James Davis on Field Safety, Mentorship, and Dealing with Charismatic Invasive Species

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with James Davis about his work with Padfoot and the Conservation K9 Podcast.

Science Highlight: Detecting Small and Cryptic Animals By Combining Thermography and a Wildlife Detection Dog

What is some advice for someone hoping to jump into the industry?

  • Be realistic about your expectations
  • Don’t rely on this line of work to hold a steady income or to sustain you financially 

How do you keep your dogs safe in the field?

  • Use snake avoidance training – teach the dog to avoid snakes by rewarding the behavior of them stepping away from the snake

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Where to find James Davis: Website | Facebook | Instagram

You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/k9conservationists.

K9 Conservationists Website | Merch | Support Our Work | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok

Full Transcript of “James Davis on Field Safety, Mentorship, and Dealing with Charismatic Invasive Species”

Kayla Fratt (KF)  00:09

Hello and welcome to the canine conservationists podcast where we’re 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 run canine conservationists where I trained dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today I have the pleasure of talking to James Davis about his work with Padfoot Canine, James is an animal behaviorist, conservation detection dog trainer and handler, invasive wildlife management consultant and the host of the Conservation Canine podcast and is based in Queensland, Australia. Originally working as a gundog trainer, James started his conservation detection dog journey under Louise Wilson at Conservation Canine Consultancy. He now spends most of his time educating, mentoring and training the next generation of conservation dog and trainer teams through the conservation canine health camp, which is held throughout Australia in 2022. I’m super excited to get to this interview, it was a lot of fun, it went a little bit long. I could have talked to James all day. But before we get to it, we’re going to talk about our weekly science highlights. So this week, we’re talking about the paper detecting small and cryptic animals by combining thermography and a wildlife detection dog which was written by Denise Carp and published in Nature scientific reports. So they were investigating what methods are best for detecting small and cryptic animals. In this case, they were looking at Brown Hare leverets. This paper is important because successful management and conservation of an endangered species requires an understanding of the species ecological needs throughout its lifecycle and traditional detection methods like spotlighting, line transect, counts, box trapping, and nest searches are an inadequate for actually finding  Brown Hare leverets. It’s these leverets and leverets our baby bunnies. baby hares in this case, they’re well have camouflage. They’re inactive during the day and their mothers don’t really provide protective cover like nests, which can be found. So, the researchers were looking at thermal imaging cameras cameras which are suitable because they use emitted heat, like infrared radiation, instead of visible light to create an image making them effective even when the animal is camouflaged, or it’s dark outside. And these leverets are most active kind of 60 to 100 minutes after sunset. So this study used three methods to detect the Brown Hare leverets, handheld thermal imaging, airborne thermal imaging and wildlife detection dogs. By the end of the study, they’d found 65 individual leverets from 41 different litters that were detected caught and radio tag. Ultimately, the researchers found that the choice of detection methods should be based on an area’s vegetation characteristics, especially the vegetations height and density, as thermal imaging devices can be obstructed by vegetation. The handheld thermal imaging camera was the most efficient method for searching large areas with low or no vegetation cover in a flat landscape with a dense road network. The thermal drone was best used in areas with up to medium vegetation cover and I didn’t write down exactly what they defined as medium vegetation cover, and the detection dog is best used in dense vegetation cover. The dectection dog was the least limited by weather conditions like rain, wind, humidity or sunlight, as well as by vegetation type or rugged terrain, so the dog was kind of the most robust, in my words. The time a dog needed to find one litter was lower than that of two thermal imaging devices. So you can kind of say the dog was twice as fast. However, it did say that very young leverets, up to about a week was only detectable within a really short range. Like we’re talking the dog was 20 to 50 centimeters away from the dog, as the dog sometimes had difficulty locating the source of scent, and sometimes passed within a meter of the leverets. They also noted that an off leash pet dog and a fox within three to five meters of a pair of leverets without noticing them. So when these lovers are really young, are incredibly cryptic for our predators and our dogs are predators. Therefore, the detection of leverets requires a dog to thoroughly search an area so the area covered by a detection dog is relatively small. Because our detection distance is just so small, we’re really having to cover very closely. Older leverets were easier for the dogs to detect. One of the other big notes is that obviously when these dogs are finding live targets, and they’re we’re looking at itty bitty baby bunnies, it is crucial to use a dog with a low and controllable prey drive. The researchers say that combining all three approaches allows detection in all sorts of vegetation cover, habitat types and weather which increases the possibility for data collection and results in an unbiased and more balanced data set. And they suggest that these methods and this combination of methods may apply to other small and cryptic animals. A couple limitations keep in mind, aerial thermal imaging technology is not yet optimized. These data were collected in 2013 to 2015. So the the data is probably or the the technology with the thermal imaging is probably better already, they also only used one dog in the study, which is really typical in these conservation dog studies. So it limits the ability to generalize these results as performance may be variable between different dogs and different handlers. So, with all of that, let’s get to our interview with James Davis. Well, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast. James.

James Davis  05:21

Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s a real pleasure to be talking to you last.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  05:26

I know yeah, we’re finally doing the crossover episode. I don’t know you and I have never spoken before. But I was in the, in the process of planning my podcasts when I saw yours come out. And I totally had this moment of like, Oh, God, do I have to like rename my podcast? Like, you know, it’s, it’s fine. At least nobody can possibly get the two of us confused.

James Davis  05:47

No, no, no. And I think it’s really, really good. You know, nobody wants to listen to me or just listen to you. Yeah. All the time. You know, the variety in there. And, you know, different questions, different styles, different perspectives, just makes interesting conversations more interesting episodes for everyone’s listening. So it’s good.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  06:07

Yeah, yeah, definitely. I’ve definitely gotten ideas from topics or guests. Thanks to yours. Particularly, I loved the format of your New Year’s Eve episode. So yeah.

James Davis  06:17

The story behind that one is, I was it was our first season last year. So we’ve done all year, and I’ve got to 19 episodes. And I went, Oh, like the kind of rattling my OCD a little bit, I need to tidy this up. And what can I do for 20? Who can I? Who can I rope in, you know, for a 20th episode, but I need it to be quite a good, you know, somebody who’s sort of already good outside. And then I thought, Oh, I wonder if I can get a few of these guys back, you know, and just actually have them asking each other some questions because as you know,  it’s really hard when you’re trying to run these things. And you’re thinking off the top of your head of questions, and you’re trying to concentrate on what the guest is saying and you’re, you’re missing stuff. And afterwards, there’s always 20 questions you wish it asked. And so I thought, well, we need to be able to sit back a little bit, just let them ask each other some questions and some of these guys know each other pretty well, some don’t. And, you know, it was really, it was really nice that so many of them, kind of were able to jump on for that episode. So yeah, I was quite pleased with that one, it was a lot of fun.


Hey, I’m Taylor, and I’m the handler for Kepler, a mini Aussie and training for muscle detection work before canine conservationist, I didn’t even know about all the possibilities with dogs and conservation. Now I’ve jumped feet first into the training, I wouldn’t have been able to without the support I gained from being a part of the podcast, Patreon. My favorite support comes from the group called I’ve been able to get alert training help and felt completely welcome. Even though I’m a complete novice to this kind of training. The group calls also helped guide my questions for my one on ones with Kayla, the information is invaluable and the community is kind. I hope to see you there.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  07:49

Yeah, yeah, it was really cool. I’m actually I’m trying to put together a spin off topic where I’ve actually split off episode where I’ve got some conservation dog handlers, and then some ecologists, and then some dog trainers. So actually, people who are kind of on like, the full spectrum of whether or not they’re involved, and we’ll see it’s it’s going to be messy, I think, but it should be cool. Yeah, exactly. It may be it may be a lot of chaos at may butt we’ll we’ll say this is what audio editing is for. So why don’t we start out I don’t think I know how you got involved in the field of conservation detection. Where did you where did you start?

James Davis  08:28

So I started off, I was training working dogs, so I was training professional kind of sporting gundogs. And then I always really enjoyed that, because I never really liked the trialing side of it that much. You know, I just liked being out there working my dogs. And if I was working a team of dogs, you know, it’s a work in a pointer and a retriever and a spaniel at the same time, you know, for their different kind of natural roles I really love. Yeah, that kind of dynamic and, and just that trust that you have to build with the team, and the fact that you’re not, you know, you’re not the most important member of the team, you’re arguably you’re the least. Yeah. And I used to really love that and I wanted to take that kind of further and, you know, I just didn’t want to do that anymore. And so I was looking around for more dog work that I could do and I looked at various things and I looked at, you know, kind of narcotics stuff and explosive stuff and, and all of that sort of type work and, you know, while being very fascinating detection disciplines, they’re very controlled and contrived in to me anyway. You know, and you’re very much kind of dictating what the dogs doing yeah, for good sort of safety and thoroughness reasons but it’s, you know, it’s very much a sort of a tightly controlled search, which just didn’t really float my boat, and then I went off, and I came across an article about Louise Wilson publication I thought, oh, that sounds cool. And you know, she had pictures of her spaniels on the article, I thought, oh, yeah, I’ve got Spaniels, I like that. And so I went and spent a bit of time with her, did a little bit of training with her. And just kind of went I this is, this is for me. And I can give sort of probably, probably 20% of there is credit to the work of conservation detection but 80% of that I’ve got a credit Louise, it’s just her style and the way she works and the way she trains and the way she interacts with dogs. Just very much kind of demonstrated to me what I wanted to be in and do. Basically gave up the day job and started doing it and, and that’s where it’s all gone. From there. Yeah, that’s

Kayla Fratt (KF)  10:46

Yeah, that’s where we are now. Yeah, yeah, very cool. And, you know, I think that kind of touches on my next question was going to be what do you love most about this work? And I think I might have an idea of what that’s going to be. But I’ll let you go ahead and answer the question anyway.

James Davis  11:00

Yeah look I mean it changes over time, I’m a little bit of a Tinker Bell with my focus, you know, it’s I’m not somebody you know, I like to be constantly learning new things constantly changing, adapting, I get very stale very quick. And so, what I’ve really enjoyed about it is obviously, you know, the initial stages of learning and the doing the work and, yeah, for me, personally, you know, I’ve always found the aspects of working with a dog more interesting than necessarily the conservation angle. I mean, I’m a great believer in conservation is really important, but it’s, you know, for me, that wasn’t my main motivation. You know, and so you spent a lot of time learning that sort of stuff and I’ve learned a lot through that. I’m also very fortunate that I do a lot of other kind of dog training stuff as well, yeah, pet dogs, and this and this and the other reason, so I’m around dogs all the time and so that was being the way I approached, training kind of evolves, the more I learn, and the more every dog teaches me, I kind of go, oh, that’s something new that I learned that I can apply to the next job. For me, this industry, if we can call it that is still in its kind of infancy, you know, and we, those of us who are working in it now have the ability and the moral obligation to shape the way that industry is going to run. Every industry works in a certain way. It has its own kind of modus operandi, it has its own kind of culture, I guess, the way of working. And what I found when I came into this industry is very much two distinct camps, you know, so you’ve got a camp, which includes generally all the wonderful people I have on my podcast, and then the people I’m friends with, who are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge and so on. And then there’s another camp that really kind of want to erect barriers to entry into the industry, they really want to kind of keep it very enclosed, and that kind of thing. And I just think that’s shit. I mean, I’m genuinely, you know, for me, the conservation dollar needs to be stretched as wide as it can be. You know, so if you’ve got providers out there who are charging top dollar, you know, and as demand grows, then even though their costs haven’t risen, you know, that their prices are rising, as they just, you know, that they’re playing the supply and demand and, and all that kind of thing. For me, that’s not good. And  so that was one of the things I really enjoyed, kind of really felt quite passionately and still do about what this industry is, is trying to make sure that the right people or the people that I consider the right people are the ones that I’ve got the biggest loudest voices, and are the ones that are shaping how the industry works.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  13:51

Yeah, yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And, yeah, it’s, I mean, it’s one of the things when I was first starting out with Canine Conservationists, the organization, I would get friends and you know, even one of my board members, you know, kind of was like, why are you doing this as a nonprofit? You know, why this sounds like a business to me? And I was like, yeah, sure, it totally could be. But, you know, one of the things that’s, that I’m hoping that I can get out of having it structured as a nonprofit is that I can fundraise to then offer myself and my dogs to organizations that maybe couldn’t afford us otherwise. Because at least that way, it opens us up to grants, it opens us up to donations, I’m sure I could convince some people to give me money, even if it wasn’t tax deductible but it’s harder. You know, then we’re then we’re more talking almost business investors and that kind of changes the goal of the organization and again, I know, at least here in the US, there’s there’s kind of a variety. It seems like most of the organizations are nonprofits but you know, that was, I think I’m getting better and better at articulating why this thing that absolutely could be a business, I’m choosing to structure as a nonprofit? Are you? Are you nonprofit? Or for profit? Or? I don’t know, I guess your tax system is also probably different from ours.

James Davis  15:11

But broadly speaking, the same principles apply. I mean, no, no, no, we’re I mean, I just do the work under my other business, which trains all the other pet dogs and does everything else that we do, because we, because we do a bunch of things. And I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I should spin that out as a nonprofit for them for the very reasons that you mentioned. The only route to, well I’ll be honest with the only reason I haven’t to this point is that I cannot see myself sitting down runs and writing grant applications. It’s a nightmare. I just can’t see myself doing it. Unless I can hire somebody to do that. In which case, then the conservation dollars not going where it needs to go. So right look, I mean, never say never, that might be the way I have to go in the future, because it might be the right way to go. But for now, I mean, I’m just providing service at the lowest possible rate that I can and I’m working for nonprofits, I’m subcontract to them. So they can, you know, if they want to do something, they’ve got the they’ve got the grant writer, they’ve got the reputation, they’ve got all the governance in place to tick all the boxes of the grant funding, which, you know, yeah, obviously, I could do but I just look at myself and go nah don’t like the sound of that.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  16:29

Yeah, well, it’s so even I’m a good writer, I made a living as a freelance writer for a long time. I enjoy writing. I don’t have time. So one of the things, you know, and maybe this will work for you, this has worked really well for me with a podcast. I did a big call for volunteers around mid year last year. And I’ve got several volunteers who have a ton of grant writing experience that are actually helping me with a lot of that they’re donating their time. So it’s almost like catch 22, where it’s like, because I’m a nonprofit, I’m able to attract these volunteers who are able to help me with the grant writing, which helps me be a nonprofit. Yes.

James Davis  16:47

Yes, the virtual circle there and I think that’s really good I think I’m just, you know, getting probably partly hung up at the moment, on the fact that I’m so averse to bureaucracy, as a person. Yeah, I’m just looking at the whole thing sends shivers down my spine and sets a queasy tone to my stomach whenever I think about it. And I just kind of go, is that the place for me in the industry? Maybe not. Maybe

Kayla Fratt (KF)  17:36

That’s how I feel when I look at government contract application.  Oh, God, please. No.

James Davis  17:42

And that’s the thing maybe I should just focus on doing the best dog and team training that I can do. Yeah, but I might change my mind tomorrow. Who knows?

Kayla Fratt (KF)  17:55

Right? Yeah, yeah, exactly. Never say never. I’ve definitely had periods of time where I’m just like, why didn’t I just make this a branch of Journey dog training and do what you’ve done with Padfoot? Especially now it’s tax season? And I’m just looking at like, it’s just it’s so much, you know, it’s such a silly thing to be like, God, I wish I’d structured things differently just because my taxes would be simpler. 

James Davis  18:18

Well, it’s, I mean, I guess the way I look at it at the moment anyway, is that Padfoot or the rest of the Padfoot business is subsidizing the conservation work? 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  18:26

Yeah and so you’ve mentioned the camps. And that was one of the biggest things that I’d love to talk to you about as far as kind of the the mentoring, what, this is such a this is such a ridiculously broad question that this is basically the question we’re going to dive into for a good chunk of the episode. What is some of the advice that you would give for someone jumping into the industry or hoping to jump into the industry especially, like, obviously, they should go to your camps, but let’s say you don’t have a camp coming up, let’s say they, you know, Australia closes down again, with COVID restrictions, whatever it is, for most of my listeners are here in the US. Not all but yeah, go ahead.

James Davis  19:03

Okay, so I guess the first piece of advice I give everyone is be be realistic about your expectations. We see a lot of people that kind of go, right, I want to do a course and I want to get into this industry and I want to make a living out of it and I don’t want to say make a really, really big living, but I want to be able to make a living, and you kind of gotta go. That’s hard. So I suppose the first piece of advice is just make sure that you’re not reliant on it.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  19:31

Yeah, yeah, definitely. Well, I think that’s you actually hit on an interesting distinction that I think people may not realize that this is kind of the question they should be asking because I feel like I get this inquiry of how do I learn how to do this job? And it’s like, okay, that I can kind of teach you how to do. Yeah, you know, obviously, there are parts of this job that I you know, I can’t teach you to be tough enough in the field. Like that’s, that’s part of it’s on you, part of the dog sense is really hard to teach. But I think most of that stuff we can teach, you know, you and I come more from a training background, I think that is actually typical in this field. So I feel pretty confident like It’s been my job to teach hundreds and hundreds of people how to train dogs, I think I can teach someone how to handle a conservation dog. That makes me sound cocky then that I am but you know, there are teachable skills. But then I think the question that people maybe don’t ask, or maybe they’re asking without asking is, how do you actually get a job in this field? And that is a much, much harder thing to answer. You know, that is the sort of thing that’s like, I mean, here in the US, yeah, unless you’re lucky enough to manage to get hired by one of these big full time organizations. At best, you’re doing seasonal, like wind farm work with an organization like West, which was great, I’m really glad I did it, I may go back to them. Or you’re on your own kind of doing what I’m doing and you know, as you and I both talked about our other dog training businesses are the things that sustain us financially so that we can do this. I do make money. I do charge money for my services, but it’s not enough. And I also, I live in a van, I don’t pay rent. Like I’m saving $500 to $1,000 a month, at least just you know, that allows me to continue doing this line of work, because I just don’t have that much overhead.

James Davis  21:28

I think it’s a very interesting point you raise that. And I wonder why it is is that? Yeah, if you’re getting more inquiries about how do I learn to do this, and I’m getting more inquiries about how do I make a living out of this? I don’t know if that’s a cultural difference. Or I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it from that perspective before.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  21:46

I wonder if I’m getting people who are just a step earlier in their process.

James Davis  21:50

Maybe? I mean, maybe it’s because I’ll do the camps. But they kind of go oh, I’ve already answered that question because I’m calling up off the back. Yeah, talking about the camps. You know, and then

Kayla Fratt (KF)  22:00

Exactly, yeah, they’re like, Okay, so obviously, step one to learn how to do the job is to do the camp. Step two, how do I get paid? Yeah, that’s the question. I think I’m getting that step one, where they’re like, Okay, before I worry about getting paid, I need to figure out how to do it. And that’s, I guess that’s a reasonable way to go.

James Davis  22:17

It might be I mean, I guess I’m getting the return on investment question. They’re looking at the camp and then kind of going right, you know, how long is it gonna take me to get my money back?

Kayla Fratt (KF)  22:25

Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. And so, you know, do you have like books or online courses or anything you recommend? Especially if, say, you get someone who is maybe an undergrad? In uni? And they haven’t, you know, they don’t even have they don’t have a degree in biology, yet. They maybe haven’t own a dog yet. Do you have anything that you’re just kind of like, Hey, you’re probably not even ready for camp yet. Here are some of the things to start thinking about.

James Davis  22:51

Not really, I mean, we generally send people a camp because I’m an incredibly unstructured individual, which placed an advantage in this sense, in that I can teach each individual at the camp and that’s why in the camp, we don’t have a lot of structured, you know, right now, this morning, we’re going to talk about, you know, faction theory, or, I don’t do much kind of just sit down and listen to me guys, you know, type stuff in the camps more. Let’s get on with it. Here’s a whiteboard. If you’ve got any questions during the day, you want to discuss later on write on the whiteboard. And as we sit around the camp at night, then we’ll talk all that stuff out. This is one of the main reasons for starting the podcast, actually, that just, you know, just can’t listen to stuff because this is the best way to get the knowledge out of the top people in the industry. With the camp, you know, just because I recognize that not everyone is unstructured like me a lot of people like a bit of a protocol to follow. We also give them a copy of Paul Bunker’s book Imprint Your Dog in 15 days. Sure they get that because that’s, so far as I’m concerned, it’s the best resource out there is the most kind of all encompassing or most comprehensive, but quick, step by step process to doing it. So I mean, I believe anyone could pick up their book and imprint their dog on odor. So in terms of people who like that style, then they’ve got that resource.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  24:16

Yeah, yeah, I know, back when I was at Working Dogs for Conservation. One of the parts of my job was just fielding all of those intake emails, because I was one of the I was their outreach person and one of the things that we would do, because we’d get people asking like, oh, my gosh, do you do internships, blah, blah, blah, we would say they had to read the Cadaver Dog Handbook was the book that we recommended, and then come back to us. And, you know, one of the things part of it was a bit of homework as a little bit of a test because 80% of people we’d never heard from again. Yeah, it’s like, well, I mean, if I can’t get you to read a book, I don’t know, I don’t know if I really want to hire you as an intern.

James Davis  24:53

Exactly. And it’s, I think that’s the beauty of the camp format, really, because it means I get to know these guys you know, and we’re sitting around. Yeah, and I can have those comments after sort of day two, day three, I can have those conversations with them. And I can kind of go, look, I’m not entirely sure this aspect of the job is going to be right for you. Yeah, for these reasons. But, you could potentially be good really, really good at this bit. Yeah, because of what I’ve seen so far.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  25:20

Well, so much of it is learning on the job to, you know, unless it’s a target that you’ve already worked on, or that a lot of other people have worked on, sometimes, I was just talking to a prospective partner about a project where, you know, nobody’s worked on this species before. And like, yes, other dog teams have worked on similar species. So you know, there’s stuff we can learn from them. But, you know, it’s just, it’s just gonna be a, it’s gonna be a learning experience for the first season. And, you know, I feel like it varies from project to project, kind of how much I end up relying on that background in biology. There are definitely times especially in like the outreach and communication side where it’s nice to be able to talk the talk.

James Davis  25:59

I think it’s also useful having having a good knowledge of your target, but you don’t necessarily exactly the tertiary background and to do that, you know, you just got to have the interest. And I suppose if you’re Yeah, if you’re searching for scat from particular species that as part of your professionalism, I’d argue you’d want to bone up on the Behavioral Ecology of that particular species. Exactly. Yeah. And so on. But that’s just professionalism.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  26:30

Yeah, we were just for our Patreon learning club, we just did the, we read, oh, gosh, it’s a paper by DiMaggio, and Davenport and a couple of the other, you know, big US ladies in the field and they the the paper is something along the lines of how the behavior of non target species affects perception of detection dog accuracy. And one of the things I found in there was, you know, they’re looking at like how coprophagia can affect things and all that, you know, urine marking, and all of all of these really interesting questions. And it was definitely one of those papers that as you’re reading it, you’re like, oh, gosh, yeah this is why it matters, to know what the behavior of your species is, and potentially the behavior of these other species, because they were specifically looking at coyotes urine, marking and eating Puma scat. So you know, and I think one of the other questions, I know, I get a lot of people asking, like, should I sign up for a nosework class? What do I usually say go for it, they can’t hurt.


I normally say no. and this may come back to my style of training but I’ve got very much of belief that the dogs in this field need to be as wild and unconstrained and uncontrolled as possible, to do the job. Right. You know, and that may come from the way I like to work. But I want the dogs to really, I mean, if my dog never looks to me for guidance, during a search just gets on, does his job independently comes up the result? You know, the only thing I’ve got to do is pay him then I think that was a good day’s work. The best dogs I’ve seen in the conservation dog world are the ones that would not do well have that stuff at all.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  28:19

Yeah, yeah, that’s interesting. So I started out in nosework and that was actually the my very first nosework class was because I was on the waitlist to get into an agility class. That was what I wanted to do. I want to do the sexy, flashy sport. And then I got stuck in nosework and was like, what is I got, I was so bored in class, I kind of hated it. But it did give me like a good background and like learning how to read my dog a little bit about odor dynamics, you know, and I’m sure I mean, the other thing I do caution people about with nosework classes is just how much it’s gonna vary. As far as how, what the quality of your instruction is, I can see I know, I’ve seen nosework classes advertised from like, narcotics, canine handlers, where it’s like, oh, you’re probably really up the dogs butt, in that handling style, I wouldn’t necessarily want that. But as far as you know, priming on some odor dynamics, and reading your dog’s body language and stuff.  I definitely found it helpful as a place to start, but it didn’t translate over the way that I think a lot of people probably hope.

James Davis  29:26

I think just I mean, just to be clear on that, I mean, I wouldn’t turn somebody away who has been doing that, than the camps come from that background, and it’s a good thing. But it wouldn’t say to somebody that if you want to get into conservation detection, that is a logical pathway

Kayla Fratt (KF)  29:41

Place to start. Yeah, I’ve heard you talk about the wildness thing before and I’ve always kind of wanted to ask a little bit about that. And I think one of the things I’m hitting on and this is something else we were already going to talk about is breed selection because I live with Border Collies, so my dogs are naturally speaking, naturally speaking they want that input, they want that direction. And you work with Spaniels, which are kind of on the opposite end of search independence. So I think that, I think now that it’s all fitting for me a little bit more, I think I understand a little bit more what you mean, when you say that you don’t you want them to be really wild. And it sounds like it’s a little bit of handler preference.


Oh, absolutely. I mean, it absolutely suits me, but I think people have to tap into that you have to recognize and train your way. And that’s one of the big messages at amp is that, you know, I’m not saying you’ve got to train this way or that way. You know, you’ve got to find a trainer that suits your style of training, because my style, my style of training, will suit 50% of people, you know, and then and then a much more structured style of training will suit.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  30:47

Yeah, I like my dogs to be really responsive. 


And there’s no, there’s no right or wrong far as I’m concerned. It’s, you know, if the dog does the job, yeah, the dog does the job.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  30:58

Yeah, and one thing I know, I’ve noticed, and I’ve really noticed this back when I was at Working Dogs for Conservation, and they had that a couple of Border Collies on staff as well as mine. And, you know, working with a variety of handlers as well, is that, particularly with these really in tune herding dogs, you’re handling mechanics just a matter so much. And I’m not saying that it’s like, oh, people who handle herding dogs are like better than people who handle spaniels? Of course not. But you have to be, especially if you know where the hide is, if you know where the target is, when you’re training. In my experience, the border cones are more likely to notice if your shoulders are oriented towards the hide, versus the labs or just like, I’m doing my thing, you know, they’ve got they’re searching independently, which is lovely. That’s exactly what we want. So I think, you know, when you’re training new handlers, I don’t always like training new handlers with these really human focus dogs. Yeah, yeah, we probably have to wrap up here. But briefly, I would love to touch a little bit on, you know, we’re going to talk a little bit about field safety. And I’m particularly, I’m snake obsessed right now, because the two projects I’m looking at are both in snakey parts of the world, one is in Ecuador, and one’s in Kenya. So what you know, I mean, Australia is notorious for being horrendous for snakes, what are some of the things that you do to keep your dog safe?


Okay, so I actually did this as part of my research for my postgraduate work. So I have looked into this. Generally speaking, obviously, aversion treatment is used for snack avoidance around the world. That’s the recognized method, I guess, you know, show snake, fry the dog, show the snake, fry the dog, you know, rinse and repeat a few times, and then the dog will kind of go shit, no, I’m not going anywhere near that. I never like that because it never give the dog a choice, or the way we do it over here is we start off using, basically, we use live snakes, I don’t think it’s possible to do it without live snakes. So we have them, the venomous ones, we have them enclosed in clear containers. but with a grill at one end, we’re just supposed to take the dog around, and we we watch them for their behavior. And we address it, depending on what it is. So if a dog is uncertain, around a snake and sort of stop there and stand and I’ll wait and then if it takes a step forward, then it will get a very, very gentle leash correction in the first round. Takes a step backwards, it gets reinforced. So again, we’re just sort of setting the dog up for success. This my friend has a snake you can look at it, you can see it move, you can smell it, you know, the correct behavior and the presence of a snake is doing this and then gradually over four kind of hour long sessions of the we call it snake avoidance rather than snake aversion. We we basically up the ante for the right and wrong decision making.

James Davis  32:20

Yeah, well, I know both of my dogs have shown natural aversion to snakes, when we’ve had the opportunity for them to run into snakes.


So you enforce that. And it’s one of those things where dogs are not stupid, you know, if you’ve taught them what’s what, you know, and if you’ve exposed them to snakes and you know what their behavior is, and then you’ve addressed that behavior, either reinforced it or corrected it, then you’re giving them a clear indication. And it just the reality is with snakes the dog will know is there before you do you know and and most of the time they come across a snake you’re nowhere nearby. So there’s absolutely no point you having any role in that decision making process. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  34:35

The thing that always freaks me out thinking about snakes so far apart primarily worked in rattlesnake country that’s mostly been open and I’ve always felt pretty comfortable with that but are the situations in which I don’t feel confident my dog is going to be able to perceive the snake before it’s a problem. And that’s, that’s again, where like, it’s, you know, then it’s just situational awareness knowing what the species behavior is likely to be and doing the best you can to avoid.


Not much you can do about Yeah, you can’t say to your dog a snake is gonna be there. Because chances are I mean, like nine times out of 10 if the snake is you can’t you know he’s you coming? It’ll bugger off anyway. Yeah, so you’ve got to be very unfortunate. Yeah. And really all you can do is, say to your dog, if you see a snake. Yeah, it’s a snake, don’t go after it. If you smell a snake, avoid it. Stuff happens. You can prepare for it. You can prepare for it as best you can. You can set them up for success as best you can. You can’t control the situation.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  35:06

Yeah. What a note to end things on. Is there anything that you wanted to circle back to or bring up before we wrap it up?


Oh, no, not at all. Really just. You know, it’s been great. Being invited on your show? I’m a big fan. So it’s, it’s been really good to come on here and have a chat. It’s really nice to be nice to finally. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  35:57

Yeah, yeah, good to finally meet that we can make the time happen.


With your podcast, our podcast and so on, you know, hopefully, hopefully, the the industry has got some pretty good resources there to draw on to help them.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  36:12

I mean, we’ve got we’ve got, what is this like eight hours a week of continuing or eight hours a month of continuing education? That was not happening two years ago. So certainly better than when you and I were breaking into the field? Absolutely. So well. Thank you so much. Where can people find you? 


Oh, yeah. So they can find us padfoot.com.au. Or on Facebook. They can find that the Conservation canine camp on Facebook. But I’ll send you some links to put up in the show notes. Anyway. We’re on Instagram, Padfoot au, Padfoot dogs. We’ve got some social media and I’m useless at all of it. So

Kayla Fratt (KF)  36:51

Yeah, well, we’ll just drop all the links and that’s always easier anyway. I’m sure most of our listeners are either walking the dog or driving right now. So either way. Yeah, yeah. I mean, if you’re if you’re walking the dog, maybe, but please not while you’re driving. Alright, well, thanks again. James. It was good to have you on. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you learned a lot and are feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. And as always, we’ve got a couple more ideas for those sorts of things. Coming from this podcast. You can find show notes, donate to Canine conservationists, and join our Patreon over at Canine conservationists.org. Until next time.