In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Kate Graham from Katalyst Kennels about breeding detection dogs.
Science Highlight: Effects of maternal investment, temperament, and cognition on guide dog success
What health testing is important in the field?
- Pay attention to health conditions in the breed, like orthopedics (OFA hips and elbows), echocardiograms, and eyes
- Look at the breadth of pedigree, not just the dog itself
- General genetic testing to find carriers
What about successful sporting dogs with less-solid pedigrees?
- Looking for dogs that work independently, highly motivated, and handler resilient in terms of performance
- Then see if the health-related issues can be bred with a complimentary pedigree
- Behavioral issues are not worth the risk
- Sometimes this won’t be successful, but other times it will be
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
Where to find Kate Graham: Website | Instagram | Facebook
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Transcription thanks to volunteer Catherine Homan
Kayla Fratt (KF) 0:01
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Kayla Fratt 1:07
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 got to talk to Kate Graham from Katalyst Kennels about breeding detection dogs. We had so much fun that we talked for over two hours, and had to split this into a two-parter. So, Kate Graham has been involved in the dog world since she was 10 years old. She began titling dogs in conformation obedience, rally obedience, agility, tracking, nosework, and hunt tests, which gradually morphed into a passion for detection dogs. She graduated from State University of New York at Cobleskill with a bachelor degree in canine sciences, and went on to work with the breeding program at a large service dog school. She then worked at a private practice veterinary hospital as a head vet tech and reproductive services manager, taught at a variety of pet dog training and scentwork classes. Kate has been an active search and rescue handler for the last eight years, handling two canines. One is certified in human remains detection or HRD, the other in trailing articles search. Kate holds her certified professional dog trainer credentials through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Kate breeds and trains Labrador Retrievers under the Katalyst Kennels name. Katalyst provides green and pre-trained dogs to police departments, government agencies, and search and rescue teams throughout the country. She breeds one to two litters a year that are sold as puppies to SAR and sport handlers. Her program focuses on using science based methods to create stable, healthy, highly-motivated working dogs. She doesn’t believe in dogs being just a breeder, and all of the breeding stocks are certified working detection dogs or competitive sport dogs. As I said, this episode was so fun for me that it went over an hour long, longer than it should have, and has been broken into two parts. We’re just going to do one science highlight for both though, and you’ll see why in a moment. So this article is titled, “The Effects of Maternal Investment, Temperament and Cognition on Guide Dog Success.” It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in 2017 by Emily Bray and others. Their question was, “How does maternal behavior influence the long-term performance in puppies for service dogs?” So their abstract reads, in part to examine the effects of early cognition, and role of temperament success in service dogs Bray, Sammel, Cheney, Serpell, and Seyfarth studied the behavior of 21 mothers and their litters from a guide dog breeding and training program. Behavioral interactions between the mothers and puppies during a three week postnatal period were observed. The puppies were then assessed upon returning to the training center as young adults, after having spent more than a year in basic training and socialization of the homes of volunteer puppy raisers before the formal training began. The assessments included 11 measures of cognitive performance and temperament including attention, memory, problem solving and reactions to novel objects, people, and situations. The maternal behavior and assessment measures were then correlated to the final outcome, i.e. whether the dog was placed as a successful guide dog or not. And then the maternal behavior for each mother was characterized by physical proximity and contact with the puppies, as well as nursing position, as in whether the dog was lying down, sitting, or standing while her puppies nursed during the three week postnatal period. High scores of maternal behavior, such as greater levels of interaction and proximity to puppies, were actually associated with poor performance on the young adult cognitive and temperament tests. These performance measures included restlessness when isolated, longer latencies to success and more errors on problem solving tasks and shorter latencies to vocalize when confronted with a novel object. So basically, they barked faster. Maternal behavior was also predictive of program outcome in that high levels of maternal care, specifically ventral nursing style, where the female was lying down on her stomach, were predictive of failure from the program. These young adult test performances were also predictive of performance outcome, in particular poor performance on a multi-step problem solving task, shorter latency to vocalize in response to a novel object, and reactivity to an umbrella opening, were associated with release from the program. Interestingly, the direction of the umbrella test reaction depended on breed. So, Labrador Retrievers with a greater reaction to the umbrella opening were more likely to fail as a guide dog, whereas the opposite was true for Golden Retrievers. So, overall, young adult test performance had greater predictive strength than did maternal behavior, though both were associated with program outcome.
Kayla Fratt 5:51
Of course, there are plenty of confounding effects such as genetics. They only talked about placement and graduation and not beyond, so, they didn’t necessarily look to see whether, when these dogs were seven years old, how they were performing as guide dogs. And of course, for us here, this program was just looking at or this study was just looking at guide dogs’ success. And guide dogs are super unique, unique genetically. The breeding pool for guide dogs is very distinct from the general population. And, of course, that job is extremely different from detection dog work. In fact, it’s important to note that a 2016 study from Foyer et al. had the opposite results, for military working dogs, which found that more attentive mothers had more successful puppies. So, again, this is a really interesting study, a really interesting place to start. But we can’t necessarily say that we can look at how a mother interacts with her puppies, and then say whether or not those puppies are going to be successful in detection dog programs, because neither of these studies actually looked specifically at detection dogs. It would be fascinating to see if we could do some cross fostering studies in this line of work, just like what we do with rats to look at how maternal care actually interacts with genetics to predict future adult behavior. So without further ado, let’s get to the show with Kate. Thank you so much for coming on to the podcast, Kate. Do you want to start out by telling us a little bit about how you got into breeding? Where did you start?
Kate Graham 7:23
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. So, I grew up in the dog world and I was very lucky to be able to be within a community of really great breeders from a young age. My parents didn’t do any dog stuff, but I grew up starting in Four H, had some great mentors in the confirmation competition, obedience and agility worlds that were local to me and kind of took me under their wing. So, I grew up with people who were really what you consider preservation breeders who are breeding for the better of the breed, who are making those tough decisions when needed, and really breeding with an end goal in mind. I was very lucky to have a number of dogs that I co-owned with them that they let me show in junior showmanship and obedience and agility. I had a great start and a great model to look at for what a responsible breeder was and that definitely helped from a young age. So I had that, originally was not going to go to college, was just going to go and try to be a professional handler out on the circuit for a little while doing confirmation dogs when. Definitely thought that was a great idea. Yeah. Glad glad I steered away from that. But that was a thought at one point in time. I was highly encouraged to at least go to college for a little bit and give it a go. So, I went to SUNY Cobleskill, which now has a really cool canine management program. At the time, it was all under the animal science umbrella. So, I went there, worked with a professor who has now passed, but that was Dr. Steve McKenzie and Doc was a PhD in behavioral genetics, big figure in the police dog world, and had done a lot of research and kind of projects within the canine industry to modernize some of our training techniques. He took me under his wing and got me involved in a Lab project. He convinced me to stay for my Bachelor’s by tempting me with Lab puppies and telling me that he would teach me how to raise green dogs. So, I ended up under his guidance, going out buying a few Lab puppies, got myself into a pet-friendly living situation at that college there and just finished up my degree, raising green dogs with him. So, that was an awesome opportunity. Yeah, really great stuff there. And so when we were looking at raising green dogs, one of the biggest things was figuring out where we could get them from. Labs are a breed in huge demand now in the US for any kind of detection, they’re very popular, but there are not a ton of sources that breed them domestically, specifically for detection. We were looking at options for where to get them and ended up deciding that it may be something that I would like to start a breeding program with in the future. I had always thought it would be small scale, and it still is, luckily, but it was a goal of mine. I ended up getting a really nice little female from a great breeder who has been doing working dog stuff for a long time, with the goal of working her first. So, got her certified in tracking, got her certified in human remains detection. She’s still my, just about to retire, SAR dog to this day. So, really got her, loved the work, loved everything else. I did her health testing; she passed all their health clearances with flying color. So we decided to breed her and that’s where the breeding program kind of started there.
Kayla Fratt 10:59
Oh, cool. I mean, how incredibly lucky to be a little bit reluctant to go to college and then run into such a ridiculously well-suited mentor in college. This was not a question I was planning to ask you, but how did you find SUNY? And did you know that he was there, and that was part of the attraction, or?
Kate Graham 11:21
So, it was just kind of a luck of the draw thing. SUNY was the perfect distance for me when I was looking to go to college, so far enough away that I was away, but within a few hours of home, so I could play back and forth when I wanted to, and then knowing that they did do some dog stuff there. So I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do within the canine industry, but I knew I wanted to do something within dogs and see if I could figure out a way to make a career. I was determined and set not to be a vet tech, which joke’s on me, because I ended up being a vet tech for three years managing a repro side of the hospital. I have been for a little while, but I was determined that I was going to do something with dogs, and Cobleskill had those options and there’s not many others around who do. Dog stuff is something that is a lot more of a learning experience within your tribe and your community, but there’s not much higher education within training. So, Cobleskill worked as a good fit. Like I said, their canine program, I think, just became a thing within the past two years that it’s a formalized canine dedicated degree program. But the dog stuff was always there. Doc was there. And so I went up to play with dogs, play with an Associate’s, ended up with staying for my bachelor’s and, yeah, it was luck of the draw a little bit to get there.
Kayla Fratt 12:45
Yeah, that’s really lucky. So where did your first dog come from? As you were thinking about, kind of, your foundational dogs, how do you go about finding these dogs and thinking through who’s going to be a good match? It seems to me, we were talking right before we started recording, it’s one thing to find a dog that you want to work with, or a dog that you want to buy, and another thing when you’re starting to think about, ‘What does this dog add to a program? How do they work within the current group?’ How do you think about this?
Kate Graham 13:21
I bought my first dog with the intent of looking for a dog that I wanted to work. I ended up asking around, a lot of people who do detection stuff, and really seeing who had dogs that they enjoyed. Basically, asking everyone that I knew, “Have you seen any Labs you like and, if so, can you tell me who they’re from?” I got pointed down to a woman who does a bunch of FEMA stuff down in Florida, Jen Brown. She’s a vet down there, too, really cool person. She had a dog, Finesse, that everyone was like, Finesse is the dog. So, I was pointed down to her. She doesn’t breed very much, but she has all Maranatha dogs, so she pointed me back to Maranatha in Maine. That worked out nice because that was pretty close to where I was. They had a dog out of a litter that was related in nicely to Finesse. So, I went up there to test that litter and ended up with my dog, Taboo, who was a phenomenal little fit and has worked out very well there. As far as looking for where I’m sourcing dogs in from, because pulling diversity is always important, I’m typically looking at those pedigrees first. I’ve got an end picture in mind of what I like and what I would like to produce. It’s always evolving and changing a little bit as we go, but I do know at the end of the day the type of Lab that I’m looking for because a Lab is not just a Lab as any breed, right? Your Border Collie is not just a Border Collie. We all have a specific set of traits that we like and goals that we’re looking at. So, when I’m looking at those goals, I then think, okay, this is my end picture of what I want, go back from there a little bit and see what sports, or what activities, or what trials are going to reward dogs with similar characteristics, and then where can I find those dogs. So I’ve narrowed it down to I like a field trial-type dog. Field trials tend to reward the grit and perseverance I like in a Lab. Then narrowing that down even further, I like dogs from, I’ve found, actually a specific year period that field trials are run. So, I like a lot of our late 90s to very early 2000s field trial dogs. As sports go, sports are always going to evolve a little bit and change a little bit, and judging will reflect current trends. The way a lot of the current trends are rolling in field trials, there’s some traits that are being rewarded more highly nowadays that I don’t particularly want for a detection dog. Great for a field trial dog nowadays, but they need a dog who is a little more visual, a great, great marker, great handling dog, both of which are traits, which I’m not necessarily concerned about in a detection dog. I don’t care if they use their eyes super well and can mark well, I don’t care if they handle super well. If anything, I want a dog who’s a little bit more “screw you.” I prefer a highly independent dog, don’t need them to handle. But, this certain period when field trials were just rewarding again, as trends go slightly different things, I found I really liked dogs from that era. So a lot of times when I’m looking at pedigrees and pulling new dogs into the program, I’m looking for a kind of collection of common ancestors from that era. I like a little bit more of an old school pedigree that way. That’s what I’ve just kind of worked well with and has produced the things I’m looking for.
Kayla Fratt 16:51
Yeah, that’s really cool. And do you do kind of that process largely because you’re looking at bringing in diversity? So, bringing in other SAR dogs or detection dogs wouldn’t necessarily bring in that diversity? Or is it just because there’s not enough SAR detection dogs to bring in?
Kate Graham 17:10
Oh, that’s a phenomenal question. So, it is because there’s not necessarily enough SAR and detection dogs to bring in with diverse enough backgrounds. So there are some phenomenal specimens that are wonderful SAR or detection dogs, but when we’re looking from a breeding perspective, a lot of these dogs are from pedigrees that there’s not a lot behind the pedigree. So, this dog himself is a phenomenal specimen, but when you look at what his parents are doing, grandparents are doing, siblings are doing, we either have very little data, or most of them are pets, and some maybe do a little bit of something. So this one dog is phenomenal, but I have to look at, is he an anomaly or is he supported by his genetics? When I can find a dog that’s supported by his genetics, and his pedigree says he’s a great working dog, and he himself is a great working dog, and the health supports it, I will use that dog. But unfortunately, very many are just not supported by their pedigree enough to know if bringing that dog in is really going to be an asset to the program. Or is it just that that dog had the luck of the draw with genetics, a perfect foundation, and awesome handler and that’s who made him and who has made him into who he is today? So, I do want that pedigree support behind there to feel comfortable using that dog in my program.
Kayla Fratt 18:41
Yeah, and that makes sense because I think over this timescale of years or decades, like I’ve talked to, back when we did the Canine Conversations podcast and in the Pandemic Puppy podcast as well, I’ve recorded other episodes with breeders and like Susanne Shelton, and her husband, she runs Austerlitz, German Shepherds, she’s been breeding for, it seems like decades, like maybe forever, and she knows her lines so well. Breeding ultimately, is an iterative process. You could test out a stud dog that is like a phenomenal dog in his own right and you could have a litter that proves that those genetics were there and nobody ever tested or trialed with his ancestors, so you just couldn’t see it, but you don’t know that for like, what, two or three years? Absolutely. You probably can kind of tell like, I feel really confident with my 14-month old that he’s really turning into something I would like to produce more of, and like his breeder knows that about him and his siblings, that the match has gone really, really well. But it’s not like when I’m training, I can get this feedback on a training plan or on a training style within seconds to minutes to at least even weeks if I’m really looking at taking a data driven approach. That’s something that just seems so challenging about breeding in general.
Kate Graham 20:05
It is, and it can be such a long game effort. I had a litter a few years ago that you know, at 12 months, for most of those dogs, I was like, eh, really not a huge fan of them. Most of them did end up with agencies; most of them did, actually, all of them, except one, are working professional detection. At three, those dogs are freaking phenomenal. At a year old, if you had asked me, I would have been like, eh, really not a fan of them, but that tells us more things. That makes me feel more confident that I have some younger pups that are relatives of those. I now feel more comfortable saying, okay, maturity may help out a lot, and there might be very good things to come with maturity. But, it’s still always a crapshoot that way. We do have to take the time to look at them because we could look at a litter at eight weeks, and they could look phenomenal at eight weeks. That doesn’t mean they’re going to hold up when they’re 18 months old, three, five. We need to see how those things go with age. Breeding is always the long game of really letting them grow up, letting them see, and then looking at those decisions to be able to go back and play a little bit. That is why I tend to play with older school pedigrees, too. It is a little bit of a security side of things. I can look and say, okay, this dog is long since dead, but I can see its grand puppies, and even sometimes generations down from that, and say, okay, what does he continue to produce and look like down the line? So that’s why I do tend to play on the safe side, I think, a little bit with those old school things.
Kayla Fratt 21:42
That totally makes sense. I mean, again, going back to that predictive value- if you could look at an eight week old puppy and say what they were going to be, guide dogs wouldn’t have a 60% wash out, right? Puppy temperament tests just aren’t that predictive. They’re just not. Another example with Niffler’s litter- I helped with the temperament tests when they were seven weeks old. There was one female that, markings wise, was one of my favorites in the litter, which is an interesting and tricky thing with Border Collies. It’s something I love and hate about the breed versus labs, like I grew up with Labs.
Kate Graham 22:27
Yeah, black or yellow or maybe chocolate.
Kayla Fratt 22:30
Yeah, exactly. And that’s about as much color as you’re going to have. But in Niffler’s litter, there was this one, tri- colored, she just had really attractive markings. Yeah. But she was really shy. She was by far the one that, temperament wise, during the tests, I was like, oh, I don’t think I like this dog. She’s really soft. It was really concerning to me, especially because that’s just so common in the Border Collie breed. She went home with someone who I believe, I can’t remember what sports she does, but she and her husband also co-own an auto shop. This dog is a full time shop dog. She plays fetch with every single person who comes in. She is probably, as far as I know, the most social puppy in the litter now. I’m sure some of that is environment. Some of that is because she got to be a shop dog. She got so much practice. Again, you wouldn’t have expected that.
Kate Graham 23:31
There’s so many puppies that I would look at it eight weeks and be like, I really don’t think you’re working prospects. But we don’t know. John Hopkins has created something called the Domestic Breeding Consortium, or they’re heading the project, for this domestic breeding consortium to look at breeding floppier dogs of a couple different sporting breeds mainly for TSA, but for some of the other federal agencies, too. So within this project, they’re doing a lot of data collection on that longitudinal data of puppies and how they’re growing up and then into their careers in the future. I’ve got a litter right now of nine, and out of that litter of nine, there was one particular puppy I’m thinking of who, at six to eight weeks, I would have said he would have been absolutely my pet or low-level sport puppy of the litter. Very little prey drive, very little interest in anything, was just kind of a bump on the log, not really doing anything. He was a cool little dude. We named him Stew because he was just our little Stewy puppy. He just didn’t do much of anything. He was just kind of there, but he’s super cute, whatever. Because we had to keep him back for this project, eight weeks, his evaluation, meh, he just was very bland. 12 weeks, still no interest in a toy, not much of anything. He’s 10 months old now, and he is like the ringer of the litter currently. He’s super possessive about his toys, super into things, phenomenal little hunt, like he’s just super animated. Very intense little dog. I never would have thought that looking at eight and even twelve weeks. I would have been like no way. I would have put him off with someone, and then that poor poor person that he would have gone to because he’s now my kind of the jerk of the litter. So, some of those things we just can’t tell at that age. I think some puppies really thrive when they get away from the litter. Within the dynamics of the litter, they’re not looking like the strongest puppy. As soon as they go off, and they’re in their own place and they’ve got their own home with support, they’re looking like a little rock star. So, some of that can be, I think, very dependent on litter dynamics and just letting time happen for some maturity to take place.
Kayla Fratt 25:55
Yeah, I’m so fascinated by that. This is like one of those things that again, like 10 years from now, I hope I have a house. We were just talking about this before recording, I want a dedicated recording place, and I would love to have the ability to experiment. I think about this all the time with Niffler. He was the one who, in a couple of the temperament tests within the litter, he really stood out to me as the best detection working prospect, not the best for agility, not the best for dock, because they were kind of a mixed sport goaled litter, but the best for detection. He was by far the most independent, the most kind of problem solving. Like he’s just a super independent sniffy guy, which, especially within the Border Collie breed is a little weird. And I’m so curious, was that temperament test actually useful? Or if I had taken home any other puppy in that litter and given them the same amount of drive building and structure and freedom? And whatever it is? Where would they go? Do you have any sense? It sounds like this Johns Hopkins program is trying to figure out some of these things. Do you think if he had gone to a pet home, who never did much with him, he would have developed as much of this?
Kate Graham 27:16
That’s such a great question. I think if we had an answer for that, we would be so much better off in the detection realm. We just don’t know at this point. We really don’t. Yeah, it’s one of those that’s so up in the air.
Kayla Fratt 27:40
We just don’t know. I would love one day to have a bred-by litter, where I keep my pick, I go with my gut, or the temperament tests, or whatever it is. And then I take one in the middle, you know, whichever one doesn’t get grabbed up, and give them both the same thing. See, again, you can probably never really say whether that’s maturity with genetics or the environment, but I would just love to know how many potentially really successful dogs were washing out before they’re five, six months old.
Kate Graham 28:15
Absolutely. I agree. And even sometimes, I would argue, after that point, unfortunately. I’ve had dogs, so again, raising this whole litter back, and especially, we’re raising them back until they’re about a year old, which for me, is excruciating in the sense that I tend to be a bit of an impulsive washout person. I’m like, oh, we’ve had three bad weeks in a row, that’s it, we’re done. You’ve said you don’t want to play this game. That’s it. But, we have to remember that things like fear phases exist, and sometimes dogs are just in a weird little hormonal state at that time, and things look funny. So you know, I have one right now who, in my head, was an absolute wash for me. I didn’t quite like the work. I didn’t quite like how he handled the environment. Nothing blatantly wrong with him, just not a dog that was for me. A dog that I was pretty much planning to pet out and put into a sport home or something where he could maybe do some nosework, go hiking, have a great life. I had an agency, who’s gotten quite a few dogs from me before, come up and look at them. He was just in the trough hanging out that day. So they’re like, oh, can we test him, too? They loved him, and they thought he was the coolest thing in the world. It’s just so odd to me because this is the dog that I warned them off of the whole time, like “he does this, he does that, not really a huge fan of him.” And now they’ve had him for a while and they’re like, we think he’s like the coolest thing ever. So everyone has different little things. And this dog, too, glommed on to the handler they put him with, thinks the handler is awesome. The dog looks super strong with that handler. It’s just a weird combination. I think sometimes, too, the best foundation we can put on the dog, those are so individual, what I might put on the dog, thinking I’m giving it the best foundation possible, someone else might take a completely different approach, and the dog might thrive with that a little bit better. So, dogs are so tricky, I think, to collect data on this because there is that emotional component. We can set everything up and say everything is standardized, and the same and this should be the path that sets you up for success the most. But they are emotional beings. There are certain things in their life that, for whatever reason, it could be the same program, but in someone else’s home and they’re gonna thrive, they’re better than they are in this particular situation. So it is really hard to determine, are there dogs that may have been washed out if we had done things a little bit differently? Or if we had kept them back? Because I do think there are some that just very clearly don’t want to do the work and then there are some that maybe just don’t want to do the work with me that maybe do with someone else?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 31:03
Well, and even maybe you don’t want to do this specific sort of work. I know back when I was with Working Dogs for Conservation, when they got a ton of dogs from National Search Dog Foundation, where the dog didn’t like being around the helicopter, the dog didn’t like the rubble pile, or the dog didn’t like this or that. But if you’re going to be out in the mountains of Montana finding grizzly bear scat, great. And then on the flip side, there certainly are dogs that maybe couldn’t succeed in the conservation dog side of things because of prey drive or distractibility, crittering, those sorts of things. But if you want a TSA dog, that dog would be fine. Right? And that’s just the type of work.
Kayla Fratt 31:46
It’s funny, you say, you’re quick to wash dogs, and I think that’s something that I had a period of time with Niffler. Right around late, late puppyhood, early adolescence, like that six to nine months old, I was like, I don’t like him. I love him, but I don’t like him. He was dealing with stranger danger, crap, and blah, blah, blah. And then, last night, he was at a Super Bowl party, and he was in everyone’s lap, like he’s turned really nicely out of it. One of his most impressive things so far is that he was able to work a full field season, starting when he was nine months old. I wasn’t planning on doing that. It just happened because of circumstances that my other dog went off with a different handler. I was kind of like, alright, this is the one project that I think it’s fair to see if a puppy can do, and he totally rose to that occasion. It’s funny thinking about it now or 20 years from now, when hopefully I’m handling his granddaughter or something. I’m gonna be like, yeah, her granddad, he was working at nine months old. That’s not something that I necessarily am planning on testing all of my dogs through, but that’ll be a little notch on his belt forever.
Kate Graham 33:17
No, but I get it. I understand, too, exactly the point you’re saying of loving the dog, but looking at them and being like, I just don’t like the work right now. I’ve had to surround myself with a support system of people who know that, as soon as they hear me starting to talk about a washer dog, they’re like, stop, take two months. I’ve sent dogs away for two months and say, okay, you can go live with someone else for a little while because a lot of times those issues that I’m looking at, in a very short period of time, do resolve. Now, I’ve worked on and found it’s much more important to look at trends overall, so if I’ve been looking at a dog for the past six months, and continue to rate it poorly on an environmental scale, or social confidence, or some type of pressure and the environment, is that dog saying it wants to go have a different career and a different life? Who am I to make it work? Like go live your best life being a little hiking buddy for somebody and go do that. The dogs should only work if they really want to work and do the job. But there are plenty that, putting a little bit of maturity on and just taking a deep breath, sitting back, letting it kind of play out, and seeing how it goes in a month or so. Sometimes that makes all the difference in the world and the dog looks great after they come out of that.
Kayla Fratt 34:33
Yeah, that makes so much sense. Again, going back to that example of Mya, the other little tri, like if she had gone out. I’m obviously not her breeder or anything like that, but I could see her being a dog where, as she’s continued to mature, I have no idea what their conversations are like, but my assessment of her, had I bred her, would change dramatically and I’d be really grateful to still…it’s so important to stay in touch with your puppies,for that reason, though, yes.
Kate Graham 35:03
Oh, yes. I’m really lucky. I have awesome puppy owners and we have a little group on Facebook that’s private just for puppy owners. It’s so cool to be able to see even trends within a litter. There’s times where they’re all peaking at the same time, or they’re all hitting a little bit of a funky stage at the same time. It’s really nice to be able to look at those things and how they go across the litter even when these puppies are in completely different environments across the country. Like hey, all of the puppies are going through a destructive phase where they’re trying to eat the drywall, but sometimes that happens, and it’s like, well, yeah, mine in Washington is doing it, and mine in North Carolina is doing it, and it’s super weird. The environment’s completely different, but genetics are a funny thing.
Kayla Fratt 35:47
Yeah, they really are. I know. So Niffler was in a litter of seven, and, I think, three of them were really, really slow to house train.
There you go. Yeah.
That’s a weird thing. Border Collies are super smart. They were in relatively experienced homes. Who knows? The pup that the breeder kept was the last one to get fully potty trained.
Kate Graham 36:10
And you would think, that one is in a great home, yep, she’s got it all down. She knows she should be able to house train that dog like nothing.
Kayla Fratt 36:17
Right, I had no issues with Niffler, but also Nffler has always lived in extremely small quarters with me. Okay, so let’s circle around to some health testing and proving you’ve talked a little bit about as we’re talking about how you select your dogs, what you’re looking for. And obviously, again, you’re in the Lab world, so some things are going to be different, but what are some of the things that you look for as far as the health side of things for prospective dogs?
Kate Graham 36:54
So health wise, we really need to pay attention to health conditions within the breed, especially orthopedics or things that may impede a dog’s working lifespan, because we could have the most talented dog in the world. and if it doesn’t have the body to support it, it doesn’t help anybody. Then we’re just harnessing the super talented dog in a somewhat crippled body. Looking at orthopedics is really important for me as a Lab breeder, because we do have hip and elbow dysplasia issues, so I’m always looking at OFAs not only on the dog itself, but on the breadth of pedigree, so the dogs behind it, the dogs around it. OFA has a great feature called vertical pedigree where we can start to look at breadth of pedigree a little bit more, seeing what those grandparents produce, but what the siblings of them produced, what their offspring produced, to start to look at trends within our orthopedics. Because it is, I think, more important to look at what’s behind the dog than maybe what the actual dog has. So sure, I can find a specimen that has excellent hips on x-ray, but if the majority of his background behind him has fairs and quite a few mild or moderate dysplasias, that excellent doesn’t mean a lot because we know the genetics behind it support not as great of hip conformation. Looking at that breadth of pedigree to orthopedics are really important for hips and elbows. In Labs, too, we have plenty of dogs that test mild dysplasia on their elbows. Some people do breed those, some people don’t breed those, and we don’t need to get into the debate of should we or should we not. It tends to be asymptomatic. From my perspective, at least selling dogs to agencies, I can’t sell a mild dog, so I’m going to avoid adding that into my program. I know it could go for a CT scan, be clear, be totally fine. I’m not CTing every dog that comes back mild. No way. And I can’t show an agency and be like, well, so he has mild elbow dysplasia but the CT is normal. It’s too much of an ask for someone to understand that. So I’ve got a pedigree or health testing also that’s going to support the area that I’m trying to sell dogs to. Then looking at some of our other things- Labs, we know, we have some cardiac issues. Mostly we’re looking at tricuspid valve dysplasia and mitral valve dysplasia, both of which in a mild form present without a murmur. So, we do have to do echocardiograms to ensure that those dogs are not asymptomatic, basically carriers, of the disease. Because it is one of those things we could pretend everyone doesn’t have it, but we don’t know unless we echo or unless we produce severely affected puppies and I’d much rather not do that. Then looking at some of our other things, so eyes, genetic status. We’re in a great place now where we can test for so many different genetic diseases, and most of those are autosomal recessive diseases where we can breed carriers to clear safely and start to breed away from those carriers slowly without having to cull a large part part of our population because they’re carriers. Health testing is, the expression in horses is no hoof, no horse and in dogs, it’s essentially if you don’t have the orthopedics and the health testing behind them, the dog, it doesn’t help anybody out. It’s not doing what it needs to do. And it’s not fair to the dog. It’s not fair to whatever handler we’re putting it with.
Unknown Speaker 40:38
My name is Kei, and I have a two year old working Cocker Spaniel named Cooper. Cooper and I are new to this field of conservation detection dog work. I am loving being a Patreon of the K9 Conservationist. We get to meet once a month via Zoom with people all over the world and watch each other’s videos and give input and it’s just been such a wonderful learning opportunity. On top of that, I’m really excited about something that’s about to start, which is a book club, that we’re going to be going through a scent book that I tried to go through on my own and realized I really needed some more help. So it was perfect timing for me and I’m really looking forward to that. Just being able to meet people and talk through issues and better understand the whole field of canine conservation work has just been such a great thing. And Kayla and the K9 Conservationists have played such a huge part in that happening for me. So thanks, Kayla.
Kayla Fratt 41:39
Absolutely. I know, that’s like one of the biggest things. Niffler is getting his preliminary OFAs done this week. Exciting, right? I mean, if nothing else, it’s so silly. But there’s like, oh, god, it’s his first time going under.
Kate Graham 42:01
I know. I know. Light sedation, reverse him right out. He’ll be a little drunk for the rest of the day [laughter]
Kayla Fratt 42:07
Looking forward to drunk Niffler honestly. It’s gonna be so much better. Yeah, and so you say that a lot of your breeding prospects you’re getting in from these hunting and field trial lines? Are there any other areas that you look at? Do you ever look at maybe the dogs that are winning summit titles in nosework or anything like that?
Kate Graham 42:34
Yeah, so looking at those dogs themselves and looking at where those dogs come from. Right. Nosework is one of those that is rewarding a lot of the traits that I would like to see more in my detection dogs. And just as much I’m looking for the dogs that are winning and super successful, and also the dogs that are not winning, for specific reasons. So, at least for most of my agency placements, I’m looking for a detection dog that is working independently, that is intense, that is highly motivated, and that is handler resilient. So if I’m placing a dog with a police department, or some of these federal agencies that we place with, I need a dog that’s going to be able to take that first time handler who has no idea what they’re doing and may have never held the leash before and can be resilient to all the mistakes that handler’s going to be able to to make inevitably, and the dog can still do their job successfully. I do need a dog that works, at least to an extent, as a mercenary that way and can say hey, you go fumble with the leash over there, I’m going to just do my job, pay me at the end and I’m happy. For some of our sports, like retriever sports, some of our field trial dogs, I might be looking for a dog who’s got a little bit more of that punky “screw you” type attitude are a little bit, you know, wants to drive the ship themselves, because I like that dog. It’s not going to win, it’s not going to end up you know, FC, but it might produce some really cool detection dogs. When we’re looking at nosework and some of those sports, I think as long as we’re looking at the dog as an individual and not just looking at the titles it’s come to. Nosework is a phenomenal example. It is rewarding the hunting and the ability to be able to work with distractions, time pressure, all of that that we’re looking at in a detection dog. But look at how many different breeds and dogs compete in that. You can have Bichon nosework champions, you know, summit title dogs, you could have all different breeds. And so a lot of it can kind of play into, Is it a skilled trainer that’s really supporting the dog through and building the dog up appropriately? Or is it that that dog is just phenomenal and it could take an amateur handler who’s making all these mistakes and the dog’s still rocking it. So I think in those types of things, looking at the dog as an individual, watching the dog work. There’s so much that can be gained from watching a dog work a problem, watching a dog work with its handler, with someone else handling it, with the pressure of just being in a novel, stressful environment. That can tell us a lot about who that dog is, and what kind of grit they do bring to the table.
Kayla Fratt 45:24
That makes a lot of sense. One of the things I think of with nosework is just how much shorter those searches are. Right? But at least what I’m going for, I don’t know necessarily how TSA runs their dogs, or a lot of these other agencies, like maybe less endurance is okay, but that would be a big concern for me. I think Sarah Stremming has said this about looking for agility dogs. She says one of the things she looks for is the dogs that are doing well, despite their handler. Yeah, yeah. You’re really looking, at least she said that she’s looking for, these dogs that are doing really well in trials, even if their handler is fumbling a little bit, or maybe the dog has a broken contact or something in the agility world, but it’s because of training, and therefore, that dog isn’t necessarily winning trials. But the dog has the athleticism and the handler focus that you want, or whatever it is.
Kate Graham 46:25
Absolutely, absolutely. And so, a great trainer can fix a lot of issues with a mediocre dog. You really need that phenomenal dog, though, to be able to make up for the handler, make up for the mistakes of a new or maybe not as skilled handler. Looking for those dogs that can be resilient and can lead the ship when they need to, is important in so many different sports, but I think especially detection, where we want a dog who really is taking their job seriously and has the independence to do their job, essentially on their own, and the confidence to say I am leading the ship. And when we go back to nosework I have a dog who runs, I’ve just run in AKC things because that’s what’s more local for me. So one dog, he’s my hunting dog, he runs nosework trials, he is trialing at the master level. And he’s got a detective pass, we just started detective, and he got a detective pass. But I love watching all those dogs at the top levels compete, because you find some really phenomenal trainers who are super skilled, who are able to take dogs who really do not have much natural hunt or intensity and through handling, through certain training progressions that you can see as they’re handling their dogs, are able to make these dogs something really incredible, which is a huge, phenomenal feat for them. It’s really cool to watch, but we do have to look, Would that dog look the same with the first time handler? Some. Some might not. And would that dog be able to handle an environment with true stress and pressure where they have a handler who oftentimes is influencing them to do the job incorrectly? So a lot of our LEO handlers and a lot of our federal agency handlers become really great handlers, they really do, but a lot of them are first time handlers when they start out. Most of them do not have a ton of working dog experience behind them. Most of them do not have a ton of knowledge on what a working dog is or should be doing. Humans have a natural bias to believe certain things are in certain places, or definitely not in other places, and I need a dog who’s going to be able to correct the handler when necessary and be able to say No, buddy, you’re totally wrong. I know you’re pushing me to really throw an alert here, you really think it’s here, but, nah, you’re wrong. I’m gonna go drag you the other way and we’re gonna go to where things really are. It takes a certain type of dog who’s very confident in their own abilities, and often believes their handler is at least a little bit dumb, to be able to do this job successfully. And you’ll see it. I have dogs who look at me like I’m stupid, but they do their own job great. They just would like me to back away and stay out of it and let them do their own thing pretty please and just carry their toy at the end and give it to them when needed.
Kayla Fratt 49:24
Yeah, that’s such a good point about the nosework dogs. I think that was one of the biggest things I remember most clearly about the nosework classes that I started with with Barley back, you know, five or six years ago now, I was watching some of these dogs and watching how some of the dogs would perform on par with Barley. But when you watched them, you could tell Barley was performing at that level kind of despite me. right. So I remember specifically there was this one Shiba Inu that literally just walked into the center of the search area, kind of like looked around for a couple seconds, and then just walked over to where the hide was, refused her reward, and walked back to the car. Her times would be similar to Barley’s. But if you just looked on paper, you’d be like, oh, cool, great, great workin’ Shiba, or whatever. And then you look at the dogs and you’re like, oh, no, like, that would not be a dog that I would necessarily want to add to my program. Right? That handler is certainly someone I want to talk to about training.
Kate Graham 50:31
For sure, the handlers who can take some of these dogs and make them into the detection dogs that they’re able to, I mean, we all need to be paying attention to that side of the nosework world right now because there are some really phenomenal handlers coming up with some really awesome training systems that are working. If they can work with your little low-drive, very hesitant to hunt, non-sniffy type, breed, non-traditional breed, imagine what they could do with a dog that’s genetically inclined to do that task. There’s cool things to happen in the future, I think.
Kayla Fratt 51:07
Yeah, definitely. So, we’ve touched on this a little bit as well, but what about dogs that you really like how they work, maybe you like what you’re seeing with some of their close relatives, but when you zoom out into the pedigree, you’re not liking as much of what you’re seeing? Why? Would you use a dog like that? I’m sure it depends. But how do you think about assessing dogs like that?
Kate Graham 51:31
It’s a really good question. So I’m going to look first, is it a health thing? Or is it a behavioral thing? So if it’s a health issue that I’m seeing that’s cropping up, maybe not in the immediate generation or two, but quite frequently, a couple generations back? That may make me a little bit more hesitant to use that dog because health things are things I would just like to not stack into the deck. For me, I don’t want to add those things into my program. But if we’re looking behaviorally, you know, the last couple generations have either been titled or worked. You know, for Labs, we have plenty of Labs that are actually trialed, that are just neat dogs, they’re just out there collecting pheasants for their owners, or collecting ducks, and some of those dogs are awesome and have the traits that are exactly what I want. So maybe we don’t have the titles that far back. I will look then at breeding something complementary, that may have a much more proven history. So if I have a dog, a stud dog, that I’m looking at that I love, that I love him, I love his parents, I love some of his siblings, the health stuff’s all lined up, I would probably make that pairing to a pedigree that I know more expansively. Something probably that I’ve already bred before, that I’m comfortable with what they’re producing, that I know the line inside and out, and then we can add in that new variable. Sometimes it’s going to work beautifully. Sometimes we’re going to fall on our face. But if we have good puppy homes and a good support system behind him, we’re going to be able to take those gambles every once in a while.
Kayla Fratt 53:10
Yeah, okay, that makes a lot of sense. Once again, you’ve brought us to our next question, which is thinking about, are you trying to breed two dogs that complement each other really nicely? In a way to, either when you’re talking structure or temperament, or you’re like, this dog’s a little sharp and this one’s a little soft, are we going to try to put that together? Or are we trying to take, like, we’ve got this dog that is a little sharp for some handlers and this dog that’s a little sharp for some handlers, and we’re just gonna go for consistency, because a lot of other handlers like that? Again, I’m sure it depends, but how do you think about complementing versus aiming for consistency?
Kate Graham 53:50
I think it depends how far on the spectrum we’re talking that they are apart. So, if I’ve got one dog who is super soft, and another dog that is super sharp, mixing those two, we have to remember, often isn’t going to give us just that nice little blend in the middle. It just unfortunately doesn’t. We might end up maybe with one puppy in the litter who has that nice little blend, but we’re probably going to end up with even more on the extremes on either side. So, I do tend to breed more complementary type dogs. With that being said, you also have to look at the diversity in the population that you’re looking at. So I’m sticking primarily to field-bred Labs. So even when I’m breeding things from pretty opposite sides of the spectrum, they’re all still pretty related, they’re all still pretty similar. So we can breed a little more on the outside of the spectrum and still generally end up with a fairly consistent picture. Now when I talk about breeding, I’ve done a couple show-to-field crosses, our field population to essentially almost completely different population, or almost a completely different breed from our show dogs, that’s where we can start to see those litters I’ve typically not been super thrilled with the litter itself. But I’m breeding that litter with the idea of taking a puppy from it, my favorite puppy from that, and then breeding that back into mine in the future. So generation one, I often don’t like it, generation two, and three, when I’ve taken that dog, that’s a total, kind of, from both ends of the spectrum, taken a puppy from that, then have used that puppy, bred them back into my program with my dogs that are fairly consistent and I like, I’ve had that work really well to add a little bit of diversity and pull some of those traits in that I was looking for, but still end up in a fairly consistent picture. So long story, typically generation one, when we’re doing outcross to outcross, we end up all over the board. But if we can take a nice puppy from that, then breed them back to something a little more consistent with our program, we can get some really cool results, either generation two or generation three. But when we’re talking about trying to blend two individual dogs, to just hope that we end up somewhere in the middle, unfortunately, it rarely doesn’t happen that way, at least in my experience.
Kayla Fratt 56:20
That makes a lot of sense to me. Yeah, that’s a tricky thing. I think there’s a difference in between when some people say complementary, they’re looking at two dogs, where one is a four out of ten on something and the other is a six out of ten on something, and maybe you’re aiming for a five, but you’re not trying to take like a two out of ten and an eight out of ten to make up. When we look at these outcross projects, whether it’s within a breed and you’re looking at outcrossing from a really intensive hunting line to a show line, or even outside of breeds. I’ve got a friend right now who’s looking at getting a Shiloh Shepherd that’s from a Shiloh Terv outcross project where they’re trying to add in these Belgian Tervurens for genetic diversity to the Shiloh Shepherds, and she’s looking at getting an F1 because she’s not that interested in necessarily having that specific breed. She’s looking for a specific type of sports pet prospect. The breeder is very much so hoping that as they continue to fold in that Terv DNA, they can get back to what they’re aiming for with the Shilohs. I know the Functional Dog Collaborative, back when they had a podcast, they talked about this all the time, and the difficulties of the breeder of how you talk about those litters? I know it’s a big thing in Dobermans, where I don’t remember what breeds they’re layering in with the Dobermans a lot of times, but if you’ve got a Doberman Pointer F1 Cross, those puppies might be a little bit harder to place. Long term, they’re not going to have an inbreeding coefficient of 40%, they’re less likely to have Wobbler’s, they’re less likely to have these devastating health problems in the breed.
Kate Graham 58:18
And it is, it’s just that F1 dog that you’re looking at that you’re going, ehhh, it’s going to be a little bit, but when we fold, and I like that analogy of folding everything back in, we can end up with a more consistent picture that did just add in that little bit that we were looking for. So, I think we do often have to approach it in the long term model, and also using consistent language when we’re talking about dogs. At least in a lot of our detection dogs, and I’m sure you hear it all the time, we talk about, you know, drive, which whether drive’s a real term or not, but drive versus arousal, or even energy levels. And so I’ve had people who are describing these dogs to me as super drivey and super whatever. I get out there and look at the dog, I’m like, it’s just actually really high arousal and like, mediumly actually effective in what it’s doing, but it’s really high arousal. So using common language so that we can say, Okay, I am breeding this litter for a very highly motivated dog, but arousal on this dog is a three out of ten, arousal on this dog is a seven out of ten. That’s going to give me a better idea than saying this dog is super high drive and this dog is not as drivey. Well, what functions are actually going on within that? Because what I describe as a super high drive dog might look very different to someone else than what they would say a super high drive dog is. So using common language, too, in what we’re describing, which we’re not at that point where we can because I think there’s not really any common definitions for what those things mean, and we all like a little different of things, so we’re all going to describe it a little differently, but trying to look. I’ve known some people who have done some crosses, bringing in field dogs, because they want to add more drive and they’ve got a show line dog that they say is a great worker and whatever. Well, it turns out that show line dog was actually mostly arousal, got to do the work. You add a field bred dog on to it, now you’ve added fuel to an already burning little fire and we just end up with these super high energy, high arousal dogs. They might look flashy for a little bit, especially as puppies. We get them older and they can’t actually functionally work because they’re just spazzing out of their brains all the time. But, if we had talked in the same language and used the same terms, we might have picked up on that a little bit sooner.
Kayla Fratt 1:00:50
Thank you so much, everyone. Stay tuned next week for the second half of this episode. You can find everything over at K9 Conservationists. And again, we’ll be back next week for a little bit more with Kate because I have a ton more questions for her, including an anecdote about exactly what she was talking about just now. So Kate, do you want to remind people where they can find you online? And then we will continue our recording?
Kate Graham 1:01:14
Yes. I’m on social media Katalyst Kennels on Facebook, KatalystK9 on Instagram. Email, if anyone wants to reach out, is the best way to get to me is [email protected] And I always love talking working dogs with people. So please reach out.
Kayla Fratt 1:01:36
Yeah, thank you so much. And again, we’ll be back next week.
Kayla Fratt 1:02:04
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