Data Dogs Can’t Detect with Toni Proescholdt

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks to Toni Proescholdt from Utah State about the data that dogs can’t detect.

Science Highlight: Can volunteers train their pet dogs to detect a novel odor in a controlled environment in under 12 weeks?

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

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Silence Highlight Summary:

  • Kayla discusses a study on training pet dogs as conservation detection dogs in a 12-week program, indicating the feasibility of volunteer-led conservation efforts using personal dogs.

Toni Proescholdt’s Research:

  • Toni Proescholdt conducted a nine-season study on the social dynamics of bighorn sheep, focusing on group formations and individual behaviors during different seasons, such as breeding and lamb rearing..
  • Toni highlights the unique insights gained from observational data, providing detailed information on social interactions and decision-making processes not captured by GPS collar data.

Factors Influencing Group Formation:

  • Group size emerges as a significant factor in sheep group selection, with an ideal group size ranging from 15 to 20 animals.
  • Younger sheep show a preference for groups containing their mothers and siblings, indicating social bonds influencing group choices.

Population Fluctuations:

  • The Bison Range herd of bighorn sheep has experienced significant fluctuations in population over the past 40 years, with documented pneumonia outbreaks causing severe die-offs.
  • The pneumonia outbreak led to longer-term mortality, especially among lambs, with some animals becoming chronic carriers of the disease.
  • In 1985, a genetic rescue was conducted to address inbreeding and low genetic diversity issues within the population.

Challenges in Disease Management:

  • Disease management presents logistical challenges and requires significant time and resources.
  • Discussion on the potential use of detection dogs in disease management, particularly in identifying individuals infected with pathogens through scat detection.

Role of Dogs in Field Research:

  • Consideration of practical aspects such as the need for GPS collars on the sheep and the use of trained detection dogs.
  • Suggestion of using dogs to find scat samples for genetic or pathogen analysis, potentially aiding in disease tracking.
  • Consideration of training dogs to track sheep in the field, with concerns raised about stress on the sheep and logistical challenges.
  • Discussion on the limitations of using dogs in certain research contexts and the importance of collaboration between researchers and dog handlers.
  • Emphasis on the complexities involved in integrating dogs into field research projects and the need for thoughtful planning and ethical considerations.

Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt 

Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast, where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every week to discuss detection, training, canine welfare, conservation, biology and everything in between. I’m Kayla Fratt, one of the cofounders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for land managers, researchers, agencies, and NGOs. Today I have the pleasure of talking to my dear friend Toni Proescholdt from Utah State about the data that dogs can’t detect. Toni has spent nine seasons studying the social dynamics of the bighorn sheep on the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribal bison ranch north of Missoula, Montana. She recently defended her master’s program studies on that topic. And as I said, Toni has been a dear friend of mine for several years now and is actually traveling with me in Latin America. In fact, she’s going to be working as my field tech for upcoming Guatemala project. She and I have spent many hours chatting about the differences in our research and the sorts of data that our different methodologies can detect. So welcome to the podcast, Toni.

Toni Proescholdt 

Hi, happy to be here.

Kayla Fratt 

And just so you all know at home, Toni and I are recording outdoors at a hostel in El Salvador, there are some quite noisy trucks going by on the highway with some very loud compression brakes occasionally, I really hope our mic isn’t picking up too much of it. But if it is, I do apologize. It’s the best we can do with the the tools we have right now. It was either trucks or the roaring motion. So with that, we’ll get on to the rest of the episode. So I’m really excited to get to this interview.

Kayla Fratt 

But before we dive into it, we’re going to talk about our science highlight, which is titled “Can volunteers train their pet dogs to detect a novel odor in a controlled environment in under 12 weeks.” This was published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior by Nick Rutter as well as the rest of his co authors. So while conservation detection dogs can be an effective and non invasive method for monitoring and wildlife, the cost of training of maintaining a detection dog and handler team can be cost prohibitive, especially given the seasonal nature of the work. Because environmental groups often utilize volunteer efforts, the authors were wondering if it would be feasible to create a model where volunteers train their personal dogs to work as conservation detection dogs. Quote, The aim of this study was to commence this process by determining whether a 12 week program is sufficient to teach novice volunteers and their pet dogs with varying levels of training experience to detect novel odors indoors under controlled conditions. The second goal of the study was to determine if the dog’s performance in detecting odor was retained after several months of not training study took place in Victoria, Australia, there were 17 volunteer dog handler teams with varying levels of experience. That all completed a 12 week scent training program developed and led by two professional conservation detection dog handlers in which the dogs were trained to detect mirror essential oils. The 12 week program consisted of nine weekly two hour training classes and three two day workshops. There were four stages one odor introduction to scent board introduction, three shaping and alert behavior and for searching independently on the sent board. Participants were also provided with supplies for At Home Training and asked to train for 10 minutes once every two to three days and record training notes and a logbook, demographics and information regarding past training and volunteer experience of dog handler teams was gathered via an online self report questionnaire. Dogs in the study were between one and nine years old and represented a variety of breeds, including Labrador mini poodle Border Collie staffordshire terrier on some million, among others. Assessments of training progression were done at eight and 12 weeks quote. At week 12 teams correctly located the target and 96.39% of Standard Board searches 94.12% of standard room searches and 100% of obstacle room searches. Teams also correctly identified 85.29% of targets presented among novel distractor odors in distraction board searches. Finally 64.71% of blank board and 70.59% of blank Room Search searches were scored is correct with no false alerts made. A post training assessment was conducted at 26 weeks after 14 weeks of not training. Only 11 of the 17 teams completed the post training assessment due to major life changes and availability. No significant differences were found between results gathered during 12 week assessment and the 26 week post assessment training post training assessment suggesting that search performance can be maintained in the absence of maintenance training. The authors conclude that a volunteer model for conservation detection dogs may be both process possible and economical. volunteer teams may be particularly helpful for projects that need many dogs for a short period of time. They also note that it is imperative for teams to be evaluated in the field prior to deployment. Some aspects of the study relied on self reported data which is subjective then can introduce bias. Although the important part about the dog performance does not sound like it was self reported in any way, it was a small sample size. So correlational analysis were likely underpowered. But this is actually a better sample size than we generally see in the conservation dog world. So I’m not going to pick on him too hard for that. And the study did not test whether volunteer dogs will be successful in a real world conservation detection dog role. Only weather volunteers can teach their dog to detect a novel odor in a controlled indoor environment. There’s another paper that we’re going to summarize in an upcoming episode titled diving in nose first, the influence of unfamiliar search scale and environmental context on this search performance of volunteer conservation detection dog handler teams. So this study that we highlighted today is a good precursor to that. But obviously, there’s quite a bit more research to be done to see how volunteers can progress from a scent board indoors to actually taking them outside and into the field. But this study is definitely helpful as kind of a baseline confirmation that dogs can do this.

Kayla Fratt 

So whew, all right, Toni, why don’t we start out by talking a little bit about your research, tell us what you’ve been up to for the last nine seasons.

Toni Proescholdt 

Yeah, so I had the great fortune to get involved with this incredible long term study that was started by Dr. Jack Hogg in 1979. And I came on the project just as a technician in 2018, in the fall, and it’s focused on the social dynamics of bighorn sheep. So that involvement allowed me to have the opportunity to do my Masters with the the some of these data that have been collected in the process of the long term study. And what’s really cool about this study is that it is completely observational. So all of the sheep involved in this study, they’re all wild sheep living on the Bison Ranch in Montana. But none of them are collared, and none of them have ear tags. And Dr. Hog has established identifying characteristics for every single one of the sheep in this herd for 40 plus years. So we have this incredible wealth of information about this herd and about these individual sheep, that allow us to ask questions that frankly, can’t really be asked anywhere else, or can’t be answered anywhere else, at least. So, specifically, for my thesis, I was really focused on the use, which are very social animals, but a lot less has been done to try to figure out what exactly motivates them to form the groups that they form in these social environments. So really, what I do is I go out there, and I look for sheep. And often I find them. Not always, they are wild sheep. And they aren’t wearing collars, as I mentioned, but so basically, the main meat and potatoes kind of, of this study is just a general census of going out. And during the two main seasons that we’re focused on, including the RET season, the breeding season in the fall, and the lamb rearing season in like May to June. And, and into July often. And we want to go out there and find every single shape if possible, or as many as we can find, and essentially just take a census of who was in what group when and where. So we have location information. And we have group composition information for all of these animals. And for each animal, we often know that down to the day of when it was born. We know who their parents are and who their grandparents are. And a lot of that has been verified by a really intensive pedigree done of the entire population through 2013. And Jack was basically right all of the time. So it’s really an incredible data set. And I’ve been really lucky to be able to use some of that for my thesis, which was focused on trying to understand what is motivating the sheep to choose groups over other groups, whether that’s, there’s a stronger poll for choosing groups that have their mother in them, or is it just group size? Or is it siblings or age groups? That sort of thing?

Kayla Fratt 

Gotcha. Yeah, no, and it’s so cool. I mean, so this study has been around since 1979. has been on progress. It’s 40 plus years old now. So yeah, I mean, it’s, I think when I first met you and you were telling me about this, I was like, oh my god, this is like the Jane Goodall prize. subject of bighorn sheep. And, you know, as I think is obvious from the title of this episode, this is just the sort of data that you couldn’t get with dogs, because you’re talking about, you know, if the scouts were positive, if you had a dog trying to find scouts, and the scouts were deposited 20 minutes apart, that wouldn’t actually tell you as much about who was hanging out with whom is potentially who is following whom or who just kind of pass through because there’s some really tasty grass, they mostly grass forbs, grasses and forbs.

Kayla Fratt 

Like they’re not like lichen eaters, right. Basic questions, Caleb does not know about Toni’s project. And, yeah, so there’s just it’s just so interesting to think about just this micro level of data that just would not be possible with dogs. So you said you basically you get out there, I assume very early in the morning, you look for sheep, you maybe find them and then once you like, tell us, okay, tell us about these methodologies. How does one find a lost sheep? I mean, it’s not a lost sheep. It’s just wild sheep. But how do you find them? What do you do once you find them? Do you kind of stick with the same group all day? Do you kind of get a headcount time, make some notes and then go off to find the next group? Does it depend?

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Toni Proescholdt 

Yeah, so the basic of going out there and just looking for the sheep and finding them and taking that census. So of writing down the individuals that were observed together in one group at one time in one place, that is a constant throughout all seasons. That’s like the baseline. That’s the goal. And that’s really kind of the main thing that we’re using in a lot of the essentially, that’s all that I used in my thesis. And then dependent on the season. There are some surveys that I would stay with a group for longer and observe some of these like micro behaviors, and write down like this, you did a better bedding displacement of this, you and she kicked her and kicked her out of her spot. Yeah. And it’s really interesting, the US have a dominance hierarchy to along with the males, and everybody knows about the males and the clashes and everything, but use are doing that too. It’s just a lot less obvious. And it’s happening within these within these social groups that they’re hanging out in all of the time. So sometimes I would do focal follows of specific behaviors. Sometimes I would do a series of photographs, I was trying to map out in a really 2d space of photos, but how close together the sheep are, and how far apart they spread out from each other and then come back together, as opposed to splitting into two different groups to sort of kind of try to get at a baseline understanding of what is a group? What, what constitutes a group of bighorn sheep? And at what point do they just drift off and become two groups. So dependent on the season? I could be doing some other surveys like that the main thing in the fall for the breeding season in the rut is to try to establish whether or not any, and which us are in estrus on any given day. So that is pretty much following the behavior of the Rams to tell whether or not any of us are in estrus. So that’s the main one there in the lamb rearing season, the main thing is observing groups and looking for one you to split off from groups because that means she’s gone off somewhere to have her lamb. And we want to get the the birth dates as close as possible. So those that season can be pretty crazy of trying to find one single sheep as opposed to looking for a group of sheep. And getting those birth dates and then sort of tracking the use as they establish these nursery groups as opposed to groups of us who have yet to give birth and us who have already lost their lands. So but essentially everything is strictly observational.

Kayla Fratt 

Gotcha. Yeah, it sounds super labor intensive. And it I mean, I find this study so interesting, because it just I was going to ask why do you do it that way? But it honestly sounds almost self evident that this is just not the sort of thing that I Hammer trap can do, it’s not something that GPS collar could do, unless I guess you call it every animal in a group, which I’m sure someone has done with some group of animals at some point, but seems very expensive. And kind of invasive as well. And obviously, again, something that our dogs couldn’t help us. So what are some of the values of this sort of data? This really, I mean, this sounds like old school ecology. Like I think when most of us who majored in ecology, were choosing our major, this is what we were thinking about wanting to do. So what are some of the advantages to continuing with that, instead of just doing like, modeling? Or, you know, instead of just having a GPS collar on a couple animals, like, what are we actually learning from all of this? And how does that matter for the sheep? Does it matter for the sheep?

Toni Proescholdt 

Yeah. Often, oftentimes, I feel like, especially today, and a lot of, for a lot of my peers, who are getting their masters or PhDs. Their data come from GPS collars, oftentimes, when we talk about movement, ecology, obviously, especially. But, and GPS collars, can provide incredibly detailed information, up to hourly locations very specifically, of individual movements. And that’s incredible information. But we still don’t know who else was in that group of that animal, what motivated that animal to make that movement. And we usually make the assumption that an animal has made a movement that most aligns with its best fitness. So the motivation behind the movement is either procuring the best mates, or getting the best food or avoiding predators. But for example, this is a really obvious example. But like if we had a collar on a lamb, and we were making that assumption about this little lambs movements, and him going to a place that has the best grazing opportunities, we’re going to be completely wrong, because he’s just going where his mother is. And so he’s going where, theoretically, it increases his mother’s fitness as much as possible, right? So that information can be incredibly helpful and accurate, oftentimes, when we do these habitat selection models and stuff like that. But one of the really interesting things that I found in my thesis was that when I used the the social information of who occurred, in what group with who I had, essentially just as much predictive power as a really good habitat selection function. Oh, interesting. Yeah. So if we leave out the concept of these social trade offs in risks and benefits, we’re missing an entire space of decisions that these animals are making. And I don’t know exactly what consequences that that can or will have. But it’s an entire realm that we’re we’re often just ignoring.

Kayla Fratt 

Right? So yeah, you’re you’re if I’m getting you correctly, what you’re saying is those habitat selection models might have like a 40% predictive value or something for what the animals are doing on a given point. And your what you were able to garner from these observations also had, like 40%, and you know, whatever that is, predictive value for what the animals were doing and what they were choosing to do. So did you find like, what did you find helped predict it? Do they have buddies? Like, do sheeps have best friends? Do they do they hang up their mom or their siblings? Or is it just age groups? Like, what what does push who hangs out with whom? And in the sheep, sheep world?

Toni Proescholdt 

Yeah, group size was a big one. And that was almost sort of like a null model in my hypotheses was that, okay? I’m over. I’m out here talking about this social behavior of these bighorn sheep. What if they’re just choosing groups an ideal group size? Yeah, that is that is best for predator avoidance. And, and minimizes forage competition. Yeah. But even outside of that group size, like that’s absolutely a factor. Yeah, they do have a group size that they prefer and, and over the 40 years as populations have fluctuated, we can show that group, the average group size or like chosen group size, median group size, all of those don’t scale linearly linearly with population Oh, so they are choosing an ideal, some ideal group size. Outside of group size, I found that sheep, especially when they’re younger, this this effect decreases in strength as they get older, but they are choosing groups more often that have their mother in them. And they’re also choosing for their siblings, even in the absence of their mother. So thinking that, okay, well, if they’re all choosing for their mother, then it’s going to look like they’re choosing for their siblings, but even in groups without the mother, they are choosing for more numbers of their siblings.

Kayla Fratt 

So what is the what is what is the ideal group size? If I’m a bighorn sheep, at least

Toni Proescholdt 

on the bison range, it’s somewhere between like 15 to 20 animals, okay. And that essentially holds true across all population sizes.

Kayla Fratt 

Gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense. So why don’t we talk a little bit about just because this is this is interesting to me. And I think it’s important to talk about for this particular group of sheep, kind of what’s been going on with this crew over the last 40 years, because as you mentioned, this group size isn’t necessarily changing just because the population has changed. And there have been some pretty dramatic population changes over the 40 years of this study. So why don’t we talk about this just cuz we’ve got you here, and we got it. We’re talking about the sheep. So

Toni Proescholdt 

yeah, absolutely. The Bison range herd of Bitcoin sheep has had some incredible fluctuations in a population going back for as long as we have data, and that ranges from 15 animals up to 230 animals. There is some evidence in the history going back of the herd of pneumonia outbreaks. But a really bad one. And a really well documented one due to Dr. Hog happened in 2016. So the sheep encountered mycoplasma over pneumonia, which is if you hear about sheep pneumonia, that’s the one. It’s the bad one. The contract did that in probably June or July of 2016. And by the time I came on the project in fall of 2018, there were 30 sheep left when there had been 230. Before. Yeah, so So yeah, that really huge all age die off. It was, it wasn’t just the young or the old it was across the board. And the most insidious thing about this disease is that it can lead to longer term. Lamb mortality, even if most of the adults

Toni Proescholdt 

sniffy your way, I’m still holding this microphone. Apologies. Alright, I’m going to try again for like the fifth time. The most insidious thing about this pneumonia is that it can lead to longer term, lamb mortality. So there are some animals who can become chronic carriers of this disease. And even if all of the animals in the population except for one, have cleared the disease, and there’s one chronic carrier, especially because bighorn sheep can live to be 15 years old plus comfortably. If you have a you who’s two years old and contracts it and becomes a chronic carrier, she can give it to all of the Lambs every year for like 10 more years, and the lambs will all die because of this disease. So there were two years where we didn’t have any successful reared lambs. They all died and there was one carrier that we discovered in a test and remove study. But another interesting thing that happened in the history of this population was a genetic rescue. Back in, like 1985, shortly after Dr. Hogg started the study There was some definite bottleneck happening due to inbreeding and low genetic diversity. So they brought in, I want to say 10 to 10 use over the course of like five years. And that was an incredibly successful genetic rescue. And the population had been sort of, I think, stuck around, like less than 50, for sure. And within the next decade, it was up to two like, yeah, yeah. So it really it really skyrocketed after that. So after that genetic rescue, next decade, it was it was over 100 For sure. In population, so it really worked.

Kayla Fratt 

Gotcha. Yeah, no, and I think it’s just important context for this study that like you, you’ve been for over the last 40 years, it hasn’t just been watching the stagnant population out that there really are. I mean, there are more stable populations. This is a relatively unstable group of sheep or population of sheep.

Kayla Fratt 

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Kayla Fratt 

So yeah, what else do you want to tell us about your sheep? And then I think I’d kind of like to turn it to you and talk a little bit about maybe your methods, my methods, what questions you have about detection dogs, and just riff a little bit on kind of the differences of what we’re what we’re up to, and what we’re able to what we’re able to study with these really different methodologies that still both count as non invasive. Hurray. So yeah, what else do you need to add here?

Toni Proescholdt 

Both because the bison range is restricted in physical space, there is an eight foot fence, motivated bighorn sheep can jump and eight foot fence, but they don’t often unless they really want to. So more or less the, the landscape has stayed the same throughout the 40 year study. And that, that allows us to kind of remove the physical aspect, that is often the basis for these habitat selection models, and essentially do the same thing as a habitat selection model based exclusively on the behavior of the animals.

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Kayla Fratt 

Yeah. So then, is there anything else that you wanted to bring up there? Or, if you’re ready, let’s let’s kind of turn the tables and see if there’s any questions you have about detection dogs. And, you know, because I think we’ve talked about a couple different aspects that may be interesting for other questions that you actually can’t answer through direct observation. So why don’t we Why don’t we go down that rabbit hole if you’re ready for it? Let’s do

Toni Proescholdt 

it. Yeah. So there, there have been a couple of times throughout the course of this study, where where I have collected scat, and people on the study previously have collected scat, and dogs would absolutely help with that. I’m not really sure. I mean, I’m interested to hear what you think so so when I collect scat, I want to know exactly who pooped it. And when. So, I watched the groups, and I make a little treasure map, when I see them poop, and then I go find that exact poop, and I collect it. And that ensures that I know who it was. There are of course, genetic studies that you can do to tell which animal the poop came from. But the Yeah, the timing is is unclear on that. And it’s pretty expensive. It’s probably I mean, I think it’s probably less expensive given the time it takes to pay me to be out there collecting the scat, probably probably more cost efficient to have me collect the scat than it would be to do the genetic studies but using a dog for this would get you a lot more samples depending on what you’re trying to. To look at which you will already know this.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, so So what are you doing with those scouts that so you know who individually they come from Are you then looking at like hormone levels or specific things? Yes. hormone levels? Yeah.

Toni Proescholdt 

And pathogen loads. So like worms.

Kayla Fratt 

Gotcha. Okay. Yeah. That That makes perfect sense. And I think, you know, I think, yeah, it might be potentially faster if you take your treasure map, and you’re able to use that to determine which individual that Scott was from, but then use the dog to help you find them more quickly, that may be helped may not be that necessary for how you’ve been doing. It sounds like it’s been, you’ve been pretty successful. But I could see that being helpful in some environments. Where, okay, you’ve had your scope on these animals, you know, roughly where they pooped, but it’s going to, it would take you an hour to try to comb through and actually find it, it might be helpful to have a dog kind of searched that micro area to find out.

Toni Proescholdt 

Yeah, yeah. And there are times that I feel really confident about where I think this cat is going to be, and I get up there. And there’s four piles. And I can’t tell which ones so then I, I’ve spent all that time, and I don’t collect it, if I’m not sure. So that is kind of wasted time.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, and a dog wouldn’t necessarily help with that, I suppose. Although you could, I mean, hypothetically, if you wanted, you could train a dog to find a given individual. But that wouldn’t necessarily help if you don’t want to find the same individual every time for perpetuity. Yeah, so yeah. And I think I mean, the other thing that would be a limitation for this is, if you wanted to be able to do this in real time, which I assume you would, you would then need to have the dog with you in the field. And you would need to have a dog who would just be willing to hang out until you’re ready for that. And it just, it just honestly just doesn’t sound that practical. I think you and I had to talk at some point about you were interested in toxo. Right, and mountain lion latrine sites, and we had talked a little bit about how helpful I think dogs would be, that’s a better example, maybe of a way that dogs could be useful in this particular study is okay, like, Can we can we train the dogs to go find these mountain lion latrine sites, and then you can use that to then text test for to talk. So why did you? Why were you interested in talk? So again,

Toni Proescholdt 

in 2020, of course, the bighorn sheep on the bison range contracted talks, so at least half of them and we know this, because we had a lamb that was born that had some issues was potentially completely blind, maybe couldn’t even stand we know it did not nurse at all. It was actually killed by a golden eagle, but we were able to collect the the carcass. And that’s how we knew that it was talkshow. And only half of the US that year even gave birth successfully that that as far as we could tell. So that was a real bummer. Especially coming on the on the tails of that all age die off from mov. So I was really interested in trying to find evidence that it did come from Mountain Lion scat, that that’s where they contracted the toxo or Bobcat scat. They’re both animals. And just sort of wondering how prevalent it is on the bison range, and perhaps being able to track down like where and when they contracted it. And I guess I don’t really know what it would help to be able to tell but like, potentially, since I have daily group information, I could say it was this group that went through this area and got it.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, potentially. Yeah. And it’s the sort of thing where I guess we haven’t necessarily thought of the question. We’re just, you know, kind of going through some ideas here. Yeah, and the other one that I guess has come to mind as well would be. I know, there have been successful studies in the past where they’ve actually trained dogs to not just detect the Scot of a given species, but to detect scat of individuals that are infected with a given disease or pathogen. So that could be potentially like, for example, when you were talking about that, what what is it called the find and remove, test your test and remove to actually remove the EU that had had MOU MOV, mov MOU? memorandum of understanding? Yeah, the EU that had the mov that was unwittingly killing all of the Lambs. Yeah, hypothetically, that could be something where I think it might be a lot of work in this given population and this specific setup to train a dog just to find that and then go Oh, and do that through scat. But it wouldn’t be possible. And I know it’s been done with brucellosis working dogs or conservation has worked on some of that. I know, I mean Chronic Wasting Disease, they’re generally looking at tissue samples, I believe, but they’ve done it with a variety of sample of pathogens.

Toni Proescholdt 

And that would actually have consequences far beyond the bison range. Because mov is pretty prevalent all across the range of bighorn sheep. And Ken as the bison range shows be really devastating to a herd. So it and there are a lot of these test and remove studies that are done in in bigger populations where it’s a lot harder, because we know everyone and so we know when we’ve tested everyone. But if you didn’t have to do that, and you could send out a dog to find the ones who had it, that would be a lot faster. And I would imagine probably more cost effective in the long run if you can save a lot of time. And and the tranquil the tranquilizers are expensive and that sort of thing.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, that was my next question. So how did you do it? I mean, you only had 40 ish animals at this point. So yeah, it would be a lot easier than if you were in a much larger ecosystem where it could be any number of you know, hundreds, if not 1000s of individuals. But yes, there tranquilizers involved was that were there helicopters involved? Yeah. How intense was it to actually tranquilize and then test each individual animal is out? What was done?

Toni Proescholdt 

Yeah, since we only had like, 30 At that time, so it was doable. But definitely took a lot of time, because we were just ground darting so it was me and jack and jack had an air rifle and tranquilizer darts and, and yeah, those tranquilizers and the the reversal for the tranquilizers. None of that is cheap. And some days, we just like didn’t really get a good shot. If the sheep were really jumping, we couldn’t get close enough. So you have to physically get close enough and, and get the animal. And that took a lot of time even for 30 individuals. So we did not use helicopters, which did keep some of the cost down. But there are other sites who are using helicopters and doing testing to remove operations sort of in that way, that’s probably a lot more expensive that I bet if you could get a dog to go out there and say and find the individuals that have mov that would be incredibly helpful.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, definitely. I mean, one of the stories that I tell not infrequently, when I’m talking about some of the benefits of conservation dogs and really non invasive sampling in general was during my mammalogy class in undergrad, we went out and shadowed some bighorn sheep researchers near Colorado Springs. And they were telling us I can’t remember exactly what the research was. But they were we went out and we you know, they had the the collars and they were showing us how to use them. And you know, taking us around and showing us how hard it is to do telemetry in the Rockies. But they were talking about Yeah, chasing sheep down. I mean, chasing them down sounds a lot worse than it is intended to be. But functionally, that’s what it is in a helicopter to dark damage, just how dangerous that was for everyone involved and how challenging and I just remember kind of walking away from that being like, Well, I hope those data are worth that for kind of the stress and risk for everyone involved. And the researchers really cared about these animals. I’m not saying they don’t at all, but I just remember kind of walking away from that being like wow, that’s, that’s tough and even even on foot. You know, it’s just risky. I know. I think it’s Robert Sapolsky. His book, A primates memoir, talks about he spent a lot of time out darting baboons, I believe in Kenya, trying to look at stress levels of different animals based on dominance interactions, and he needed to be able to take blood from the moment and it was just this book like I highly recommend to anyone listening because the descriptions I’m trying to get close enough to to get these baboons to tranquilize them and trying to do that undetected. So he didn’t spike their hormone levels by the fact that they knew they were about to be trained. Or I mean and also like especially for the lower ranking individuals that they weren’t going to get picked on by a dominant individual as they were going down was really important in that study and I just remember that whole book that I was reading or all those passages just being like god damn this guy does sky dog and you know also you know some hormone stuff is really hard to do over Scott sometimes you do just kind of need blood. And I think one of the limitations potentially to this for for this oh my gosh, what wasn’t find and track and remove, test and remove Gosh One of the limitations I can think of as far as the dogs for this test and remove would be, so say you had an individual a potential population or metapopulation of like 500 individuals. If you have the dog and the dog goes out and the dog identifies the Scot that is infected, you’ve got the dog that was successfully trained to find mov scat, only, you then would need to be able to figure out how to match that to an individual. So you would still need some sort of pretty intensive database to be able to use that unless unless you had something like your field observations where you could say that if the dog hits on this scat, and we know that this individual poop, this got through opposite you would either need the observations or or that genetic data, I think so it’s still not. And I think it’s just, I really liked talking about this stuff as far as these areas where the dogs might not actually be the best choice or might not actually be able to solve a problem. Or maybe they are, but they’re still not perfect. And I think that’s just really important to explore. So yeah,

Toni Proescholdt 

yeah, I think they’re in this hypothetical situation, I think there would have to be a lot of time sensitivity to it, too, you would have to catch the symptoms of the disease before it spread throughout the entire herd or spread throughout one of the populations in a metapopulation, etc. And that could potentially work. Like if you catch the symptoms early enough. And you know that there’s a subgroup that your dog has alerted to some scat with mov. I suppose there are a lot of calculations that would have to go into effect. But if you know that it is only in this group, you could call that whole group and stop it from spreading to the entire population. But that would require catching the symptoms as soon as they come up. Yeah, and I

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Kayla Fratt 

mean, if you’ve got a disease that in your case, had, you know, we did a little bit of math here, an 80% fatality rate and mortality rate. Yeah, potentially calling a group of six might make the most sense. Again, we’re really in hypothetical land right now. But

Toni Proescholdt 

this, this is a disease that is across their entire range. So there are instances where this, this could be plausible that this these specific conditions would actually occur.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, it definitely. Yeah, I mean, and the other, I guess the other thing that could be helpful for the to be to use with the dogs, if for whatever reason, permitting or stress of the stubborn subject animal kind of prohibits bringing the dogs into the field, you could also have a gajillion samples of from known individuals, and then just do a lineup in the lab and just have the dog checking in a lab, which probably would be more efficient anyway. And I think a lot of times for these sorts of studies where you’re asking the dog to discriminate. So finally, you know, mov versus non mov Scott’s, it’s a hard task for a dog a lot of times those tend to do those studies tend to happen in labs anyway, where it for, you know, somehow they’re, they’re collecting all of these samples and bringing them into an area and having the dog basically go through 50 5050 and say, no, no, no, no, no, no, yes. No, no, no, you know, rather than having the dog go out and search, that happens as well. But um, it varies quite a bit. So as we’re wrapping up here, is there anything else you wanted to kind of circle back to as far as your methods, your research any questions you have for me about conservation dogs, anything like that?

Toni Proescholdt 

Yeah, I so just in thinking about ways that dogs could potentially fit into this long term study, a lot of my time in the field is spent looking for the sheep. And since we don’t have any collars, sometimes that’s really hard. And we’ve thought about, what would it be like if we called her to like two or three of the dominant us who tend to sort of be leading their own groups? And then would that allow you to find you would find at least one group every day? But potentially could How would you see it happening? If we had like a dog that is just looking for big horn? And we want them? Like, where are they right now? But also, they’re a prey animal and would probably be very scared of dogs. Like, what? How, how could you picture that happening?

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, I think the GPS prop option would probably make more sense. But if for whatever reason you didn’t want to or you can’t, or, you know, the dogs wouldn’t be able to find any group. Yeah. And yeah, just send them out. Yeah, I mean, as you said, there prey animal there actually was I was trying to do some research a while ago for a presentation I did on compassionate conservation and non invasive research. And they’re actually one of the only studies I found that talked about the difference. Or the reactions that wild animals have to even leashed, well behaved dogs in the wild was on Bighorn, and they did find elevated heart rates, and I believe cortisol levels, even in a leashed dog moving through or passed, they also had elevated heart rate cortisol levels for people. And dogs are usually attached to people. So it’s not great, but you know, then imagining having a potentially off leash detection dog, I mean, you could do it on leash, but off leash for these larger areas tends to tends to speed things up a little bit. Yeah, you’re, you’re gonna stress them out a little bit. And depending on what their flight distance is, you might kind of end up in this really frustrating situation of like, you’re constantly getting like a micro glimpse of a sheep. But yeah, disappearing over a ridge,

Toni Proescholdt 

which happens anyway, with, which happens anyway, without the dog. Right, and

Kayla Fratt 

I guess then there’d be the practical holiday of Okay, so now you’ve used the dog, find the sheep, you’d probably need two people. So then one person could take the dog back to the truck, and the other person can then stick with the group, which often we end up with two or more people in the field anyway, for anything much bigger than a wind farm search. Yeah, it certainly wouldn’t be possible, you could potentially train the dogs to track the sheep. So you would take them to the point last scene, and then the dog would actually kind of nose to the ground track the sheep, or you could do more of an error sending of can the dog actually just kind of have their nose up in the air and catch the scent. Or you could kind of do this as this would actually be pretty similar to what like live find search and rescue handlers do if I’m understanding correctly, where they don’t actually really care if the dog is tracking trailing, or air scenting they just want the dog to find the missing person. And the dogs are kind of cross trained on all skills. And then they just tell the dog to go look and the dog just need just find the people you want that dog to cut corners, you want that dog to follow air currents, or tracks whatever is most salient and fastest. So it probably would be something like that. If you had the dog on leash, and you have the right well trained dog, potentially, this might even be something where you would be thinking about a smaller dog that might be a little bit less stressful to the sheep, something smaller than a fox might freak them out a little bit less. Yeah. I though I mean, the lambs are still so vulnerable, they probably would still be a little unhappy about it. But yeah, it’s certainly could be helpful in that would probably be another thing that might be a good fit for. I would love to do an episode on someone kind of on this topic of kind of the utility of like field tech conservation dogs that aren’t necessarily these really high caliber professional dogs that have dozens of target scents and do this all the time. And they go on different projects, and they get hired for this work. But more like, you know, your field tech and you would bring your dog into the field with you sometimes anyway. So you train them to find your drops transmitter as you train them to find the scat, just because they kind of picked it up on their own. Anyway, I know Dr. Simone Gadbois has talked about that’s actually how his first dog was trained. He was out finding coyote scat all the time, and is or burrows, I can’t remember actually now, um, and his dog just kind of started picking up on it because they would stop and investigate it. And the dog kind of started being like, Hey, you want this over here? Right, dummy. And there are lots and lots of stories of dogs doing that in the field. And this might be something that would be a good fit for that. Because it’s a good kind of cost reducing measure. If you’re going to be paying for a conservation dog, you probably want to have that dog in the field doing really, really solid work for you every day. versus you know, if you just had a dog, I know you don’t. But if you did, and you had a dog who kind of had enough, enough, I’ve been speaking so much Spanish lately, I was like, I’ve gotten this enough spirit. Enough, if enough drive for this sort of thing and kind of was in the field with you anyway, you know, it would be probably a better fit for that or in kind of like a specifics? Well, you would need to have the dog already trained for this. But if you kind of had a dog on deck that did kind of know how to do it, you can just pull him out when you really need it, I guess Yeah. Like if I

Toni Proescholdt 

can’t, like if I can’t find them, which sometimes they are their prey species, and they’re very good at hiding. So sometimes I can look the worst days, I can look for 12 hours and not find a single sheep. Especially if they’re all in one group. And I’m looking for the one place on like 8000 acres where there are sheep. It can be kind of frustrating. So a situation where like maybe in the morning or after a couple of hours if I can’t find them, I just need to know generally where they are and I want to look from a distance through a scope anyway and I kind of just need to see them. So I could I could see there being some utility for docking in some situations like

Kayla Fratt 

that. Yeah, totally. Especially if you just If you’ve got a dog where that dog can just Yeah, help you track help you get close enough. And when you see that, that sort of a change of behavior where the dog is starting to get stoked that he’s getting close. It’s like, oh, cool. They’re over that. Yeah. Then take the dog back to the truck. Exactly. Yeah. Rest, and I’ll go see the sheep. Yeah, yeah, exactly. So I think I had the mic kind of turned away from Toni. But yeah, she was just saying that, you know, yeah, if you get the dog pointed in the right direction, she can get pointed in the right direction, take the dog back to the truck, and then go follow the sheep around. But yeah, I think it’s just really interesting, because none of these examples that we’ve talked about today are actually really good fits for dogs. And I think, you know, we’re kind of riffing on like, maybe you could make a dog work for this, and maybe not. And actually, if anyone has thought of anything, as they’re listening, and they’re just screaming other, their car, about something that we’ve missed, don’t hesitate to write in. But you know, the TLDR of this whole episode is there’s just some questions and some studies where dogs are not a great fit. Toni, do you have anything else? I’ve asked you this now three times that you want to add? And if not, where? Where can people read more about this project? Your research, anything like that?

Toni Proescholdt 

Yeah. I don’t think I have any other big points or questions here. I think it’s really interesting. And I’ll be kind of thinking more about it. And in similar studies, not necessarily mine, where we’re dogs could work or be helpful. But yeah, as far as the study goes, Dr. Jack Hogg has a wealth of really interesting papers about bighorn sheep behavior out there. And my advisor Dr. Keziah Manlove has some recent papers, and a couple that are going to be hopefully coming out soon, that that will be a lot more specific to like my thesis. And Dr. Jack hogs nonprofit is the Montana Conservation Science Institute. So if you’re interested in that, I don’t really know it’s just him. I don’t know that he actually has anything out there to find, but it’s a really interesting study. And Jack has been publishing papers on this since the 80s. Including an early paper in Science from this heard really interesting stuff.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, very cool. And we’ll see if we can track down any any useful links or anything. And if there aren’t, it’s duck seems like the sort of guy who might be running something that doesn’t have a website.

Toni Proescholdt 

Yeah, he’s sort of this like, rogue ecologist, and it’s really cool.

Kayla Fratt 

I’m so intimidated by him, but also think he’s very cool. So yeah, that sounds right. And for everyone at home again. If you’ve thought of anything that’s interesting, or have any follow up questions, do always comment on the Instagram post, join Patreon. And you can just comment, you can just ask me questions in Patreon. And otherwise, thank you all for listening. I hope you’ve learned a lot and you’re feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. And as you’ve heard today, that might involve just wandering around with some binoculars without your dog. You can find show notes and transcripts, donate to canine conservationists, buy merch, and join Patreon over at k9conservationists.org. Until next time!