Introducing the Conservation Dogs Collective

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla Fratt speaks with Laura Holder to introduce Laura’s Conservation Dogs Collective.

Discussed in this Podcast:

  • How did you get into conservation detection dog work?
  • What spurred the change to Conservation Dogs Collective?
  • What are your goals with CDCI?
  • What upcoming or recent projects have your finder-keeper teams worked on?
  • What work are you doing to engage the dog-loving community and educate the public?
  • I’d love to talk a bit about dog selection and training methods.

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Where to find Laura Holder:

Conservation Dogs Collective | Instagram | Facebook

You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at

K9 Conservationists Website

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Full Transcript of “Introducing the Conservation Dogs Collective”

Kayla Fratt (KF)  00:09

Hello and welcome to the K9 Conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every other week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt. And I run K9 Conservationists where I trained dogs to detect data. Today I have the absolute joy of talking to Laura Holder about conservation dogs collective. Welcome to the podcast, Laura.

Laura Holder  00:31

Thank you, Kayla, thank you so much for having me on today.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  00:33

Yeah, I’m super excited to have you on. So just to let our guests our listeners know a little bit more about you. Laura is the co-founder and executive director of Conservation Dogs Collective Incorporated. Her lifelong fascination with canines, especially their unique ability to work alongside humans inspires her everyday in the field. She loves training and deploying the CDCI canine teams to support clients in their critical conservation efforts. Driven by her boundless curiosity about how dogs think learn and detect scent has spent more than a decade as a professional in the field of scent detection, nose work and dog training. She’s a certified nosework instructor through the National Association of Canine Scentwork, and a certified professional dog trainer knowledge access through the CCPDT. Laura has also trained for obedience and agility and in addition to her involvement with Conservation Dogs Collective Laura is also the owner of Connecting with Dogs, co-founder of The Force Free Trainers of Wisconsin and has a long list of continuing education credits. Her two Labrador Retrievers Ernie and Betty White, are her current canine partners for conservation detection dog work, and she oversees the training for all the organization’s finder keeper teams. So, again, Laura, welcome to the podcast, why don’t we just start out with you? You know, tell us the story of how you got involved in conservation detection dog work and how that kind of started for you.

Laura Holder  01:53

Absolutely. Like as I was listening to you read my bio, I’m just like, so in a nutshell, I love dogs.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  01:59


Laura Holder  02:02

So I my story of how I got into conservation detection dog work, kind of is somewhat unique, but also similar to many others who get into dog training in general, I had a problem child dog back in the day. My white Shepherd, Oscar came into my life, I had a bunch of ambitions for him to be a therapy dog and it became quickly clear that he was not suited for that type of work and I got into the world of canine nosework at that point. So that was my first intro into scent detection. And that was about 10-11 years ago. The conservation detection came into my life in 2016, when I received a phone call from the executive director, excuse me, the executive director of Mequon Nature Preserve, which is in the metro Milwaukee area and she had seen the working dogs for conservation. You know, a couple of months prior at a conference give a demo of Emerald Ash Borer detection on some rubble piles on of wood and she came back very excited, like, Oh my God, I’ve never heard of this before. I want to bring this method to the nature preserve and she got my name through the grapevine in the Milwaukee area, because at that time, I was teaching canine nosework. So she reached out and was like, is this something that you can help us do? And I was like, absolutely, I can and admittedly, at that point, I had no idea that conservation detection was a thing. I think a lot of people have that response when they hear about it for the first time, but like say what now?

Kayla Fratt (KF)  03:35


Laura Holder  03:36

Like, we all know about law enforcement, search and rescue and all that stuff. So you know, enter me saying yes, so I was like, let’s do it put together a proposal for Mequon Nature Preserve, including helping them locate a puppy to bring up in the world.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  03:53

Oh, that’s very cool. So basically, what you guys did was you helped them locate a puppy, who’s now working with them long term at that preserve kind of station there permanently.

Laura Holder  04:04

Yes, that’s correct. Tilia is still using our sniffer on the Mequon Nature Preserve property. Yep. Alongside her two legged co-worker, almost said CO wolffer but I usually the other way. Yeah, so they’re they’re still working and doing their great, you know, work to help nature and restore the property there.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  04:25

Very cool. Do you know what what scents Tilia and her co-workers are working on there?

Laura Holder  04:31

Yeah, Tilia, she started on the Wild Parsnip Rosette. That was her first target odor when she turned about a year she still works on that target odor. They’re also continuing to do their salamander reintroduction under the property. So she’s doing some work with two species of salamanders and she’s also doing a little bit of work with Garlic Mustard, excuse me.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  04:56

Oh, very cool. Yeah, I know I’ve been sent a bunch of articles about her because as you know, and I, some of our listeners probably know I’m a Wisconsin native. So whenever stuff about Tilia out and her work at Mequon comes up i everyone from home sends me a bunch of emails being like, have you heard of them? And we’re like, yeah, I’ve definitely heard. Thank you for thinking of me. Yeah, very cool. And so and then for a while from there, you were running a business as Midwest Conservation Dogs, correct?

Laura Holder  05:26

Correct. Yeah, we found it ourselves as Midwest Conservation Dogs with the goal to stay within the kind of Upper Midwest region. A lot of that was just scheduling. You know, at that point, I was still working full time, well, sort of full time in corporate America. And we also wanted to serve the local community as much as we could.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  05:48

Yeah and it seems like you guys had enough success with that, that now, you know, obviously, as people are listening, you know, we didn’t introduce you as Laura of Midwest Conservation Dogs and so what kind of spurred this change over to Conservation Dogs Collective and what? What is different or expanded? From that initial mission with Midwest conservation dogs?

Laura Holder  06:09

There are many answers to that question. It’s a multi layered answer.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  06:15

We’ve got time.

Laura Holder  06:16

Yeah, I’m like, okay. The main thing that we started to realize as an organization over the past couple of years was that, while there is a ton of work to be done locally, we were connecting with people throughout the United States, and also internationally. So part of the the work demands, and just the connections we were making started to go far beyond our immediate community and instead of kind of turning those people away, you know, and like kind of closing those conversations down, we wanted to continue to welcome the education and development with our partners and another reason as well, as you know, as anybody listening to this podcast, and far beyond, like people that love dogs love dogs. So we wanted to reach a wider audience of just helping people understand that you can use dogs to sniff out endangered species, or invasive plants or whatever, and really connecting with the, you know, gazillions of people that share their life with dogs and love dogs as much as we do and also some of the partnerships that we develop during various programs. You know, for, for instance, with the bumblebee nest work that we’re doing, you know, Trump, we can talk because a whole another podcast episode, but like, trying to find training material was an 18 month long process, and just Oh, my Lord, some of the like, oh, talk to this person who knows, so and so and then so you call that person and they’re like, oh, I but I know these five people, and you should call them. So like this, this just natural interconnectedness of the work we’re doing. Not just for the, you know, the office side of things, but also the work we’re doing with the dogs out in nature, just starting to become this larger, larger family. Right. So that was another key component to the name change and the rebranding, which is a lot different looking than it was as Midwest Conservation Dogs.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  08:22

Yeah, but it looks great. Like, I don’t know who you hired or who your designer is, or but it’s beautiful, really, really nice out nice website that we’ll be sure to link to in the show notes. Of course.

Laura Holder  08:33

Thank you. People smile. I mean, really, we are a culture of joy and like, we love working with people, and we’d love working with our dogs. We’d love showing off our dogs, you know, so wanted to communicate that through all of our, all of our marketing material, you know?

Kayla Fratt (KF)  08:50

Yeah, yeah. I love that and, and so at this point, it’s you and Ernie and Betty White, and then several other finder keeper teams, which also I love that branding, whose idea was, you know, so the dogs are the finders and the people are the keepers.

Laura Holder  09:04

The keepers of the finders, yeah. That was the you came out of a brainstorming session. Tracy Schweder, who’s our Director of Communications, she has such an amazing brain for, you know, really finding the essence of what why we’re doing what we’re doing, you know, and communicating that in a unique way, but also very, like, understandable. Like, oh, my god, yeah, the other fighters, right. And then we’re amazing.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  09:29

Yeah, yeah, I saw that on your new website and was just just immediately like, Oh, why didn’t I think of that?

Laura Holder  09:36

I said that too. When Tracy presented that I was like, Oh my God. Yes.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  09:43

Yeah, yeah. Cuz I know. You know, you have clearly thought of this. I know it seems like Rogue Detection teams thinks about this a lot. The people in this field were more than handlers, and that word has never quite felt to mean like it adequately describes what it is that I do? I’m not, I’m not just a handler, I’m not just a trainer. You know, that’s the easiest way to describe what it is that we do in quick conversation, but so I love that you guys thought of that.

Laura Holder  10:14

Absolutely have said agree that we don’t handle the dogs, you know?

Kayla Fratt (KF)  10:22

Yeah, I? Yeah, I mean, I help them sometimes but mostly it’s me just kind of keeping up and collecting samples. So yeah, so I think one of the cool thing you know, you guys, with your change for Midwest Conservation Dogs to Conservation Dogs Collective, it’s not just like this geographic expansion, which makes a lot of sense, you know, at some point to also include that you don’t want to just out of pocket turned out someone just because they’re coming to you from Arizona, needing help but I also it seems like you’ve kind of expanded or changed some of your, your outreach and communication sorts of goals. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

Laura Holder  11:06

Yeah, absolutely. So one of the biggest things you’ll you’ll see when you visit our websites, and as you know, we’re engaging with people on social or even in person, now that we’re starting to get back out in the world. We’re providing a lot of education for pet owners. So some of this, even the basics of scent detection, you know, that we use with our own finders, in the field, but also some of the bond building, you know, experiences and resources that I personally along with my team have kind of found, you know, along our journey of sharing our life with dogs. So that’s a really big key component to who we are like we always are going to honor like where we came from, like, we are totally dog nerds and lovers first, and then we’re also doing the scientific work with them as well. So you’ll see on on the website, we have a whole resources page dedicated just for people it says your dog, so it’s like bond building, canine enrichment, and so on. And we welcome people to even like that, what’s wrong with my dog? Like, why is my dog eating grass? You know, we get questions like that all the time, too. So like, let’s give them some answers. So just that ability again, just like stayed really humble, you know, us, Midwesterners are always very humble about where we’re from, and everything and also very proud of it to what we’re doing is not magic, you know, and I want people to understand that at the core of everything that the canine finder teams are doing is a relationship that is based on trust, understanding, and a really good education of learning theory and applied behavior and all that stuff.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  12:56

Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I think it’s one of the things that I really admire about you guys is, it’s just how incredibly dog centric you are and that’s relatively unusual in this field. A lot of the other big leaders in this field of conservation detection dogs have more of a background as ecologists or conservation biologists who kind of happen to use dogs for their work and I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, in any like, at all. That’s just like you can, you only have so many hours in your day, so many years in your life to get more and more education and there’s a lot of value in having having that but one of the things that I really admire about you guys, again, is just that level of dog savvy and kind of dog first mentality because again, I think sometimes particularly in some of the older, old school sort of detection world, that can be a little bit lacking, where I think sometimes we in the broader detection field can look at the dog as like a sensing instrument more than anything else. So there was no question there but if you would like to respond go ahead.

Laura Holder  14:06

Yeah, I totally agree and like I, you know, what, I’m talking to researchers and scientists and potential clients and stuff and like, listen man, I am like the dog, nerd over here. Like I have support staff that are really into the biology and ecology and all that stuff and we have a really nice, complementary team but yet, like you said, like we are dog centric first, we want that true understanding of what their capabilities are right, with really sound scientific training methods that are applied to teach them the skills that they need in the field and we don’t consider them a tool. So another thing to like when we’re writing some of our reports, and even study designs, you know, like, a lot of traditional lingo that’s used is like dog canine handler teams, you know, like, and I’m like, Oh, God, can we please do like, let’s try to make this a little different to really communicate what we’re doing while still being reputable in the scientific community, you know, finder teams is gonna sound a little, you know, haha. So it’s some of that education, right? And it’s like, again, going back to, like, dogs and humans have co-evolved over 10s of 1000s of years together, right? And there’s a reason for that, you know, and there’s obviously science behind what they’re doing but also just that purity of why we’re here together, doing this work is very important to our organization.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  15:32

Yeah, yeah, absolutely and I imagine that also informs some of your training methods, and especially given kind of your history. I don’t know if you’re still involved with the force free trainers of Wisconsin, but that also is somewhat unusual in some of these, these working dog realms. I know, it’s something that I share with you and it’s something I’m really passionate about but why don’t we talk a little bit about that, and how it kind of relates to, you know, best practices as far as learning science, but also kind of ethics of being a dog centric dog first sort of organization?

Laura Holder  16:05

Yeah, absolutely. So I’m still involved with force free trainers in Wisconsin, you know, I give a couple hours a month as much as I can, with overseeing the membership and making sure everything’s going hunky dory there. I got my start in training, right, when Cesar Milan hit the, the big screen. So my first dog that I shared my life with she was, you know, unfortunately, being on the receiving end of some of those types of handling methodologies, and it never felt right to me, you know, but the whole peer pressure, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know, back then, was really, and I got hooked up with an amazing trainer, about, I don’t know, a year, year and a half after I had my first dog, and she was probably one of the only positive reinforcement based trainers in the metro Milwaukee area at that time and she showed me the, you know, the, the light, so to speak of like, here’s rooted in science, right, here’s this more gentle approach that starts with what is the dog actually motivated, you know, like, what’s, what’s causing this behavior? What are they motivated by? And how can we use, you know, different types of rewards and levels of rewards to build behaviors versus trying to suppress and stop behaviors and that is a crucial turning point in my life, not only as a dog owner, but also as just a human, you know, interacting with other species and from there, you know, I went, I turned into a dog trainer. I was like one of those, like, I just have a dog as a pet and I turned into a dog trainers, I was like, oh my God, if I can, you know, really learn more about how to apply this for my own pets, but also for future pets and then I got hooked to, you know, just addicted to helping other people with their pets at that time, too. So, you know, the heart of Conservation Dogs Collective, I’m in until you know, even beyond when I’m when I’m gone here. This will be an organization that uses positive reinforcement methods. Dr. Susan Friedman says it she’s like, I’m an empathic realist. So like, if my dogs running out in front of a car, of course, I’m gonna, like, you know, save their life by you and get on the leash, but I’m not using it, you know, as a training method, our dogs are not on shock collars, prong collars, any of that stuff. We’re truly setting up a safe learning environment, and it just feels good. Like, you know how it is when you’re in that really great positive feedback loop with your dog and mistakes might happen but to me, that’s information like okay, it’s just the training plan a little bit here, right.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  18:51

Absolutely. So yeah, yeah, no, and I love I know, it’s something we’ve talked about, particularly back when this podcast was canine concert. God, oh, God, K9 conservation conversations. I can’t get it straight. You’d think at this point. I would know what my podcasts are called, but I don’t. But I’m back when those K9 conversations, um, we talked a lot about this and you know, I think Ursa and I, and, you know, most people who call themselves positive reinforcement trainers or force free trainers, like, we all know that there are still times where, you know, my puppy was trying to eat a pile of dog poop earlier today and I open the screen door, stuck my head out and said, Ah, cut that out. You know, and yeah, like, if there’s, there’s a difference between, I think, for most of us being really focused on, you know, humane hierarchy based training procedures and least intrusive minimally aversive training and then also, yeah, like these times where you’re not in a training situation, and you just have to do whatever it is, you know, within reason to keep your dog safe or keep wildlife safe or, you know, or just, you know, protect your shoes from your dog. You know, we can plan on being as positive reinforcement as we like, in as we want in our training situations, and then, you know, strive for it when life happens.

Laura Holder  20:20


Kayla Fratt (KF)  20:22

Yeah. Yeah. So I think and that, that, that kind of circles me back as well. You know, one of the things that I’ve noticed with with the working dog field in general is that sometimes I think, I don’t know, I think sometimes we pigeonhole ourselves into feeling the need to up the ante with more balanced training methods, because we’re selecting dogs that make it really hard to do things purely based on positive reinforcement and I’m not saying that dogs need heavier hands or anything like that but when you take a dog who’s got this, like, totally over the top ball/prey drive, and then you’re trying to use them as a conservation detection dog, it puts wildlife at risk and I know that’s something that you and I have talked about as far as our breed and individual selection, when we’re thinking about our dogs to potentially use breed selection from the get go to keep wildlife safe, rather than taking a dog that is more risky for wildlife, and then slapping a shot caller on it and hoping that that’s good enough to keep our our target species safe. So why don’t you talk a little bit about kind of like the selection and how you think about that as as ways to stay true to, you know, our goals with with more positive reinforcement training techniques for our dogs?

Laura Holder  21:46

Yeah, absolutely.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  21:47

And if you disagree, I’m open to hearing that because, you know, I know there are great people doing the same work that you and I do that positive, with positive reinforcement with, you know, Malinois or shepherds or these other dogs that maybe are not the breeds that you would I gravitate towards?

Laura Holder  22:02

Yeah. So I mean, I started off as a shepherd girl, and I inadvertently trained my dog to be a crazy ball obsessed animal and, I mean, what it was fine, like, he never injured himself or anything like that, but really gave me a insight to understanding arousal levels and how that impacts learning, right in the learner. So I’m not going to, I’m not going to pigeonhole that quite yet into breed, you know, categorization or preferences but that was my insight, just into the world of like, you know, I’m seeing these high energy dogs with a lot of arousal that look really flashy, you know? And I was like, Oh, God, I want one of those and then I built one and I was like, Oh, God, I don’t want one of these.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  22:51

Yeah right, the drive.

Laura Holder  22:53

Yeah, so my transition into the Labrador breed, quite honestly, it was because of my crazy ball obsessed Shepherd, my husband going, we’re not having another one of those for our next dog. I’m like, alright, but I want to do scent detection and, you know, doing conservation work. Enter the Labrador Retriever, which I had known a couple of them around here that were doing this work anyway and I was like, I love this. This is great. They’re great dogs. We live in the city. So off hours, you know, they’re very social and very stable but then there’s the training aspect. So Betty White came from a totally different pedigree than Ernie did. She comes from a little bit more of a sports car, Ferrari kind of flashing you working dog lines, field lines of labs but as soon as she came home as a puppy, I’m like, I know where this can go. I can either move the craziness into her a little bit more, or teach a little bit more mind mindfulness, right, while still getting that energy that I wanted in that motivation. So building when we’re in the house I built from day one, like we’re doing relaxation behaviors, we’re also doing fun, you know, toy based play, or just you and me play but always having that very keen awareness of like, alright, what behavior gets reinforced, right is likely to repeat again, and I’m like, I want more calmness thinking, and I think that in the working dog world, a lot of times gets overshadowed. Right? A lot of people want the very high drive dogs that are going to run off a cliff, you know, after their ball. I’m like, you know what, I don’t think they’re necessarily doing the most efficient work. Right, doing the work, but I don’t know if it’s the most efficient.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  24:35

Totally yeah, yeah. I mean, if you think about it, is the Yerkes Dodson curve of, like arousal, and I totally agree and maybe maybe by picking on breeds, I’m not being quite fair. I’ve just been thinking so much about etiology lately and like breed groups that I think I’m starting to see everything through that lens and might need to pull myself back out of it a little bit because I think you’re spot on about arousal as well and I, my personal theory in some cases is that we like seeing that kind of insane level of arousal or drive because it lets you get away with sloppier training, those dogs are so easy to motivate, and so easy to turn on and they will power through so much adversity to get their reward, which is basic, one of my favorite definitions of drive, that they, those dogs let you again, kind of get away with potentially sloppy or training. So I suspect that’s part of the reason that they’re so popular.

Laura Holder  25:37

Yeah and that’s okay. And you know, like everybody are there and that’s totally fine. But yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  25:45

My older Border Collie is one of those dogs who does, he is pretty highly aroused by toys and we’ve done a lot of relaxation work and I’m actually really glad I’d had him for about two years before I got into conservation dog work with him and I’d spent two years taking this dog and trying to make him into a really lovely coffee shop around town sort of dog and then then started layering in and more of that kind of arousal drive building sort of stuff, again, to make him into a working dog and I don’t know, I think he could have been a real a really hot mess had I had I not started out with that really, really solid foundation first and if I had kind of gotten him with conservation dog work in mind, right, from day one, I think it would be much harder to live with right now.

Laura Holder  26:34

Be like me with my first dog, or the second dog. Yeah and like, you know, with with our finder keeper teams, some of them really love the process of bringing up a puppy. Some of them don’t. Right. So like, there’s also that dynamic, which I think adds another layer into, not what sets us apart, but what you might see, you know, CDCI being different from some of the other organizations out there. Like I love raising puppies, kind of culturing them knowing that they hopefully you’re going to be doing conservation detection work, but I’m like, I love bringing them up in the world teaching them about just weird human ongoings, you know, and sprinkling in some scent detection, as you know, age appropriate exercises allow. But I’m like always, just I want a really healthy mentally healthy dog as well as you know, obviously a physically healthy dog and I think that too much arousal can really deter some of the training progress and really setting them up for success. You know, when I my dogs get frustrated, just like every dog listening to the podcast does, right but I don’t want them getting so overwhelmed and frustrated on the regular. Right, that that is the norm. So some of our dogs don’t like Ernie just kind of trots around when he’s doing field work but he’s a clocked him he’s just as fast as Betty who moves around much faster than he does so.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  28:08

interesting. Yeah, yeah, I’ve really noticed that with so far Niffler my puppy who’s about seven months old seems he’s he’s a much he’s a really steady worker. Which is surprising that the teenage boy is actually I would say, the steadier worker between my seven month old and my seven year old right now, but Barley, I mean, he’s such a good dog for learning body language on because he’s so he’s so fast moving in his tail is changing and like adding he wears all his emotions on his sleeve while he’s working and Niffler is much much steadier and then you just kind of just see him like matter of factly march on over to whatever it is he’s looking for and he’s actually I ran them both on the same set puzzle yesterday and Niffler beat Barley out by a couple of minutes on the puzzle, and I think it was just because of where airflow was, and I was trying to make it harder for Barley. But yeah, it’s it’s interesting and I think again, yeah, we get so addicted to these, these really flashy looking dogs and as particularly if you’re not able to adjust your training plans to meet these different types of dogs, you know, if if everything is very, very fast paced, and very rigid in your training, and you’ve learned just with these extremely high arousal, high drive flashy dogs and then you get something a little bit different. It might not work but that might not be because the dog can’t do the job.

Laura Holder  29:37

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s one of the biggest learnings I had with my own dogs that you’re each for so individual from one another, but also like working with a bunch of other like canine nosework students or even behavior cases when I was doing behavior works like, yeah, we know the principles of learning, right? But like, you have to customize it individually for every single dog under pretty much every single condition that you’re working under, right? And you know, like, the more experience you get with that, the more challenging it can become, right? Because you’re always going to get that oddball like, well, my dog for the past five years has always worked to scent an elevated hide this way, but all of a sudden, today he’s doing this, like, what am I seeing? But yeah, having that getting that humbleness, right of like, the dogs are honestly the best teachers that we have and we are their students. Obviously, when we’re setting up the training situations, regardless of what it what it’s for scent detection or recall or whatever, we’re doing the best to set that stage to get the behaviors that we desire but yeah, it’s it’s always very much of a and this is what we’re doing today. You know, this is what you’re gonna get today. Yeah, I don’t know if that makes any sense or not, but kind of it just goes back to the see the dog in front of you train with alongside, right, the dog that’s in front of you.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  31:01

Hey, guys, Kayla here from K9 conservationists. dropping into this episode to tell you about something that I’m really excited to be adding to our Patreon, we have added two additional tiers to our Patreon, the sensational scientist and the K9 conservationist. So you can still join our Patreon for just three bucks a month to submit questions for us to answer at the end of each episode. You can also still join at 10 bucks a month to submit questions that our experts will help answer. But now for $25 a month, you can join our Patreon and actually join a monthly live training session breakdown. So that means that once a month, we are going to have a video available of me training either Barley or Niffler in conservation dog work and then we will have a live meeting on zoom with adult beverages encouraged where we can go over my training process, what I was thinking about in this session, what I’m hoping to get out of it and what I’m going to do next time, even better, at the highest level of our Patreon you can join as a K9 conservationist for 50 bucks a month. I know it sounds like a lot but what you actually get to do there is you get to submit videos of you working with your own dog, for me to then help analyze, and break down in a kind, supportive and helpful way. And that will also be available as bonus content for our other patrons. So while it sounds like a lot for Patreon, and basically what you’re paying for at just 50 bucks a month, is for myself and other really excellent trainers to assess your training, and work at it in a really cool teamwork sort of why, or for 25 bucks a month, you get access to all of that learning. So if you are serious about trying to get into the field of conservation detection dog stuff, I cannot recommend this enough. I’m really, really excited about this program and especially if you’re listening to this right now, it’s still really new. So you are going to get a ton of one on one interaction, because there’s just not going to be many people there yet. So you can sign up for that over at, we’ll also be sure to link it over on So you just have to remember the one link and we will make it really easy to find I am super excited about this. Our first offering of this is going to be in July. So at the time that you hear this, you’ll still have a little bit of time to sign up before our first live video analysis. All right back to the episode.  Yeah, and I know, you know, anytime I’m starting to feel like I don’t understand what’s happening with my dog and training. You know, you and I first connected because I was reaching out to you quite a bit for mentoring and help with trying to figure out what was happening with Barley and I and some of our searches and you know, that you know, the same goes for if I’m really like struggling with how to figure out how to get Barley stay on track when he’s searching and not go chase something or, you know, get Niffler stay on track, Nifflers in like a big bird chasing phase right now and so far, we haven’t had problems with that while working but you know, when I’m starting to get to points where I’m frustrated with the dogs or confused about how to get the results that I feel like I need while staying within the positive reinforcement framework that I like to stay on. You know, that’s where we just reach out to more people and we just get more help, but it’s amazing the creative solutions that people will come up with with each other.

Laura Holder  34:28

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, very likely this has happened before to someone else. Right. So it’s that sense of community and having the vulnerability of reaching out and saying, especially as a professional working handler, right, or keeper, like, I’m having issues here, you know, we don’t have all the answers and we don’t need to be by ourselves all the time because we train a lot like you do, right like we train a lot by yourself and having that just openness to ask for help or  a second set of eyes.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  35:01

I’m always astonished, like I have been really enjoying actually lately, in the last couple of years, fewer and fewer of my friends are dog trainers, I’ve just been making new friends that are outside of the dog training world and it’s been, it’s actually been really nice and I’ve always been astonished. You know, I’ll be sitting around with some friends drinking or whatever and you know, just talking about something that’s going on with my work and someone who, you know, has never owned a dog in their life is just like, well, couldn’t you just, why couldn’t you just do this? Where did you come up with that idea? That’s so brilliant. It’s so simple. You know, sometimes it’s not even just reaching out to people who know more than you do in the field but just getting diverse opinions from other people who think differently. I’ve got a couple of friends who work in kind of like community outreach, and like political fundraising, and grassroots sort of thing. So they think about behavior a lot, even if that’s not necessarily what they know, they think about and I’ve got a couple of good friends like that, who just are always coming up with great ideas, when I’m bouncing dog training around with them.

Laura Holder  36:04

That’s awesome. I love it. Fresh eyes.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  36:06

I love it too. So unless you’ve got anything more to say there because I know you and I could go on about this for the whole episode but why don’t we pivot if you’re ready to talk a little bit about any upcoming projects you guys have? Or other things that you’re working on that are really exciting in kind of the the fieldwork side of things?

Laura Holder  36:26

Yeah, let’s do it. What the dogs are doing.  So this year, we are doing our second fieldwork season with the bumblebee nest detection work myself, with Ernie and Betty White, we’re going to be heading out to a couple areas alongside of University of Wisconsin graduate student. So that’s really exciting. We’re also going to be working with a couple local nature preserves at this point, I can’t disclose information at this point in time just because of contracts not being signed yet and then we’re also continuing the invasive New Zealand Mud Snail project, kind of going back to ground zero with the study design, and really reevaluating how we’re training the dogs on there, given some outcomes and data that we collected last year. So that’s a great example like, you know, I don’t know, we kind of had some holes in the study design last year, let’s really sit down as a team like us and the project partners reassess, like, what the goals are, what the objectives are, and then how we can make them more robust on my part, a more robust training plan with approximations for odor concentrations, and, you know, substrates and all that stuff. So that’s been really exciting and then our other funder keeper teams that are located down to Indiana, they’re working on a couple of different projects. One of them’s a plant project and then the other one, we’re trying to get some contract work for wind farm bird and bat carcass detection as well. So, yeah, it’s, it’s gonna be a busy year after last year, a little bit slower. Yeah. Yeah, it’s exciting. Yeah, we get a lot of random inquiries, you know, from different agencies out there, as well, as this word continues to get out that dogs can be used in conservation. So we’ve got some initial conversations going with a couple other universities, as well.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  36:31

Yeah.  Yeah. Oh, that’s exciting.

Laura Holder  38:33


Kayla Fratt (KF)  38:33

Yeah, yeah, it is, it’s always kind of fun to check, check my inbox and just see, like, who wants to test the waters with conservation dogs this week? And, you know, as you I’m sure, it’s similar for you a lot of the conversations that have not not quite going anywhere. It’s just people like gathering information, and they may come back to you in three years when they’ve got funding but yeah, it’s always it’s always fun to see what’s going on in, in people’s brains about about whether or not conservation dogs are going to be a good fit for them.

Laura Holder  39:01

Right. And that whole education too, because it is such it is still such a new thing here, right in the United States. It’s a new method and that initial education of like, yes, the dog, you know, like we always get can the dog sniff out New Zealand Mud Snails?  Well, if it’s got an odor, for sure the can, you know, and just, there’s that constant. It’s not a selling process, but it kind of is, in a way, right, like.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  39:29


Laura Holder  39:29

Because search and rescue has been around for so long and law enforcement work has been around for so long. You know, we were kind of charging this big snowball up the hill yet, trying to convince people that this is a really effective and efficient method that they should be considering.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  39:46

Yeah, yeah, definitely and yeah, then thinking through, you know, like, what, what other things have you tried? Why are you coming to dogs at this point, because I know I’ve really noticed with a lot of my inquiries, that it’s people who are coming to me kind of at the end of their rope, not sure if this is going to work or not sure if things are findable, and you know, then we can we have to spend a lot of time looking at, you know, why did the other things not work? And you know, what? Why do we think that dogs might work for this? Because, right, you know, like, one of the things that I personally find really fascinating are the times where dogs might not actually be the right tool, or the or the solution and, well, we’re gonna, we’re gonna do a whole episode on that at some point where I might just dig into a lot of it. And I mean, one of the fascinating things too, is, you know, I was just reading a paper that was published about using dogs to find Bumblebee nest and there are, there’s one paper that was quite successful using dogs for Bumblebee nests. Another paper, actually, with some of the some of the folks over at Working Dogs for Conservation, where they did not have much success doing Bumblebee nests last year, and then, you know, you guys are clearly doing Bumblebee nest. And I assume, because you’re doing it for a second year, that means you’re having some amount of success. So, you know, the just the intricacies of whether it’s the specific species or the specific substrate or the specific training plan.

Laura Holder  41:05

And the study design to right, a lot of it comes down to like, what are you actually studying and, you know, putting dogs up against human only survey methods, like really trying to give the dogs a little bit of a, I’ll say a break, right, like, give them some credit, you know, because some of the studies out there right now for conservation works like, but there’s a bunch of like, the humans weren’t successful either, you know?

Kayla Fratt (KF)  41:26

Totally, yeah. Yeah. I know, what if sometimes, when I was talking to people about the Black Footed Ferret work that I’ve done, where I think, with the dogs searching, 300 meter space to transects, the dogs were about 45%, successful finding Black Footed Ferrets. And then if you if you zoomed in to closer to 100 meter transects, the dogs were somewhere up in the 90s and I’d be talking to people in the 45%. That’s pretty bad. It’d be like, Yeah, but that’s a single day of searching and human searchers and spotlighters would get about 45%, over three nights of searching, and that’s also getting volunteer crews to go out in the middle of the night to spotlight. So you know, and like those metrics are going to vary from from project to project as far as what’s what’s good enough, you know, like, it’s something else that we run into in science all the time where oh gosh, It’s been a long time since my undergrad statistics class, but you know, like in ecology, having these confidence intervals, or our values or whatever, that are excellent in ecology would be absolutely horrifying for you to see them in medicine. You know, so it just it varies quite a bit, you know, it’s okay to have a conservation dogs who maybe miss a couple animals when you’re just doing a population study for a species and you just kind of need to find some samples but if a dog misses a single invasive that could potentially propagate 10,000 seeds, that’s a really big deal and it’s an even bigger deal if your dog misses a cancer screening.

Laura Holder  42:59

Right exactly.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  43:01

You know, stakes stakes matter. Okay, so we’re going to start wrapping up here. Do you have anything else that you wanted to add before we start telling people where they can find you and learn more about you?

Laura Holder  43:14

You know, no, I think you know, that all the dogs say hi. That’s about it.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  43:21

Yeah, yeah. And people, you know, definitely should go ahead and follow you guys on social media. You’ve got such such great, great content, whether it’s you know, getting to know all your your finders and their keepers and asking them questions, which I’ve been really enjoying over on Instagram and all sorts of great educational stuff. So where can people find you? And how can they support you if they’re interested in and helping out with the work that you’re doing or getting involved?

Laura Holder  43:46

Yes, best place to go is probably our website, We’ve got all the good stuff there links to social or there, we’re on most of the norms, you know, Facebook, Instagram, we’ve got a YouTube channel with Pinterest boards as well, that are really fun. Yeah.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  44:05

Check you guys out.

Laura Holder  44:06

It’s fun going out on Pinterest and you know, we’re a nonprofit organization. So we appreciate anybody’s ability to support the dogs all 100% of all gifts go right to the working dogs and all the fun sniffing that they get to do. And yeah, you know, reach out with any questions. We’d love talking to people, engaging with new friends, old friends and everything in between.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  44:33

Yeah, and I can say from firsthand experience that you guys have just been you’ve been so generous with your time and I’m still really grateful for the work that you do and I did together last year with with Barley and kind of dialing in some of my observational skills with him so I can firsthand say that it’s worth it to reach out to you.

Laura Holder  44:52

Thank you. We really do I mean, we’re here for each other and there’s nothing you know, that we really need to be. So you know, resource guardy about with our work, the more people that can get in to this work, whether it’s volunteering just with cheerleading, or, you know, they actually do the work with their beloved companions, you know, the more nature is going to benefit.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  45:13

Absolutely. And you know, and with that, yeah, like, one of the things I think about a lot is, you know, it’s, it seems similar to gatekeeping and sheltering or breeding when you’re when you’re being really, really stingy with getting letting someone purchase or adopt a dog. If people really want to get a dog, they will then just go to Craigslist or Kijiji or whatever, and they will get themselves a dog and I think similarly in this field when, when us conservation detection, dog people are unwilling to help or unable to help, because you know, we are really busy and we do get a lot of inquiries. One of the things that could happen is someone who really wants to get into this field and was really trying to figure out how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get in here, could flounder around and, you know, that’s obviously not fair to them or their dogs and there’s, I don’t know, I’m just really passionate about getting people to help and assistance that they need as they’re trying to get into this field because one of the realities as well is this is such a new and fragile field in some ways that we don’t want a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing to get involved and get a bunch of fundraising money and then do a bad job. So it behooves all of us in this field to help people help people who are motivated to get involved, get in and do it right and and help them expand this amazing field, which is you know why we’re doing this podcast?

Laura Holder  46:37

That’s right. Okay. could not agree more with what you just said.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  46:42

Well, awesome. Thank you so much, Laura. We will link to everything you’ve mentioned in the show notes, so people can find those over at It’s letter k number nine. So it’s funny because I don’t actually really like the term canine as far as my dog partners, but it does sound flashy, and people know what I mean when I say it. So there we are. And to all of our listeners, thank you guys again, so much for listening. We hope that 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 sets. You can find those show notes and extra info again over at You can also support the canine conservationists field vehicle repairs over at our GoFundMe page which is also linked in our show notes. We could desperately use any financial help that you want to throw our way. Maybe split it between us and Conservation Dogs Collective. We appreciate it so much and until next time.