In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla answers some questions from Patron Meg! We discuss when and how to introduce alerts, target odors, and a variety of life skills. We also talk about whether or not sports and other “hobbies” may harm your detection K9’s performance and much more.
Science Highlight: Search strategies for conservation detection dogs
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
@detectionforgood on Instagram
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Kayla Fratt 0:57
Hello, and welcome to the K9 conservationists podcast where we’re caught positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us each week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior, and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt. And I’m a co founder of canine conservationists, where we trained dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today, I am super excited about this episode. This episode spawned from a great conversation I had from one of the patrons over on Patreon, Meg, and we did a little bit of an interesting format for this episode, that I just wanted to give you all a heads up heads up about on the front end. So if there’s anything kind of weird conversationally, it makes sense. So rather than generally with our Patreon question episodes, I just have Patreon patrons submit their questions in writing, I read them and then I respond to them. Mag was kind enough to record all of her questions in audio format. And we’re going to stitch together her questions and my answers. So there may be some points where it sounds like we’re talking to each other. But this is all happening asynchronously. So just know that up top. Again, I’m really excited about this conversation and where we’re going to go with it. If you’re interested in opportunities to collaborate with me on things like this, make sure you hop on over to Patreon it starts at three bucks a month, mag does get these one on one calls monthly with me because she is at the $25 a month tier, which is kind of our highest level of like coaching mentorship available on Patreon, which is still a pretty screaming deal. So before we get into it, I’m going to start out with our science highlight this this paper is titled search strategies for conservation detection dogs. It was published in wildlife biology in 2018. It’s written by Alistair Escalon and Claire J Veltman.
Kayla Fratt 2:51
And basically, they’re what they were looking at is that the discipline of search theory has developed effective methods to maximize the probability of detecting a search object and or maximize efficiency of the search. However, these advantages have not been explicitly applied to the use of dogs to search for plants and animals in the wild. So in this article, they provide a brief introduction to search theory. And then they discuss how ideas from search theory may be used to standardize and optimize the use of conservation detection dogs. This is important because dogs are sometimes and potentially even often used to detect wildlife without assessing accuracy or considering potential sources of bias with the dogs. So basically, for any search problem, the optimal strategy will depend on the aims of the search. For example, if the aim is to estimate landscape occupancy, only a moderate probability of detection may be required. So basically, if you just want to know Hey, is, you know how many animals are on this are in this park, you don’t necessarily need to find every single one, you just kind of need to know about your probability of detection and then you can do some math to figure out okay, how many bobcats are at this park or whatever. In other situations, such a response to an incursion of invasive species managers may wish to maximize detection probability and minimize the time taken to find the target. So much greater surface effort would be justified in this latter case. It’s also important to note that search dog efficacy varies for the same dog team over time and may increase with training and experience however, the dogs may lose motivation if not rewarded for finding a target. Or if it just, you know, they’re just not finding much. When the search area is too large to cover cover exhaustively, searchers can follow roads, drainage lines, or other predefined search paths. Although this may introduce bias towards particular habitat types for efficiency transects are often designed as a loop so that the dog team starts and finishes at the same point. And then this paper kind of goes into a bunch of different search strategies. And, you know, kind of the research behind them really interesting certainly worth read.
Kayla Fratt 4:50
A couple of the limitations that I personally noted was that search strategy research so far is primarily vision based and it’s not clear how the strategy for vision and odor will kind of inner racked because the detection distance at which a scent can be detected is so highly variable variable, it’s really difficult to estimate effective coverage. So for example, if I am walking and using my eyes to look for something, of course, it’s going to vary a little bit with vegetation cover. But it’s unlikely that if I’m say, looking for a pile of scat,
Kayla Fratt 5:26
you know, basically, I’m not going to see a pile of scat, if the veget if we’ve got pretty much any vegetation at all, if I’m even a couple of metres away from it, so I need to be very, very close. And basically walking over it. That is not the same for our search dogs. They talk in the paper about average detection distances of 10 meters and distances of up to 150 meters. I have seen papers where they’re talking about detection distances of well over a kilometer. Granted, those were whale Scout surveys. And then I’ve also seen research in cadaver dogs where they’re talking about dogs showing significant changes of behavior at you know, a mile or two away. And I personally have seen dogs sourcing odor at 5070 100 meters pretty regularly. So I think there was a little bit of oversimplification, just based on personal experience, saying that like 10 meters is a good place to kind of put at the middle. Because again, like I have read papers where it ranges from like less than a meter like that brown hair Leverett science highlight, we did a while back to again over, you know, over a kilometer. So anyway, back to what this paper has said. Just to quote them is of utmost priority is to quantify effective sweep widths for wildlife detector dogs. This would ensure variation between individual dogs and handlers, vegetation structure, topographic field features, weather conditions, answered Charlotte personally, I think, yes, yes, absolutely. That would be great, I think, to hope that that is something that has an answer, or that we can kind of like, even put together a matrix to estimate is a potentially overly optimistic right now. I’m not I’m not sure about that. But I liked this paper. But overall, I think there are parts of it that it was really interesting. I think I learned quite a bit from it. But there are parts of it that just I’m not entirely sure if the authors are spot on about how applicable parts of it are. So if anyone wants to go ahead and read it, give me some feedback. I’d be thrilled to hear about it. And with that, let’s get on to the interview with Meghan.
Meg Barnes 7:43
Hi, Kayla. It’s Megan. Thanks so much for
Meg Barnes 7:48
letting me come on your podcast so you can answer all my super nerdy questions about my brand new sniffer dog? Um, I guess the theme of my questions is like, existential decisions in conservation detection, dog grazing, or something like that, basically a bunch of questions to help me choose my path with my brand new baby sniff duck. A bit of context for all the folks listening. My name is Miko, and I have a baby puppy. That’s a bit redundant, isn’t it? I have a potential Bucha sniffer dog called Merlin. He’s a beautiful 12 week old puppy at the time of the recording. And I’m hoping that he’ll find lots of endangered orchids in the future. He’s a field lab. And he has lots of hunt test champion genetics in him and his grandma’s and agility champion, and he’s super duper exploring. Okay, sorry. First question. When did you start first thinking about adding any indication to your search behavior?
Kayla Fratt 8:58
I personally have was not in a rush to teach niffler on alert. This may have come kind of from my background of originally starting barley out in canine nosework where alerts trying to find out responses, etc, are kind of considered optional. So I’d help barley has alert also somewhat late in the process with niffler. Essentially what I did is I started kind of laying laying the foundations to be able to teach an alert by rewarding behaviors that appeared alert like so even back when he was searching for food. We didn’t have an alert when he was searching for food because basically like how would you even have an alert when a dog is searching for food unless you’re making the food inaccessible and then kind of getting the dog to alert as a way for you to release the food which would certainly be a way to teach it. So I didn’t bother wouldn’t if I was searching for food and he was searching for food for probably close to the first six months of his training. So I basically started teaching an alert, around the same time that it introduced a neutral or a target odor. Because I, you know, that that’s when he couldn’t just eat what it was, we were finding. And part of how I started building this in is when he was finding foods. So even starting when he was like nine weeks old, and we were doing these Itty Bitty Baby scent puzzles, I would make sure to feed him additional treats at at the height, so he would find his piece of hotdog, and I would come over and feed him extra. And that, you know, the theory being that kind of builds on the idea that the human is part of the reward system. And that, you know, pausing and waiting for us at the height is helpful. And then I also use that as a way to create a transport and create some clean loops in our training. So I would come over, I would feed him extra for staying at the hide, and then I will use a couple extra treats to move him back to his crate or his staging area so that I could reset the search. So then this is going to be a long podcast, we might have to do this as a two parter, because I’m loving all these questions, and we’re only on one of 11. So again, I started adding that indication when I started training him on bats. And basically how I did that is I did a couple really quick imprinting sessions with him. And luckily with niffler, I filmed every single training session that he did, from like nine weeks up to like 988 months, basically when we started on the wind farm. So and you can find that over on YouTube, we’ll make sure to link that in the show notes. And then I don’t love the video that I have when I was teaching him his alert, I think I pushed too hard, too fast. And I’ve got a lot of feedback for myself on this video. But it shows that essentially what I did is he he’s at the point where he is still being paid for bats. And so we’re probably at six or seven months old, he is alerting to attend with bats in it, I’m cueing it down, and then I’m reinforcing him. So he’s finding the bats, but then he’s not getting paid for it until he lies down. And I’m cueing that down as as a way to kind of speed up that process. And I’m cueing the down right away, especially at first, rather than kind of waiting and building in that hesitation. Because you don’t want to add hesitation into your trading loop necessarily.
Meg Barnes 12:21
Are there any fun games or strategies that you can suggest that we could maybe use to help build his search skills? So as you know, right now, we have many several man made out of PVC pipes. MacGyver style, and we also play this sort of cone scent game as well. So do you think we should have it? That’s all to like we’re done searching? And do you have any thoughts on that? And maybe when you think about introducing it?
Kayla Fratt 12:53
Yeah, yeah, I love the little scent mall setup that you’ve got going, I think it’s a great place to start. I really liked the process I did with niffler, which is very similar to the process I did with barley. And the process I’ve done with other dogs that I’m starting is that I moved towards having some sort of visual container that we would occasionally have targets in and use that as a way to then be able to say, if you’ve got your four, so you’ve got four containers, and you set them up in a line right out ahead of you, that’s a way to teach a dog a lineup, they, you know, boom, boom, boom, they check all four, it’s and you know, it’s at number one, it’s in number two, it’s in number three, it’s in number four, your dog knows, you know, your dog has learned on its way to learning how to do a lineup. And then what you can do and I did a lot of this with mufflers, I then took those four containers that were in a line. And I made a box out of them. And then I took them and I put them in a different room in the house that he’d never searched in before. But they were a nice visual cue, a reminder to help him know when and where to search. And then over time, we actually started using those containers as visual cues of like, Hey, you might want to check over here, you might want to go check over here as a way to teach him that like, oh my gosh, the hides could be in some sort of deep accessible area or, you know, under the portrait around a corner. And especially when we started really expanding his search area, it was just kind of a it was a prop that assisted us as he was still learning his search queue and learning how to search. So I use them as like a visual cue in order to teach some search strategy to him. And I really, really liked that approach. I found it very useful. I found the prompts really easy to fade out these containers very, very easy to fade out. Especially because basically I can’t remember exactly the timeline on this. But I want to say when he was like 11 or 12 weeks old, so pretty young, maybe even younger than that I started having the the hides were as often as not, if not more often. They were outside of the container so the containers were still kind of being used as this visual aid to help him under Stand the perimeters of his search area. But it wasn’t that he only had to check those very, very quickly I started teaching him about the, the hides can be anywhere. But we’re using this visual aid to kind of show you exactly where you need to be checking. And there were times where you can kind of see him like search an area ahead of me, and then like, pop his head up and be like, crap, I didn’t find it. And then he’d see him see another, another container he’d missed. And if I was lucky, and I had timed things, right, and, you know, done a good training session. It wasn’t that the final hide or the hide was in that container. He had a mist, but it was like by going towards that container, he would then catch odor and be able to source that odor appropriately. So I hope that answered the question appropriately. So I hope that answered the question. All right, so next up, we’ve got should we have that’s all queued to help teach them when we’re done searching? Yeah. So you and I talked about this on our Patreon call. And I love this question. I think particularly and one of the things we talked about that I think will come up more throughout the rest of our conversation here. Or actually, I guess that’s my soliloquy to myself, is remembering his lines, we know he’s a hunt tested, field lab, the Hunter Hunter hunt, is part of him.
Kayla Fratt 16:24
So like, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be thinking about this all done Q or, or that’ll do cube or whatever, relatively early on, because, you know, you’ve mentioned and I think you mentioned again, it throughout our recording that if you don’t give him that, if you don’t give him some sort of feedback, if you don’t give him some sort of cue, he will run right back to that your little mini set wall and he will just go right back to working. And that could be potentially really frustrating for him. And we love that behavior. We love that persistence. We love that go getter Ness. But you know, that also introduces the concept that like, okay, yeah, we probably want some sort of routine. So what I have done with my dogs is I basically create a really clear routine, that’s almost like an end of rotten routine, that that you might hear about in like agility or something. So, with niffler, when he was about Merlin’s age, I would use, I would reward him, so he’d be searching for food, he’d find the food, I’d reward him at the height. And then I would use another couple of treats to kind of treat magnet him in so like luring him over to his crate or his staging area, he would go back in the staging area, he would get fed, and then we and then I would reset the height. Or if we were all done, then generally, to actually fully end a session, I would either play with him and work on some toy skills for a while, or I would give him a chew right away. Or what was most common is we would play for like two or three minutes with, you know, fun tug toy or frisbee or, you know, whatever it was that he was working on. And, you know, we would use those play sessions also as time to work on his chase versus tug discrimination, and, you know, his return to hand skills and being able to out things appropriately, and all of that sort of stuff. But it was also a game. That’s very, very important. So we were ending our trading sessions with playtime with affection, with fun. And then I would put him away for a two and a nap. And that kind of end of Ron routine has been incredibly helpful, especially for him when he was a young puppy, because he was similar. He wanted to go back out, he wanted to keep working. So I try to dress tried to make it really clear. And if I didn’t really give him a choice, you know, if I say the search is done, you don’t get to run back to the area and keep searching. And I have made the mistake when I was first training barley, I would let him go back to a search area. And if he asked enough, I would trade more. And let me tell you, that is a tough monster to have to deal with. If you get a real training addict going. So yeah, I guess should you teach an all clear cue? You could or you could just have kind of like a routine that like basically functions as a cue, you know, we can get into like, the semantics of have I taught a cube without actually saying that’ll do? Yeah, basically,
Meg Barnes 19:20
when do you think that I should start rewarding for banks. So like, right now he’s doing this really great thing where he kind of does a little scent well, and then he sort of looks at me to say, oh, there’s none in there. And I could take advantage of that behavior and pay him for it. I want to keep him mainly focused on searching. But if I don’t pay or finish it up with that tool, then he kind of goes back to searching the wall, like over and over again. And I also want to balance like not kind of just going back there to check where things aren’t, you know, to kind of work itself out but yeah, interesting in your thoughts on that.
Kayla Fratt 19:56
Okay, so this question is really closely related to the last one and NAMM, I love it. So basically, you’re kind of saying like, okay, when do we want to start recording for like an all clear cue, you know how, how and when would we want to introduce that I did do a full episode with Paul bunker. So mag as well as our listeners go back and check that out for some more info on the all clears. And yeah, I think for a dog like this who you know, if you don’t pay if you don’t give him instruction, he kind of wants to just go back and keep searching, keep searching, keep searching, again, love the persistence, but you know, not actually a good habit to get into as far as like behavior change. So if you’re doing a blank search, essentially what I would probably do here, and this is where you know, it’s hard, you know, I can’t give you a full training plan. And certainly anyone who’s listening who has similar questions, especially if you’ve got a vastly different dog with vastly different learning theory, like do not take this as a full training plan. But yeah, basically, what I would probably do is one of two options, you could kind of almost approach it similar to how we’ve taught how I’ve explained kind of teaching on alert, where functionally, you know, he’s, you know, he’s checked his many set, while he’s checked the whole thing that’s very clear to both of you, when he comes back and engages with you, at the end of that, you could reward that calmly with less intensity than you would for his find, put them in his crate, take them out surgery. And then over time, if you wanted, you could build that into a much more formalized, all clear sort of queue where maybe he returns back to a climb, or he comes back and doesn’t know his touch, or something like that. But that’s probably more or less how I would start it, I would not necessarily want to get in this pattern of he’s allowed to return to search forever. And always, when you know that there’s only four cent tubes out, and he’s just going to keep working and keep working and keep working until you go out and catch him. Because especially with these really, really hunty labs like that searching itself is so reinforcing to them intrinsically, I would be a little worried about kind of allowing that, if that makes sense. I’m not totally set in stone on this response. But that’s kind of my thought process there. And then over time, as he gets better and better at these blank searches, you know, your your process, and your approach may differ. But for now, I certainly wouldn’t want to allow him to, you know, basically search until he’s frustrated or exhausted or start to aggressing towards your scent wall or anything like that. So yeah, you know, if he searches, then he gives you a little check in and you’re like, Yeah, buddy, you’re right, there’s nothing there, you know, give them a little treat, put them away and take them out for the next search. And then when he does find something, throw a really, really, really big party. That’s kind of what I’m thinking.
Meg Barnes 23:06
So this is kind of an interesting one. Lots of people really strongly recommend conditioning or pretty much from birth. And that can be quite quite strong in their encouragement to do that, I guess, for a variety of reasons. So we obviously can’t get access to our sample material as it’s incredibly rare. And so my plan is to teach them a really great search strategy first, and then bring him on to Aida. And my question is, do you think this would be a problem? How much does it matter? Do I need to train him onto like a neutral odor? Or can I just do it on food for a while? When should I think about swapping them over to a neutral scent? Yeah, all kinds of stuff like that.
Kayla Fratt 23:57
Okay, I love this question. This was something that we had also talked about back when we were alive. I mean, let’s be real if you needed to condition odor from birth a literally no one in the conservation dog field does that so if you had to do it in order to be successful, then this field wouldn’t exist. Be most of us in the conservation dog field have dogs with multiple odors? Maybe not most but many of us you know, my three and a half year old shelter Mont barley. I mean he’s not quite a shelter mutt but the so okay, for example, barley. He was three and a half when I got him. They introduced him to nosework probably when he was four, he was introduced to a cappella scent stick of you know, mock Fox here and when he was like five he was introduced to red fox Scott after that, never really fully trained on it. Luckily because it never really fully operational with red fox got because there’s red fox everywhere and that would make our lives really difficult right now. He didn’t learn his It’s like first operational sense for WD for C, which was zebra mussel until he was six. So you know, he’s learned a whole bunch of other odors since then since learning zebra mussels. He also learned Dyer’s woad ibori. Shark fin, black footed ferret. We’ve talked about the ferret project all the time. And then, you know, now bats and birds. And all of those have been since he was like five or six years old. So I don’t know. I mean, like, honestly, no matter what that ship has sailed. You can’t go back 12 weeks at this point, so it’s too late to worry about it? Um, no, I think and I think your your, your thinking is totally sound, you want to teach the search strategy first, then bring on the odor. There’s nothing wrong with that. You could teach a neutral odor, I absolutely just I do food or some other primary reinforcer. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. And frankly, in my experience, introducing a target odor conditioning and target odor, imprinting, whatever it is you want to call it. It’s like, kind of the easiest part. You know, like, I’ve just never had a problem with that. And I don’t think there’s any value or need to, you know, panic and start introducing a target odor right away. You know, again, for most of us in the concert, many of us in the conservation outfield when we first get a dog, you know, we don’t necessarily know what target species that dog is going to be working on. And we may continue adding target species for the remainder of that dog’s life. So it just, yeah, I would absolutely just focus on teaching search strategies. And then you know, when should you swap him over to a neutral odor, if you do go for a neutral odor? I basically look at the benchmark of can he search for his primary reinforcer in a variety of differing level of distraction environments, so if you can take them to, you’re in Australia, so I don’t quite know what you’ve got available. But if you can take them to a big shopping mall parking lot, and have him search and the cart corrals, and you can take them to a dog friendly, you know, big box store, like here in the US would be hold Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware and have him do a little search in there. If you can take him to a playground, when there’s no kids around him do search there. If you can do a search, you know, maybe on a fairgrounds where there’s some animal odor for food or toys, I you know, then yeah, go for it. But I personally wouldn’t, I don’t see the need or point in rushing it before that, you know, I want to see that the dog is capable of searching for a primary and reinforcer that they’re intrinsically motivated for, in this wide variety of environments before I’m starting to really worry about a target odor. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily say like, he’s gonna be able to, like, you know, search a full on like, you know, industrial rubble pile where while there’s like live gunfire going off before you can introduce target odor like absolutely not, that’s not what I’m saying. But you know, personally, that’s kind of been the benchmark I’ve used. Listen, you and your dog are already canine conservationists by listening to the show. So go ahead and show it off, join the club, check out our brand new merch store, which is located at Canine conservationists.org/shop. It’s stocked with stickers and magnets and bags and shirts, we’re adding new designs all the time. If you’re an artist wanting to collaborate, just we split profits and are eager to hear from us reach out at Canine email@example.com. We also offer all of our webinars on demand through our store. So you can check out our puppy raising webinar alerts and changes of behavior, introducing a target odor, as well as seeking sourcing and alerting. We’re also planning to add new webinars to this all the time. So if you’ve got a request for a webinar, or you’re a practitioner, hoping to contribute a webinar, again, we’re going to split our profits with you and you can reach out to us at Canine firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s keep the learning going.
Meg Barnes 28:54
Another big question that I have. And I really wanted to ask you this question because I thought that you might have some really good insights, because of what you’ve done with your dogs and figuring out the balance between like crazy and calm or maybe you to put another way between like learning manners and life skills and maintaining search drive and motivation and enthusiasm and kind of that wildness. There’s a few people out there that really kind of pushed the line that all associates have to be wild, man, it’s not important, they don’t need those. But you know, unlike some of those people, I didn’t have the luxury of me living in the middle of nowhere. I live in an urban environment. And so they need to be able to cope with everyday life. And also, you know, we’re going to be going to public outreach events might have to go to mining camps. They need to be really good ambassadors. And so, you know, I’d really like to teach them quite a lot of manners and life skills and I want to kind of think about like, what do I need to do to maintain that balance? You know, thinking about it from a learning theory perspective. To me, it doesn’t really think seem like it should matter as long as I also To focus on lots of opportunities to use the seeking system and keep the rewards really high for that, but I really wanted your opinions on this. Like, obviously, you’ve had to deal with the same things. So what do you think? And also, I guess, as a follow up to that, are there any particular leg? Things that you think like shouldn’t bother teaching or that I should make sure that I teach? to kind of keep that balance? Good? Yeah, thank you.
Kayla Fratt 30:34
I love this question. I feel like we’ve talked about it before on the podcast, but it is the sort of thing that is kind of constant question. And again, there’s a lots of folks in this field who really poopoo manners and, and then it’s funny because also, like, if anyone’s been following along with our Kenyan stuff in Kenya, they were like, US dogs have to, like, you know, they have to like march out to their potty breaks in perfect heel position, and they have to sit and then they have to go, they have to urinate. And then they have to immediately return to heel position and Mark barge back to their kennel. So like, obviously, there’s some extreme diverging opinions on this thought. With my dogs, they are pets and ambassadors first. And I feel very strongly that teaching life skills and manners that expand their world and make their lives more comfortable and make them more adaptable is a well, fair concern. That should be top of our list. So yeah, absolutely. I do everything with both of my dogs that I would do with any pet, I would do it with a board and train if I was raising a dog for my parents, you know, like everything. I I have never really seen a conflict. And I don’t really think that’s true. I think that the conflict that people may have seen in the past could be due to compulsive training methods. So if you’re really focusing on teaching manners with a choke chain, or you know, any sort of whatever punishment tool collar insert tool, you know, insert tool of choice here. That yeah, that could absolutely squash your relationship, it could absolutely squash the dog’s independence and creativity. Or potentially, I think it also could just become sloppy training, even within the positive reinforcement, Lima, whatever, whatever mindset. You know, for example, barley is a dog where I think if I rewarded him for paying attention to me constantly, and we were constantly in obedience training trainee, clicker, clicker, happy, happy mode, it would be very hard to get him to disengage from me and search. So I do have to be careful with that. But that is not because manners would ruin my dog. It’s because barley honestly, as much as he’s my heart and soul and the light of my life, and he is an absolute Rockstar in the field. He’s also very, very handler oriented for this, for this line of work. So because he is so naturally handler oriented, both because of his breed and because of his learning history, and also just, you know, probably who he is, I have to be maybe a little bit more careful for a field line lab. I don’t see any, I’m not worried about it framing. Do what you need to do do what you want to do to make sure that Merlyn is going to be a happy, constructive member of your household. Take him everywhere. The ambassador dog stuff is harder to teach as they get older, I would rather honestly at his age, and I wish I had done more of this with niffler I wish I had focused more on making niffler an awesome Ambassador dog when he was young. And done maybe a little bit less of the Search Dog stuff, honestly. Because I selected him for the Search Dog stuff. He’s turned out beautifully there. I have no worries about him and his long term career right now. I mean, obviously, there’s stuff we’re working on, but you know, in the grand scheme of things, and but he’s got a little bit more like kind of feelings about people that I wish I had dealt with more when he was still in that critical socialization period. So yeah, I I am very much so on the opposite side. I don’t think you know, again, I don’t think that your dogs need to be like marching around and he’ll at all times and like staring up into your eyes, you know, in like this this IPO style he’ll Absolutely not. But I also
Kayla Fratt 34:31
don’t think that teaching them life skills is going to ruin their search. And if it does, either something’s wrong with your training or something’s wrong with the dog that you’ve selected for this line of work. I think this depends quite a bit on your dog. So if we kind of go back to let’s go back to niffler because he’s, he’s my closest corollary to Tomorrowland. I got him as a puppy with lofty ambitions. For niffler. I didn’t focus a ton Han on building engagement with me. So I didn’t do a lot of like, look at me stuff I did, I did very little leash stuff. Because one thing that I did, you know, just kind of keep an eye on was that I wanted, I wanted him to be environmentally focused and remain environmentally focused. So like doing a lot of engagement, loose leash walking healing exercises, out and about was maybe something that I was kind of avoiding. But that’s also again, it’s also a breed thing. I know I have a border collie here. And I know that like, eye contact for Border Collies can be intrinsically reinforcing, I know that they tend to be very handler oriented. So I didn’t want to tip that scale. So everything is always a balance, we’re balancing it’s a verb, we’re trying to like, not tip the scale too far in either direction, because you’ve got to feel like lamb lab, who’s a very, very hunty unnaturally relatively independent, that may be different for you, you may actually want to work on some, you know, engagement, out and about in the world. Anything you don’t want to teach, I’m trying to think I’m sure there’s some things. For a really, really birdie dog like a flushing dog, I might be cautious about promoting or allowing any of that sort of stuff. I would avoid doing endless impulse control games, especially the sorts of impulse control games that rely heavily on negative reinforcement, because I like my dogs to be a little bit on the pushy end of things. And again, you can teach stuff with like positive reinforcement. So like I would potentially work on teaching your dogs a dish cue and an eat from your hand cue Allah Sarah strumming rather than working on like an it’s your choice game or Susan Garrett, because we may want to try to stay in this positive reinforcement contingency. Again, just because I think using too much negative, I guess it’s actually negative punishment, I’m sorry, in like impulse control, can could potentially backfire. As far as like, if they always learn that going for the food or going for the toy means that your hand closes, that may make them more likely to kind of cue into you or not take that initiative on their own in the search, I think you could probably teach the context separately, but something to consider anything to be sure to teach. I you know, knowing that you want to do ambasador stuff I would really work on, you know, people reading skills, I would work on being able to navigate in a crowd, you know, probably teaching a solid middle cue, so having him stand in between your legs, I like that one a lot, because you can feel your dog standing there. So if you need to talk to a potential donor, you can feel that your dog is there, your dog is engaged. And you can look up and make eye contact with that person while your dog is still there. And you know where your dog is, they’re not like yanking you around on a leash, you can again, you can feel if they depart, they really can’t get into much trouble from there. So that might be a nice skill to teach. Yeah, there’s, there’s a lot there, though, potentially. I’d love to hear kind of what’s on your list already. But yeah, for my dogs, I really was like, okay, you know, like with barley, I was operating under the assumption that I was going to be a pet dog trainer for the next however long, so I was working on, you know, making sure he didn’t become reactive to other dogs, I was making sure he could do a long downstair I was making sure he could walk in public, I was making sure he could handle going to a brewery and hanging out and all of those skills transfer over beautifully to being able to let go on college campuses and go into elementary schools and do these demos and outreach events. So I think that’s all going to work out just fine for you. As long as you have like a pretty recent, you know, like it’s, it’s, it’s your personal preference.
Meg Barnes 38:52
Alright, so the other big juicy one is maintaining that balance between engagement and independence. And I really wanted your thoughts on that, as well. You know, I’m working in potentially agricultural areas where there’s dangerous equipment, roads, livestock, potentially 1080. And then obviously, native wildlife like with all conservation detection dogs, almost, I guess. But in particular, potentially really threatened. Globally threatened mammals were like really, really matters. And although I’m gonna Mazal train my dogs just to make sure for 1080 I still do need really amazing recall of food and livestock and native wildlife. And so I need my dogs to be incredibly responsive. And that requires some level of engagement. But yeah, also there’s that you know, relationship independence trade off and is there anything in particular like maybe certain activities that you would recommend that I do or do not do? Is there anything in particular you might watch for in that space? Would you have kind of like any thoughts or advice around how to maintain that balance?
Kayla Fratt 40:06
Um, yeah, so knowing that your search areas are potentially kind of, yeah, you’ve got pesticides, you’ve got livestock, you’ve got wildlife, you’ve got, you know, all sorts of crazy stuff. This is not like the simplest, cleanest search environment ever that you’re describing. And again, knowing you’ve got a really hunty little lab here, I might work focus on Yeah, building some engagement getting him I would start potentially sooner rather than later getting him used to the idea of searching online. I the cues that I have personally taught my dogs, and I don’t know if this counts as engagement versus independence or field safety or what, but both my dogs obviously I’ve got a recall. I like having both a whistle and a verbal, they have an emergency down mufflers is still kind of in progress that like down in motion concept, I found that incredibly helpful for snakes barley, and I have actively used that around snakes in the past, when there was a snake in between me and him, and we use the downs so that he stayed in place, I can come and collect him and we can move away from the snake safely together. That’s a great one. Both my dogs know, right, left and straight on. I’ve found that helpful. In general, although we don’t use that much in searching. And then the big one is I’ve taught both my dogs are too far keel. So if they get too far away from me in the field, which is kind of based on visibility and noise. So for example, on the beach near the ocean, my my limiting factor is noise, I yell too far at the moment where I think my dog is getting close to crossing the threshold of not being able to hear me even though I can still see them comfortably. And vice versa in thick brush, I know that my dog might be able to hear me, even if they’re but if they’re like 10 meters away, I might not be able to see them. So I call them sooner there. And that too far cue basically, how I’ve taught it is I’ll yell too far, when the dog engages with me momentarily without necessarily having to come any closer to them. I praise them and I released them back to what they were doing. So I’ve taught it pretty informally, it’s worked very well for both of my dogs. If I yell too far, and they do not reengage with me, then they get a recall cue. And that could potentially create a problematic behavior chain, I can see that happening. It has not happened yet for me with my dogs. Um, as far as any flags to watch out for, I think and then you know how to maintain that balance. Those are kind of the same question to me, basically, you know, as we’ve said earlier, in this podcast, balance is a verb, you’re always looking at that teeter totter, seesaw, whatever, whatever. You’re always looking at that, that teeter totter that seesaw of kind of personal preference and what works for you and for the job. So red flags will be anything that’s driving you nuts, anything that’s a safety issue, anything that doesn’t work well with your search style style, or your project goals. Yeah, you know, like I, James Davis and I talked about this when I had him on the show. He likes his dogs being Uber independent. I don’t. I like having I am a border collie. I’m a control freak. My dogs are Border Collies, they’re control freaks. It all works out very well. And I yeah, I don’t want a dog who’s like Screw you. I’ve got this I like a dog who is willing and able to engage with me. And that means that because that’s both my preference, and because of the breed, I select that something that comes easily to my dogs. I am much more concerned about avoiding handler dependence. So yeah, that means I’m often especially with barley working on independence. niffler, honestly, has naturally been exquisitely balanced for me. I really haven’t had to worry about it that much. So I would really just keep an eye out with Merlin on you know, does it feel like he’s blowing you off in searches? Is he constantly ranging too far? Does he disregard your cues then like yeah, you definitely need to work on something an engagement. Is he just working too far away from you? And in a noisy where it feels uncomfortable then okay, yeah, work on some engagement. Or, you know, is he searching too close to you? And you’re like tripping over him? This is probably not something that’s gonna happen anytime soon. But especially as you start working towards these transects Yeah, then you might want to work on getting him to go away. Is he? Is he searching too close to you? And you’re like tripping over him, then or is he coming back and checking in with you all the time that’s slowing down your search? Is he constantly asking for assistance or cues or directions? Then yeah, I would definitely work on some independence there. I suspect for him just based on what you’ve told me about him and the videos I’ve seen of him. He’s going to swing independent. So knowing that I would probably be putting more of your or
Kayla Fratt 45:03
if you think of these things as savings accounts, I’d be putting more of your money into that engagement box right now and hoping that those investments grow over time. Because especially God as he hits teenager hood, you’re going to have a crash and that bank account is going to deplete. So knowing that he is likely a very independent boy as an adult, or he likely will be. And knowing that teenager hood is going to be even worse than adulthood for that, I would likely be working on engagement with him more than independence as a concern, which is the opposite again, of what I’ve done with niffler with niffler, knowing he was a Border Collie, I was very focused on let’s make sure he maintains his independence, I selected him for his unusual independence within the breed. And I was really focused on maintaining that and not accidentally bringing reeling him in and creating second barley.
Meg Barnes 45:58
Okay, so as a sort of extension to that. I guess my question is around the trade off between, you know, having really top notch search skills, and also doing other stuff with your search dogs. So I know that you do a lot of ski during and similar activities with your dogs, and obviously, they’re doing awesome. You know, for Merlin, I’m planning to teach ins and tricks and maybe put him in Hunt test as well. Or maybe use like foundation tubers to help with directionals. And just making fun. But is there anything I guess that you would avoid? Or maybe anything you’d recommend that I do? Or anything you’d like warn against because you think it might compromise searching in some way? I’m probably going to stay away from like agility just because there’s a high injury risk. But yeah. What do you recommend? Or maybe even Is there anything you would advocate that you do? Because it has like so many advantages for searching even though it’s a different thing? Yeah, what do you reckon? Oh,
Kayla Fratt 47:02
gosh, I love this question. Um, yeah, so I have competed in agility with barley. I love it. I will hopefully go back one day when I have stable, a stable home base again, and hopefully that place has agility. At that point, barley may be retired, but probably for niffler. But yeah, I see what you’re saying about the safety component. That’s, that’s a great point. I think for similar reasons. I would likely avoid sports like fly ball or disc frisbee, those sorts of things. Yeah, especially with kind of a heavier dog like alive, I would certainly be avoiding fly ball and disc. I’m obviously not a veterinarian here, but just kind of gut feeling I would, I would avoid those. Let’s see. I think hunt tests are really cool as a good way to go. I think, you know, a sport like Doc diving would be absolutely fine to pursue. I think that that would that would be nothing but fun for the two of you. And I don’t see how it could be harmful. I think if you were to pursue something like Rally obedience, or you know, competitive normal obedience, I you know, I would just keep an eye on how those things do or don’t affect his search strategy. And if it’s something you really love, so say you absolutely love rally, but you also want them to be a conservation on and you start seeing that like, oh, gosh, once we started really working on rally or we started trialing and rally, we started seeing these knock on behaviors to his search. I don’t think that necessarily means okay, we can ever do rally again. I think that’s that a conversation to have with myself and hopefully some other experts and pros about okay, you know, what are these behaviors we’re seeing? What are we seeing that we don’t like? Where is it showing up? What’s the context? How do we know? Or why do we think it’s related to rally in this example, and what do we do to mitigate it? I don’t see a reason that our dogs should not have hobbies outside of searching, especially in the offseason and especially for you know, folks like you and me we it’s not like our dogs are in the field for eight 910 months out of the year, you know if my dog was in the field for 10 months out of the year. So like take for example is AC K dogs, the actions for cheetah and Kenya dogs. You know, those dogs are staffed dogs for a program. They’re doing a lot of field work, they’re doing constant constant work. I would not necessarily say that those dogs need more on their plate, but that would almost be more of like a welfare wear and tear on their body question. Then, like the fact that I don’t think that, you know, trying rally with Percy would necessarily hurt her. Her cheetahs skills. It’s just like, gosh, that dog already gets a lot of exercise and enrichment and training and whatever I I just don’t think her brain and body Want more? I hope that makes sense.
Meg Barnes 50:05
So the last question I have is maybe about choosing a neutral. I don’t know if that actually fits in this podcast. But let me know if you don’t think that or let me know if you want more questions as well. So choosing a neutral, you know, a lot of people recommend using just like the nose work oils, or maybe gun oil or tea bags, I think those things all have in common is a really strong volatile odor profile. And, you know, it might be good to train him on on one of those or a couple. And because it’s possible that his target, um, species has a really strong volatile in the flowering phase, but we’re not sure. And it’s also going to be underground. So it’s definitely going to be much more constrained than those types of odors. I’m a little bit concerned about using calm, which is the other kind of main thing. Because it’s kind of like, just kind of around in the environment. And also in like house, like we have columns, and column frisbees and stuff like that, that my, my other beloved Aussie Shepherd likes to search for. And they’re kind of very rude. And I wouldn’t mind using the Commonwealth ism ward. So yeah, any thoughts about that, that you maybe have and what we might do, it’d be really cool.
Kayla Fratt 51:23
I love this last question. And I think we absolutely can address it here. So knowing that our essential oils, yeah, they do tend to be extremely volatile, they’re gonna have big, big synth cones are really fun and interesting, in a lot of ways. I think they still could be a fun way to teach your dog some things about odor dynamics. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. Um, but yeah, I see what you’re saying. It’s not necessarily a good corollary. And yeah, I see your concerns with cones. I know plenty of people who do work with cones and have no issues even if they do have cones at home. The dogs seem to be able to tell the difference. But yeah, you know, I’m not a calling evangelist. So I don’t care either way, what you do about Kong’s? What interests me though, what I would kind of consider is knowing your particular target, it’s an underground flower, it’s going to be very difficult to confirm in the field, it’s likely going to be extraordinary, low, fine environment for Mr. Marlana. I think what is going to be wise operationally for y’all in the long term anyway, is to figure out another target odor that is, that shares a similar niche that is not too common, but is confirmable that you can use in your environment. So for example, let’s say that my dogs are working to find flammulated Owl nest trees. And that means that they’re going to alert at the base of a tree, I’m going to look up, not going to I may see a cavity I may not. Because these flammulated owls have primarily insectivorous diet, they don’t have pellets quite the same way as other owls fly may not be able to confirm. In that situation. These owls tend to live in like these mid alpine or like mid out mid to high altitude Ponderosa forests. So what I may consider there is okay, can I train my dogs to also alert to a given species of fungus that also co occurs on Ponderosas then the hope being that when we’re out on a search, intermittently, my dogs will find this fungus, I can scratch up the dirt a little bit or check the Barker, you know, pull apart the summer, whatever it is, see the fungus confirm the hide, reward the dog and go back on. Obviously, if you’re never recording that rewarding them for the flammulated owl fines and you’re always rewarding them for the fungi. Or they’re never finding the flammulated owls in there, find the fungi every five minutes that can be a problem. And I don’t know your local ecology well enough to say specifically, but that’s kind of the direction I would be going is you know, can we figure out something that CO occurs with your target at a low ish level, but a high enough level that it can maintain the search behavior. And crucially, we want it to be identifiable so that you can reward for it. And ideally, given your situation, you know, knowing how difficult it’s going to be to get your target odor for these orchids. I would say cash. Let’s make sure you’re neutral order something that’s much easier to acquire, store maintain. So ideally not something that’s neither invasive nor federally protected, or internationally protected or protected in general. Yeah, if you wanted something a little bit easier and a little bit more straightforward. You could really kind of do any number of things. Both my dogs pretty much know how to find food barley knows how to find a birch and I have been pretty happy with just food and their target odor. I think finding something similar and relevant as far as the fact that it may be underground or that it’s got a lower volatility or something, again, to be more similar to your target that may help teach some relevant skills. But you know, also that learning will also come up as you’re learning this new target odor. It’s not that if you taught him birch that would ruin him for finding these orchids. I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
Meg Barnes 55:32
Okay, so that’s all the ones I can remember. Oh, hang on. All right, we’re good. Okay, so thanks so much, Kayla. That’s all the questions that I can think of for now. But hopefully, I can achieve a life goal and come back and talk to you a bit more about detection food and some of our projects down the track. Thank you,
Kayla Fratt 55:53
Meg. God, thank you so much. This was really fun. I think we should probably do this again. And yeah, can you tell us a little bit about your business and what you’re doing there?
Meg Barnes 56:04
What’s detection for good. Um, so I am in the process of starting like a tiny NGO, just tiny for now. But hopefully, it will achieve great things, we have a big mission, just like yours. So you know, the mission is to make the world a better place through the power of the dog’s nose, specifically by training, both conservation and medical detection dogs in Western Australia, which is hopefully going to be amazing. Standing with my wonderful melon as the very first sniffer dog, which is why I have so many existential questions for you. But yeah, if anyone wants to follow along, our Instagram is detection for good and our launch will be very soon. In mid August, so maybe after the podcast comes out. Awesome. Thanks, Kayla.
Kayla Fratt 56:55
All right, everyone. I hope you all enjoyed this. Let me know what you think of this episode style. If y’all like it, maybe I’m going to maybe I’ll do this more often for our patrons. Maybe we’ll do them live, I don’t know seems like a good way to double my money with giving, giving them these one on one coaching calls if we can also record them and turning them to them into podcast. So I’m eager to hear your thoughts. If anyone has any further thoughts and wants to submit any other responses to may go ahead and send them over to me first. And then if you’re a jerk, I’m not going to send them over to Meg. So you can send them over to Kayla at Canine conservationists.org. We’ve got new emails very exciting. And otherwise, as always, I really appreciate it if you rate and review the show wherever you listen, you can find us on Instagram and Facebook are our biggest platforms. You can also find me personally on LinkedIn and Twitter and Tiktok. And without further ado, go ahead and get outside and be a canine conservationist and whatever way suits your passions and skill set will talk to you next week.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai