Get to Know K9 Conservationists Co-Founder Rachel Hamre

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla interviews co-founder Rachel Hamre. They discuss how Rachel first got into dog training, her many jobs as a field tech, how she and Kayla met, Rachel’s season handling Barley, and her journey with her new dog Suki. Science Highlight: Why Sniff Fast? The Relationship Between Sniff Frequency, Odor Discrimination, and Receptor Neuron Activation in the Rat (https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/jn.90981.2008) 

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Transcript thanks to Volunteer Miriam Chen

Kayla Fratt (KF) 0:10

Hello and welcome to the K9 Conservationist 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 am a co-founder of K9 Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs. I am still sick, so I apologize for my voice. But you’re going to enjoy this episode, so do stick around.

(KF) 0:35

We are talking today with Rachel Hamre about how she ended up in the conservation detection dog world, the work that we’re doing together with K9 Conservationists, and a general get to know you for the other one of two people that is heavily involved in K9 Conservationists, since I know our podcast listeners know me relatively well at this point. So welcome to the podcast, Rachel.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 0:58

Hey, thank you.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:00

So Rachel, I tasked you with doing our science highlight for the week. Why don’t you start us off with the science highlight that you’ve picked out?

Rachel Hmre (RH) 1:08

I found one called Why Sniff Fast? The Relationship Between Sniff Frequency, Odor Discrimination, and Receptor Neuron Activation in the Rat. So this was on rats, not dogs, but related to sniffing and scent detection.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:25

And it looks like it was published in 2009 in the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 1:29

I’m just going to read the discussion from part of this. It was a pretty interesting study. So the discussion says, “In general, this study fails to support the idea that the specialized high frequency sniffing behavior typically seen during odor discrimination tasks influences odor coding or enhances low level information processing. What then is the functional role of rapid sniffing during odor discriminations? Our data suggests that the primary consequence of rapid sniffing is to expedite odor delivery to ORNs. Thus, rapid sniffing is an indicator of an animal’s search for the stimulus rather than its need to enhance information processing.”

Kayla Fratt (KF) 2:07

This was an interesting one. I haven’t read the paper. So basically what you’re saying is that when they’re doing this really fast sniffing [makes fast sniffing sound] that wasn’t necessarily correlated with difficulty, but more with how motivated they were?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 2:28

If you’ve done any scent work with your dog, you’ve probably noticed them do some rapid sniffing [makes rapid sniffing sound] type of thing that is pretty specific to scent tasks. So this is another excerpt. It says, “We found that sniffing strategies remained unchanged, even as task difficulty was increased to the point of discrimination failure, indicating that rats do not alter sniffing strategy to improve performance and implying that sniffing strategy does not substantially alter discriminability or detection threshold.”

Kayla Fratt (KF) 2:59

The one thing that stuck out to me a little bit when you sent it over to me was that these rats were in kind of a head cage holding their heads still. Which I assume was to ensure that they could actually get really good footage and count these sniffs and code the video.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 3:18

They also measure the pressure that the rat puts when it moves its head a certain direction. And they can also use those head fixing machines to weigh how much weight the rat is putting on their front feet. And they also did something inter-nasally that could measure the sniff rate.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 3:45

Whoa. And these are the sorts of studies that yeah, this is in rats, because we would not really do this to dogs. Sorry, rats, that you get stuck with this one. So this was pretty much a discrimination test, though? They weren’t really doing detection, right?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 4:04

Yes, that’s true. It looked relatively complicated, but they would vary the concentrations of the odor by mixing the target odor in a higher or lower ratio with other non target odors.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 4:23

One of the things that came up to me when I was also reading this was realizing that it was pretty focused on discrimination. I wonder if the rapid sniffing is more important for detection or following a gradient of an odor cone. And I know in the Tom Osterkamp book that I just read Detection Dogs and Scent Movement, they hypothesized that one of the things rapid sniffing may help with is disturbing odor molecules and volatilizing them especially in dry or dusty environments.

(KF) 4:56

I’d be really curious to maybe even, we can do this some other time, but go back and look at what other papers have cited this paper and what is built on this for detection instead of discrimination? I might actually have to dig up this paper and read it. It sounds pretty technical, but pretty cool.

(KF) 5:16

Rachel, why don’t you start off telling us what you were like as a kid through the context of knowing now you’re in this conservation detection dog world. Were you always into dogs? Were you always into conservation? Where did you grow up? And how has that influenced where you are now?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 5:38

That’s a good question. I think I was always pretty into animals and behavior. I remember having a little feather cat toy and using it to play with my cat and give him treats when he would do cool flips in the air to catch the feather toy. And in reality, I was teaching him nothing. But in my head, I was having a great time teaching him how to do flips.

(RH) 6:07

I was always trying to bring home random animals. I had some pet crawdads, a pet pig – he was super smart, actually really fun to train. I got into, or more officially into the behavior side of things and actually understanding animal behavior when I adopted a dog when I was 12. She was really scared of people. Pretty scared of everything. So I just found myself as a 12 year old going to a lot of training classes. Actually, at the same place where Kayla and I –

Kayla Fratt (KF) 6:49

We have a mutual training mentor. We were not there at the same time. But Miguel Gonzalez at All Breed Rescue and Training in Colorado Springs has worked with both of us. Me when I was 21. And Rachel, when you were 12 or 13. So big ol’ shout out to Miguel.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 7:09

I got into dog training that way, and just realized that I was really into it and have continued to get more and more passionate about dog training since then. The conservation side of things I sort of fell into. My granddad was really into biology and stuff like that. So I think I got some interest in living things and ecology and stuff like that from him. And then in college, I was a biology major. And my first job out of college was working with Fish and Game looking at a rare plant. And I was kind of just entrenched in the conservation and botany and environmental world from there on.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 8:03

You’ve had a bunch of really interesting seasonal field positions throughout that time. Were there any classes or professors or anything that had a big impact on you while you were in undergrad?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 8:16

One of my favorite professors, Dr. Mansfield, was the head of the herbarium in my school. So I got a job working in the herbarium. And that was probably the start of my plant and botany career, which makes sense. I hadn’t really planned on falling into plants. But that was a job that was available to me. I got one job in that and the resume continued from there.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 8:48

It is funny how that happened. I remember panicking right after college when I got a job as the Communications and Outreach intern for Conservation Colorado. And I applied for a job as a behaviorist at the Denver animal shelter. They rejected me for the job and suggested I apply to be their communications intern instead. And I had this panic attack where I was like, “No, no, no, I want to work with the dogs and do the stuff. I don’t want to just run social media.” Luckily, I was then hired by Denver Dumb Friends League, which is another shelter in the Denver area, and was able to wrench my resume out of going that direction. But it’s funny how it will sometimes build on itself like that.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 9:30

Yeah, just find yourself there. And I’ve ended up here, which I’m super happy about.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 9:36

In retrospect there’s a lot of really good things I learned in that Conservation Colorado job that I’m really glad I had. I just really didn’t want to accidentally end up in this position where I was a professional media manager for the rest of my life, even though that kind of is what I am. Oof. [laughs]

(KF) 9:58

So you had the job doing the rare plant stuff, and this was in Idaho right?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 10:02

Yes.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 10:03

What would have been some of your other field positions since then?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 10:08

I have done some stream surveys identifying plants along river beds, basically. I worked on a sage grouse conservation project, also doing a lot of plants. I have done some trail crew, I guess that’s not really plant related. I think most of my summers have been filled with various plant projects that relate to other conservation. Tangentially.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 10:45

It sounds like the first time K9 Conservationists gets a weed project if it’s only a one dog, one handler thing we’re sending you. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 10:51

Sure. Yeah. That sounds great.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 10:54

Great. Yeah. I know. When I was doing the Dyer’s Woad projects back when I was at WD4C. I am not a huge plant person. And I was having to text Dr. Ngaio Richards every 20 minutes. And it’s 5am. It’s barely light out. Because that was when it was cool enough to work. I was texting her pictures every third rosette I saw being like, “This isn’t it? Is it?” And it never was.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 11:17

You just have to tell by the way it is. 

Kayla Fratt (KF) 11:20

Yeah, exactly. It works with ash trees. I don’t know if it works with anything else.

(KF) 11:26

After college, you don’t have this dog that you got when you were 12 anymore. I suppose she would be like 18 now. Not quite that old. But what has been your dog journey since that one lift off dog in Colorado Springs.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 11:42

Yeah, I got really into dog training with her when I was 12. Kind of. She died when I was in college. And then I had a gap where it didn’t make sense for me to have a dog of my own. But I felt like I had learned a lot of dog training stuff. And so friends would sometimes ask me things and I’d give them little tidbits of advice. And then one of my college friends adopted a dog, but she wasn’t allowed to have dogs at her place. But I was allowed in mine. So I had him with me for a while. And he was super fun, super smart. And then another gap of not really having dogs in my life. Traveling, working outside too much, stuff like that.

(RH) 12:29

But then I ended up in a place where I could foster dogs seasonally. At this point, I think I’ve fostered something like 22 dogs. That’s just holding on to whatever dogs need a place to live until they find their permanent home. And my favorite part about that was definitely finding either the things that they really needed to work on, or just teaching them fun little tricks that were cute, that would get people’s attention and make them want to adopt them. I had one dog who had a litter of puppies under my kitchen table that we’re sitting at right now.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 13:08

Yeah.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 13:10

Kayla got to see them, what, within the first couple hours.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 13:12

I was there while Mama was in labor, but I only had like 45 minutes. So I missed any puppies actually coming out. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 13:21

That’s right, I forgot about that. That was a really fun one. I ended up with a lot of dogs who just had a lot of energy and really needed somebody who could exercise them and also mentally stimulate and enrich them. Those are probably some of the most rewarding, most fun.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 13:41

Fostering is such a cool way, really at any stage in your training journey, but you learn so much. And then as far as scent work goes, did you do scent work with any of your dogs before you got hired with West? How did your scent work journey go?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 14:03

When I was 14, I had taken a scent work class with that same fearful dog. And that was super fun. I honestly probably didn’t remember a whole lot from it since I was pretty young. I remembered it being fun. And then I didn’t really have a whole lot of scent work experience. Since then I had gotten interested in a different organization who also used detection dogs. And so I started teaching myself about it and stuff like that. And then met Kayla and really started learning a lot about it from her and Barley. And then had Barley and then trained my own dog on it. So it’s been a lot of learning just in the last couple of years or so.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 14:55

I think you and me and Heather, we all epitomize this pretty typical early entry into this field. Where we have this background in conservation or zoology or biology or ecology or whatever it is. And we have some dog experience. And then it’s just this slow melding of figuring out how to mush those worlds together. And then all the other additional, highly specialized learning that needs to come from that, because there’s a lot you can know about conservation and a lot you can know about dog training, and then still have these big gaps as far as the conservation detection dog side of things goes. 

(KF) 15:35

Gosh, this is funny. It almost feels like we’re at a wedding being like, “So tell us how you met.” But we met on Bumble BFF. We were not trying to date each other. We were looking for friends in Missoula, and met mid pandemic. It was late 2020, right?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 15:57

Something like that. I vaguely remember. I think not that long after I had first moved to Missoula, we matched. And I remember being like,“Oh, this is the one person on here that I really need to hang out with.” And I don’t know what happened.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 16:12

I don’t know either. I remember the same thing because you had a really cool picture of you with a bird on your glove. And I think it was Wildlife Rehab.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 16:21

That’s another one I forgot to add in earlier. I worked with education, birds for a while. So birds who were injured and could not be released into the wild. We would hold them on our glove and give presentations to schools or whatever. Yeah, not related to detection dogs, but [laughs]

Kayla Fratt (KF) 16:40

But hey, it’s broadly related to conservation, and it’s a lot of animal behavior. That stuck out to me – the photo – that I was like, “Oh my gosh, I need to meet this girl.” I was at the time volunteering at Wild Skies Raptor Rehab Center, here in Missoula. And one of my first jobs in high school, I was working with and training a unreleasable American Kestrel. And I’ve always been into falconry as a concept. 

(KF) 17:06

So we met on Bumble BFF. And then tell us about your early stage of dipping your toes into conservation detection dog work and how that went for you.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 17:22

Are you talking about hanging out with you and Barley? 

Kayla Fratt (KF) 17:26

Yeah. This is a little bit of a weird interview because I was there for it. But tell our listeners about how it went.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 17:35

So Kayla and I eventually did end up meeting.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 17:42

I think we actually met days after I was fired from WD4C. Maybe the same day? It couldn’t have been, I was an emotional wreck that day.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 17:56

I think it was days later because I remember you being kind of numb about it.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 18:01

I think when we first were chatting online, Barley and I were not working at the time if I remember. And the first time we met up, we went for a hike. So I had Barley with me.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 18:14

Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 18:15

And I must have not had Niffler yet. This was pre-Niffler. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 18:18

You were just starting to – you were still looking. You were looking for another dog but weren’t sure yet.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 18:24

Yeah. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 18:28

Kayla offered to let me, just for fun, work with Barley. So she went and set out a cotton swab in the middle of some grass. And I let Barley search for it.  And I was like, “Wow, this is so cool.” That was great. And then we just became really close friends. 

Kayla Fratt (KF) 18:56

In our first interactions, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that we have a ton of overlap of interest in the dog and conservation side. And you were already interested in conservation detection dogs. So I [asked], “Well, given that I do this, do you want to help me do some training?” I feel like that’s where it came about, where [asked you], help me set some blind hides. You can be my friend, but also my training assistant [laughs]. Sorry, that’s all my friends. And then I think it kind of spiraled from there. 

(KF) 19:27

When did you first hear about conservation detection dogs? Do you remember how you learned that they existed?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 19:33

I had heard about Working Dogs for Conservation a couple years before that. I applied for them and got some interaction, but not a whole lot. And then later at some point I applied for them again. Didn’t end up getting the position. But I got the response. I made it to the last round of interviews and I got the response of, we have no constructive criticism for you? We just picked somebody else. And so that was very disappointing, but also like, “Okay, I am qualified for this.”

Kayla Fratt (KF) 20:11

You’re in the finalist stage. Yeah. At that point, once you’re on the finalist stage, it’s either luck or there’s just – it’s not that you could have done something better. It’s just that there was someone else who was better. Or lucky, or whatever.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 20:26

Something like that. So yeah, sad. Very disappointing, but also a little bit encouraging in that way. And then you got that job with West. And they were trying to hire somebody very last minute. And you [said], “Well, I have two dogs. Rachel’s taking Barley and going to this other wind farm.” And they said, “Okay.” And I said, “Great.”

Kayla Fratt (KF) 20:55

Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking. Not that I regret the decision. But Niffler at the time was eight months, nine months. He was doing really, really well with training. And I had been going back and forth with West about the fact that I was going to probably have two dogs on site with me. And that Niffler, I think would be ready, and that he would be totally good. 

(KF) 21:19

Anna, who is the dog coordinator for West, reached out to me saying that they were looking for some very last minute handlers for some openings on a project. It occurred to me that I think niffler is good enough. And Barley really knows what he’s doing. And Rachel wants to get into this field.

(KF) 21:38

You were pin a stage where because you were working seasonal jobs. It wasn’t the sort of thing where you were going to have to quit a salaried, amazing dream job that you already really loved in order to take this trial run. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 21:52

I was basically preparing to get into the field. But I didn’t feel entirely comfortable yet taking the leap of making the commitment of getting my own dog. But I was super lucky to have a great job where I was working from home, and I was able to say, “Hey I’m leaving in two weeks. This is my two weeks notice. But can I come back later?” And actually, I do plan to work for them again after this coming season. I was really lucky to have a super flexible job. One that allowed me to take that opportunity.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 22:36

It worked out really well. Barley, as we’ve kind of hinted at on this podcast, decided to try to curb stomp a brown recluse and got bitten on the foot relatively early in the field season. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 22:53

It was relatively early. We had just a regular workday and everything was all good. We got home a little bit late. But then the next day I woke up, and he was limping. I took him to the vet. We can only guess that it was a brown recluse, but we suspect that because of the way that the skin was necrotizing. It was like, peeling off. Yeah, that was pretty wild.

Kayla Fratt 23:23

It was an interesting – not necessarily for the purpose of this conversation, but for listeners just in general. I feel like how that injury progressed was also a really good reminder of knowing your dog, trusting your dog, trusting your instincts. Because Barley, he was limping. Initially we were kind of like, maybe he’s just got a bruised foot. The vet didn’t really find anything at first. It took several days for it to become apparent that something was really wrong.

(KF) 23:52

He didn’t just have a sore foot or a bruised paw pad or something. You and I were in pretty close contact, going back and forth about, “Do we just put a booty on it and let him go to work?” Actually, he’s a sort of dog where if he’s limping, he will work for us. But there’s something going on. That’s probably worth stopping work. And I’m really glad we did, because it really did turn out to be a pretty significant injury.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 24:17

Later on, the vet said something about realizing that that was pretty serious. But even they didn’t realize how serious it could have been at the start. Yeah, that was scary. He started limping. And he had had that kind of chronic limp but it was in his other leg and so at first I thought, “Oh, he’s been compensating and now this other leg is injured.” I thought it was muscular at first. 

Kayla Fratt (KF) 24:46

I totally forgot about that. Because he did. He had an iliopsoas strain that was resulting in some on again, off again, limping. He had some physical therapy. I handed all that off to Rachel and she knew that that was a factor for him and that wind farm work was still acceptable. But he had that going on. So then when he showed up limping on the other side, it totally makes sense to be like, “Okay, yeah, maybe compensation.”

Rachel Hamre (RH) 25:10

Yeah. He was getting what, like lasers. I became really great friends with the vet. They loved Barley. It was a lot of fun.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 25:19

Yeah, there was laser therapy. He was walking backwards. He got stretched. He was really getting the royal treatment. 

(KF) 25:30

Listen, you and your dog are already K9 Conservationists by listening to the show. So go ahead and show it off. Join the club! Check out our brand new merch store which is located at k9conservationists.org/shop. It’s stocked with stickers and magnets and bags and shirts. We’re adding new designs all the time. If you’re an artist wanting to collaborate, we split profits and are eager to hear from you. Reach out at k9conservationists@gmail.com.

(KF) 25:54

We also offer all of our webinars on demand through our store so you can check out our puppy raising webinar, alerts and changes of behavior, introducing a target odor as well as seeking sourcing and alerting. We’re also planning to add new webinars to this all the time. So if you’ve got a request for a webinar, or you’re a practitioner hoping to contribute a webinar, again, we’re going to split our profits with you and you can reach out to us at k9conservationists@gmail.com Let’s keep the learning going.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 26:26

So then we decided that Barley wasn’t going to work anymore. I ended up borrowing Anna’s dog Casey. I got a lot of experience working with a lot of dogs. She was super fun. Totally different working style and everything.

(RH) 26:49

It was very disappointing for Barley to not be able to finish his season. I would bring him in the car with us and he would sit and look out the window very sad that he wasn’t allowed to work. I’d let him out of the car to take a potty break. And I had to put him on a leash so that he wouldn’t go off and try to work. Poor Barley. But he’s all good now.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 27:11

That injury, I don’t know which one of us it was more stressful for. Me not being able to be there with Barley and you being in charge of someone else’s dog and having this happen. But they ended up drawing lines to show where the redness was. He had a whole boneless chicken thigh look going because he was shaved. And he lost quite a bit of skin. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 27:38

The skin on that center paw pad,I’m sure there’s a name for it. That main big center paw pad. The whole skin slowly sloughed off and had to scab and heal back over into a regular paw pad.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 27:59

Yeah. Gosh. So anyway, that was Rachel’s first season.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 28:03

Actually, it was funny. The vet even made a comment about, “Wow, that foot injury was the best thing to happen to his iliopsoas. It totally fixed everything else.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 28:16

Yeah, he hasn’t limped since. He still looks stiff sometimes. But he is eight and a half. And he’s a live fast die young sort of guy. He is not easy on his body. So it’s not surprising that he sometimes does look a little stiff in the morning still. Probably in the next year or two we’re going to be starting to transition him to more old man maintenance, physical training. I’m really hoping to start getting him into some acupuncture and physical therapy and all that.

(KF) 28:41

But that’s going to be a whole other podcast that we’re going to need to do about helping older dogs ease into retirement and also helping extend their working life. I don’t think Barley needs to be retired yet. And he certainly doesn’t want to be retired yet. But how are we going to manage moving him towards that? And hopefully continuing to have him work for several more years.

(KF) 29:03

So you and I, we met back up in October. You handed Barley back to me after your first season. And then you really started looking for your own dog, right?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 29:14

Yeah, Pretty early on in that season. When I had Barley I decided that I felt comfortable diving head in, now that I had these connections and everything. Getting my own dog and really committing to the detection dog thing. Then, pretty quickly, I found her in October. I got my border collie Suki and yeah, pretty much immediately. I mean at first we’re just doing like searches for little hidden hot dogs or I’d throw her ball in grass and she’d go sniff it out.

Kayla Fratt 29:59

How did you find Suki? Because I know you had a different image in mind for what you wanted for a dog. And what were some of the screening things that you were doing as you were looking for Suki? With Barley I didn’t know I wanted to get into detection dog work. With Niffler I knew but I was getting a puppy. So what were some of the things that you were looking for? And how did you go about that search?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 30:25

One thing that was really important to me was that I get a dog that, if the detection stuff didn’t work out with the dog or if I changed careers or whatever, that I would have a dog that I enjoyed as a pet and that fit into my life nicely. Which is pretty funny because I ended up – in my spreadsheet of things that I wanted and didn’t want, I really wanted a red or blue heeler. I was leaning more towards red heelers. Just for – I think they’re pretty.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 31:02

Aesthetics matter!

Rachel Hamre (RH) 31:03

Yeah. At least the red heeler side of things. I mean personality wise, I love heelers. And so I was very set on a heeler, preferentially a red heeler. I have written down specifically that I did not want a black and white dog. And the one issue that I really did not want to deal with was anything dog – dog related. I really wanted a dog who was great with other dogs. And I would have been fine with a dog who, you know, had bitten a kid or anything like that. I was like, “Yeah, I could be a great home for that.” I just really wanted a dog friendly dog. [laughs]

(RH) 31:44

So I was looking around. I was looking on Petfinder. I was sending lots of emails. I was talking to a lot of people about a lot of different dogs. At a nearby shelter, not the nearest one but one that’s maybe like an hour away, there were three dogs that I was like, “Well, I don’t think any of these dogs are quite the right dog. But it’s only an hour drive. And it’s worth going to look at these three dogs.” So I drove to look at them.

(RH) 32:15

Suki was actually not one of those three dogs. But I got there and so I met four dogs, including Suki. Ans I was right, none of the other three were exactly what I wanted. But they showed me Suki and another of the things that I was really looking for was a dog who was super into playing with toys. As a lot of people look for in detection dogs. 

(RH) 32:43

They brought her out with a tennis ball and I’d throw the ball and she would lie down and just stare at it. And they said that she had kind of started to learn how to play fetch. But mostly she’d just lie down and stare at the ball like she wanted to hurt it. [laughs] All I really knew about her was that she had been born on a nearby farm. So I assume there was some livestock there. I really don’t know. But I brought her home. It was mostly things about her temperament that I really liked. 

(RH) 33:14

I ended up having a bunch of people over not too long after I brought her home. And she did great with having a bunch of people coming in and out of the house. When I took her places she was really focused on me. A lot of very basic things that you could work on with a new dog I just felt like I had kind of a head start there with her. Some things that she just already kind of had, that I wouldn’t have to try to work through.

(RH) 33:43

I did a trial period of I think a week or something like that. And I decided to adopt her. So I drove back out to the shelter and filled out the rest of our paperwork, camped, and then the next day, we were going on kind of an adoption celebration hike. And as my partner and I were standing there cooking some breakfast and just hanging out with the dogs before we went up the trail, somebody with his two dogs went running up the trail and she followed them. At first I thought she was going to come right back because that’s usually what she did. But she just kept going with them so eventually I had to run up the trail about a mile to catch up. Suki did her adoption celebration hike without me, but that’s okay. We both had a great time.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 34:43

Oh, Suki. I forgot about that. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 34:47

Oh, yeah. So I really wanted a dog who was good with other dogs. She ended up having some issues there. We’ve made a lot of progress on that. And fluoxetine seems to be helping a lot. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I think having some medication on board has helped a lot with her grumpiness toward other dogs.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 35:10

Yeah, thank god for meds. Her issues with other dogs have been pretty specifically inside of your house. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 35:18

Yeah, it’s pretty specific dogs inside our house. I’m so glad we haven’t had any issues with anyone outside the house because we like to do a lot of off leash trail running and biking and stuff like that. So that would be a big issue. But yeah, it’s mostly been specific dogs inside the house that I can’t always tell which dog it’s gonna be. She picks favorites and less favorites.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 35:43

Yeah, she does seem to develop these – vendetta is a strong word. But it’s not the wrong word.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 35:55

She did not like my mom’s dog. When I went to visit my mom, I would keep Suki in the basement and keep my mom’s dog in the upstairs. And if Suki came up and even heard the other dog’s toenails, she would just [snaps fingers] I’ve never seen murder in her eyes other than that. And she would try to hunt this other dog down. Yeah, super interesting.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 36:18

Yeah. But she does get along really well with your partner’s dog at this point.

Rachel Hamre (RH) 36:20

Yes.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 36:21

But you did have to work through –

Rachel Hamre (RHJ 36:23

There were a couple weeks where they couldn’t be in the same space. So we had to work through that. And I’m so glad it worked.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 36:33

The partner dog conflicts, back when I did a lot of behavior consulting, that was always the worst. Because they’re like, “Yeah, we want to move in together. We’ve signed the lease that starts in a month. And it turns out our dogs hate each other.” And I’m like, “Okay, great. Yeah, that’s super easy. No problem. Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it.”

Rachel Hamre (RH) 36:52

You can pay two rents, right?

Kayla Fratt (KF) 36:54

Yeah, that’s really a solution. We’ll just get another house for your dog.

(KF) 36:59

But she’s always been good with niffler, right? Rachel had my dogs the entire time I was in Kenya. So Rachel just keeps ending up getting shoved places with Barley. But you were able to manage it with Barley and Niffler, yeah?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 37:15

Suki never had an issue with Niffler, which is pretty interesting.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 37:19

Yeah, cuz he’s annoying. [laughs]

Rachel Hamre (RH) 37:21

Yeah, he’s just a goofy – Niffler could totally get away with things that no other dog would be able to get away with. But Suki has some funny – I guess it falls under resource guarding. She never touches the trash can, or even smells it or anything. But if another dog smells the trash can, she enforces the rule of no trash can smelling.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 37:47

That would be an issue with Barley as people who listen to the podcast may know. Barley is a consummate trash monster. [laughs]

Rachel Hamre (RH) 37:56

Suki had pretty minor issues with Barley, luckily. Barley just couldn’t do anything right at one point, but it was manageable. We put up fences and did lots of treats and engage disengaging. They can be in the same space – yeah, management is great. Everyone was happy enough.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 38:23

Yeah, exactly. And she’s lovely. She’s gonna be starting her first field season with you, gosh, in a couple of weeks. A month. 

Rachel Hamre (RH) 38:31

Yeah, we leave very soon. Just a couple of weeks, I think she’ll be working on her first wind farm project.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  38:41

Woo-hoo! Oh, gosh. Wow. Yeah. My voice is just not here. I’m so glad we had two podcasts recorded today. 

(KF) 38:48

Now that we’ve got you on board with K9 Conservationists, none of us is making any money. We’re spending a ton of time doing stuff. What are some of the things that you’re looking forward to growing into both as a vision for K9 Conservationists and also for yourself within the organization? Where do you want to see yourself and the organization going? What are you excited about?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 39:14

I’ve started talking to a couple of professors about doing a Master’s in something data related. Probably data science. I like the numbers and data side of things. So I hope that that can contribute to K9 Conservationists at some point. And also provide some financial stability outside of our K9 Conservationists fieldwork. I think that will provide stability and money for myself and K9 Conservationists in whatever way it works out.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 39:56

Definitely. It’s gonna be nice to have someone with that background on the team. Is there anything else that you wanted to bring up or anything I forgot to ask about?

Rachel Hamre (RH) 40:08

I can’t think of anything.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 40:11

Okay. Well, Rachel, thanks for being on the podcast and we’re glad to have you part of the K9 Conservationists crew. I think all the division of labor that we’ve got going between you and me and Heather is working out pretty well. But I am hoping to get both of them to come back on the show a little bit more. And just spread it out a little bit. 

(KF) 40:30

For everyone listening at home, thanks so much for joining us. I hope you enjoyed getting to know Rachel and Suki and hearing a little bit about their history together. As always, we hope that you’re inspired to get outside and be a K9 conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set.

(KF) 40:46

If you want to learn more about K9 Conservationists, you can volunteer for us, buy merch, donate, join Patreon, whatever it is that you want. All of that is over at k9conservationists.org. Until next time.