further back, it would have been a really solid body cavity hit. But I don’t know if the animal shifted or scope was off or whatever it was. He missed and ended up with some blood, some hair. And he tracked the animal for a little while, and then it was pretty clear to him at least, that it seemed like the animal was just gonna be fine.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 58:56
There’s a lot of evidence that we can look at like hair, the type of blood, the amount of blood, if the animal’s laying down or not, that helps us determine those same things that your dad probably did. I was gonna say too, you said the scope was off or something. But there’s lots of things that happen. It could have deflected on a branch.
One of the things that we try to do, we do a lot of education with new trackers. We do a lot of education with hunters, but we also try to educate the public. This a very small percentage of – if you ask an experienced hunter how often they’ve had a problem recovering their animal, it’s very few. It’s just that in certain areas like here in Maine, we have a really big hunting heritage. And we have a lot of hunters.
It keeps the few trackers out there very busy. But this is not a typical situation in hunting. So that’s part of what we try to educate folks about as well, is that these people are concerned about the welfare of the animal. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be calling us. They would just be like, “Oh well”, and call it a day. But they’re trying to do everything that they can to recover that animal.
That’s part of the information that we like to put out there. Things go wrong. No matter how hard people practice with their guns, or sight in their guns, or practice with their bow, things happen. And it’s really what you do after things are going wrong, that really matters. Another big point that we’d like to make.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:00:37
I think this is a really good example of how conservation and hunting are tied together. You’re probably the best example of “Yeah, my income is split between the two”. You said that you get quite a bit of work in the fall. And that’s great, too, because I don’t know what your hunting season is in Maine. But peak hunting season in Wisconsin is Thanksgiving to New Year’s. And that’s not a time of year where you’re doing a lot of conservation detection dog stuff in general.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 1:01:14
We have a pretty early bear season here. We have a few different deer seasons. So I actually start at the end of August and go until mid December with tracking.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:01:24
Wow. I’m not sure when bear season is in Wisconsin.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 1:01:29
There’s various degrees of how busy those seasons are, though. I can certainly do it and do scent detection work while there’s tracking going on. It becomes a little nuanced as far as scheduling all that. But if I’m working with somebody in the Fall, I might have to be answering my phone every once in a while in the field, because I might have to talk to hunters about taking a track after this. Little Aldo, as you know, coming with me sometimes on scent detection projects to be in a crate off to the side in the shade to maybe go tracking afterwards.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:02:10
Oh my gosh, you must be exhausted.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 1:02:13
It’s pretty tiring. I can talk a lot about sleep deprivation in the Fall. But that’s the nature of any on call thing where you can’t predict exactly –
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:02:24
Yeah, you can’t say “Oh yeah, I’m gonna have two tracks next week. I’ll plan around that.” We’re kind of wrapping up here. This was fascinating. And an interesting diversion for a lot of people. But I think before we wrap it up, I did want to talk a little bit about more of your – the Science Dogs of New England. Just make sure people know where to find you, tell us if you’ve got any exciting projects there to bring it back to the conservation dog specific, detection dog specific stuff.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 1:02:57
For science dogs, right now our big project is working with wood turtles, and wood turtle nests in Maine. Wood turtles are a big concern as they are in a lot of places. We’re really excited to be doing wood turtle work with the dogs. We are starting kind of a new piece of that, where we’ll be doing some with wood turtle nest detection, which is really exciting. A neat, new level of challenging because these nests are not visible as a turtle would be. The dog might point out a turtle and then go and confirm that.
A really neat thing, we have some suspicion that wood turtles might be nesting in places where we wouldn’t necessarily expect them to. We want to try to figure some of that out. We’ve really enjoyed – we’ve been working on a project in partnership with the Center for Wildlife Studies. And they’re doing some really amazing with wood turtle work in the state.
We’re gonna be continuing that. We’ve got hopefully some additional work doing some scat detection coming up, which isn’t completely official yet so unfortunately can’t talk too much about that. You know how it is. But yeah, just really, really exciting stuff.
I try to post as many updates as I can on our Facebook page. The problem with wood turtle work for those of you that are unfamiliar with these turtles is that there’s quite a bit of confidentiality that goes around talking about their locations and their research. So I am limited to how many fun pictures and stories and things like that that I can get out there. They’re not a target species that lends themselves to a lot of really fun updates, unfortunately. Because we just have to be very careful about making sure that we keep their locations under wraps. One of the major problems is black market pet trade for them.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:05:27
So we can’t go posting about it.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 1:05:31
Not so fun for social media. But it’s a really fun project. It’s an extremely rewarding project. And it’s been a great partnership that we’ve been participating in for three years now.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:05:49
Where can people find you online for both? I don’t know if you’ve got the same website for both businesses. And especially if people are interested in learning more about blood tracking, do you have anywhere you’d like to point them?
Lindsay Ware (LW) 1:06:01
For scent detection work, the Science Dogs of New England website, which is sciencedogsne.com. And then we are on Facebook and Instagram as well. For the sake of people that prefer not to see photos of dead game animals, and because I realized that there’s a lot of sensitivity around those issues, I do keep the tracking piece a little bit separated. So I have a separate Facebook page for tracking that’s just called Lindsay Ware Large Game Tracking so you can get lots of tracking, I love talking about tracking stories on that page, so if you’re interested in that.
In general, for learning more about blood tracking, United Blood Trackers is the national organization that I belong to. It’s a great organization. There’s lots of free articles on there. You can see an interactive map where you can click on your state and get contact information for trackers that are in your area. United Blood Trackers is great if you think you want to get into tracking. We’re a super supportive bunch that really loves mentoring new trackers and helping out as much as possible.
And then finally, the best book to look into is a book called Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer, which is by John Jeanneney. It’s a great book all about training and breed selection and introductions to this whole detective side of tracking. How to determine what kind of wound you’re dealing with. What kind of evidence means different types of hits. It’s just really, really good.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:07:48
You know, I can see myself actually really, really enjoying this. I’m loving it, these concepts of the detective work and figuring all that out. It just sounds fascinating. I’m really grateful for you sharing all that knowledge with us, and we’ll make sure all those links are in the show notes. So thanks again for coming on the podcast, Lindsay. This was awesome.
Lindsay Ware (LW) 1:08:08
Thanks so much for having me.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:08:10
Thank you so much for listening. I hope you learned a lot and are feeling inspired to get outside and be a K9 Conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. You can find show notes, donate to K9 Conservationists and join Patreon over at K9conservationists.org. Until next time.
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