In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Miriam Ritchie from the New Zealand Department of Conservation about leveraging your dog’s instincts to conduct a job.
Science Highlight: Impact of weather conditions on cheetah monitoring with scat detection dogs
Taylor: Are they hunting the rodents? Does that affect her selection?
Taylor: How has the welcome been with this project?
Megan: How do you introduce the rodents in training? Do you use wild caught, captive bred, or domestic animals in training?
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
The success of using trained dogs to locate sparse rodents in pest-free sanctuaries
Where to find Miriam Ritchie: 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
Transcript (Rough, AI Generated)
Kayla Fratt (KF) 0:09
Hello and welcome to the canine conservationist podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt. And I run canine conservationists, where I trained dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today I have the joy of talking to Miriam Ricci from the New Zealand Department of Conservation. To talk about leveraging your dog’s instincts conducted job. Miriam works primarily with terriers to leverage their natural instincts to manage invasive rodents, which is really different from how most of us here in the US and in Europe do it where we find all crazy dogs to do this work. I’m super excited to get to this interview, but first we’re going to dive into our science highlight. This week, we’re looking at a paper from 2021 that was published in the Journal of Tropical Ecology titled, impact of weather conditions on Cina cheetah monitoring with Scott detection dog that was written by Noreen maturo and others, what they were doing is that quote, We examined the impact of temperature, humidity and wind speed on detection rates of scat from cheetah cheetahs during a Scott detection dog survey in northern Kenya. And what their results were that quote, they found we found the average wind speed positively influences the scout detection rate of dogs working on Leech humidity showed no significant influence temperature showed a strong negative correlation with humidity and thus was excluded from their model analysis. While it is likely that wind speed is especially invalid for dogs working off leash, this study did not demonstrate this wind speed could thus influence the success of monitoring cheetahs or other target species. Although most studies could not demonstrate an effective weather conditions on detection rates such as long at all 2007 NESARA at all. 2008 land Dominique 2015 weather conditions may impact scent detection and influence the time required to search a site which came from long at all 2007. wind speed and direction for instance, affect how the target sentence is dispersed. But highly variable wind may disperse a scent and make it difficult for the dog to follow to its source. A couple of things that I noticed when I was reading this article. And just things to keep in mind as far as their results was that the dogs were being worked on 15 foot leashes, and there were no off leash searches. There were two dogs in the study, which is better than some, and that they were using a linear search strategy into the wind rather than across if I’m understanding correctly, which seems like a really odd way to structure a search, the average wind ranged from 0.2 to 3.1 meters per second. So even that their highest end it was under seven miles per hour. And the humidity range from 47.7% to 66%. Which is really interesting, because where they found and didn’t find results is still within a pretty narrow range. You know, 47 to 66% Humidity is not a huge range, it doesn’t include the extremes that you may encounter in deserts, or here in Colorado in the winter, or in a much more tropical environment. And the mood and speed. You know, when you’re looking at basically still to under seven miles per hour, again, we’re not really looking at anything where we can say how dogs are working in 20 mile per hour sustained winds or gusts of 35 miles an hour, or anything like that. The temps that they recorded were 21.4 to 29.6 degrees Celsius. So that’s 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. So again, they just didn’t have huge temperature ranges. And you know, so they’re looking at the impact of weather conditions on cheetah monitoring. And these are the temperature and weather conditions that are valid for cheetah monitoring, but may not be valid, and therefore may not be all that usable for your project at hand. So without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Miriam. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Miriam do want to start out by giving us a little bit of background on your current work how you got there, and then your dogs as well.
Miriam Ritchie 4:03
Yeah, sure. Um, so my current work as local Island surveillance for the sort of the summer rodents breeding season. So every year, about this time, we do autumn surveillance on peace free islands with rodent dogs in Mastella dogs. I have a number of islands locally that I work on and then I might get contracted to other places around the country to help with their surveillance. And the other thing I’m doing at the moment I’ve been doing quite a lot of handler assistance. one on one mentoring with new handlers and writing training programs and that’s that’s quite cool to in terms of my dogs, I’ve got six Terriers and another big old hunting dog And five of them are related. So I’ve got one old guy, he’s nearly 17. And he’s, he’s, they’re all kind of related to him. And then I’ve got a new little bit she’s nearly six months there. I’m just kind of my next project and I’m hoping to be able to break from here in the future to a I’ve got so I’ve got four that are sort of useful and working or training in to retirees. They’re all they’re all border Tyria Fox Syria crosses. My little
Kayla Fratt (KF) 5:38
girl interesting. Yeah.
Miriam Ritchie 5:41
My little bit as a pure foxy because I quite like to do the first cross or second cross. So yeah, that’s
Kayla Fratt (KF) 5:49
gotcha. I know they are. They’re the smooths are the wire coated foxes.
Miriam Ritchie 5:53
Smooth. Yeah. And they’re not. They’re not really when I say purebred. They’re not pedigrees. They’re just sort of farm breed foxes, but with only foxy blood sort of thing. I kind of steer away from the purebred. Definitely the show lions. They’re sort of not not so clever. But neurotic. Yeah.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 6:17
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. When especially Yeah, when you’re looking for working dogs, you kind of want to go to the people who have the working dogs. The Yeah, not just not that. Just the pretty faces.
Miriam Ritchie 6:29
Yeah, for sure. I used to do a lot of breeding bread for the program for about 10 years. But then butchers died. And I didn’t. I haven’t done any for about seven years. But before that sort of the main source of dogs for this detection dogs.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 6:54
Wow. Okay. Yeah, that’s very cool. Yeah, but that opens up a whole other can of worms as far as questions, but well, I’ll save it for a second. So the main reason I wanted to talk to you was because as you know, here, as I think, you know, here in the US, when we’re looking for detection, dog prospects in the conservation dog world, we rely really heavily on looking for dogs that are absolutely ball crazy. And then we just teach them, hey, find the thing, and we’ll give you the ball. But you that’s not your, your method. You’re using terriers that are bred to find, you know, find vermin in order to find rodents and mostella as well. So how do you what is that screening process look like with a young dog are a prospective dog? And does it vary a little bit based on the project’s goals? Like do you have different dogs who are better suited to different types of projects?
Miriam Ritchie 7:54
Usually, I do now, I didn’t so much, in the early days, sort of, you know, we had our proven parents and we breed pups. And in sort of assumed that, perhaps we’re all going to be good, but that’s not usually the case. And now I really select for what I call a soft Tyria a really better Baltierra that’s very handler focused, because theory is just by nature have as much fire as you could want. And I don’t really like working with the really super hadn’t driven terriers. I haven’t yet had a terrier that didn’t have some, some hard drives, so you don’t, I don’t select for it, specifically. And in terms of the projects, I guess, for, for a cat detection dog, you might choose a slightly a bigger maybe a bigger Tyria because that’s sort of covering more ground, more, more speed sort of thing. Whereas with with the rodent detection, you you do a lot of a lot of miles on on islands, but you’re also doing a lot of sort of work around buildings and sort of close searching biosecurity. And I like a dog bits, that wants to poke into poke into buildings, that I can check up on shelves, put on my shoulder to carry down a ladder into a ship hold that kind of thing. So that’s that’s another reason why I use terriers for this work as their portability that they’re just so handy and hardy
Kayla Fratt (KF) 10:00
Yeah, yeah. And they don’t tend to. Yeah. You don’t meet a lot of terriers that are extremely soft. I mean, I work with Border Collies, and they’re, they take offense easily. Sometimes.
Miriam Ritchie 10:14
Yeah. Yeah. So I’ve, I don’t really use thought so borders anymore because they can take a Border Terrier, sorry, because they sort of can take a fence. It’s that’s why I quite like the crosses a bit of Foxy and the maximum a little bit hardier and the personality because they, they do get a lot of kind of negative stuff in terms of training them off the non target. So they’ve got to be quite hardy and not not selkie. And yeah, if that makes sense, sort of, take take the good with the bad. Where’s the borders? Can? Yeah, sort of. Yeah, the border terrorists can sort of shut down. Gotcha.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 11:01
And so what were you said that that, you know, even with proven parents in a litter, you wouldn’t necessarily have all of them able to go on to work? What are some of the reasons you said, it’s probably not the hunt drive? What are some of the reasons that they, they may not be able to succeed and work going forward? Ah,
Miriam Ritchie 11:21
not that they couldn’t succeed. But I’ve found there are some that are just super hard and not a kind of hunting for themselves and not so handler focused. We, because they’ve got so much drive in prey drive, you need to be able to contain that, so to speak. So you need them to be working for you, as well as themselves. I think terriers are always working for themselves. To a point, but, but they need to have that connection with you. And there’s Yeah, they’ve just if, if they’re super, super prey driven. Yeah, I, I avoid them. For safety really around around non targets?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 12:14
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I think that brings us to, you know, the, the main thing that I was curious about is so when you’re, when you’re looking for dogs that do have this really high hunt, drive, and they are, you know, they are hunting dogs in a way. You know, we don’t think of terriers as hunting dogs quite the same way as you might think about a pointer or a hound, but they’re, you know, they’re hunting. How do we, how do you teach them to ignore these other vulnerable non targets, or even, you know, even if it’s not necessarily like the most endangered, vulnerable non target, but just, you know, whatever it is that you don’t want them to be finding, that’s not helpful.
Miriam Ritchie 12:52
Yeah, so that’s kind of one of the biggest parts and one of the most important parts of of the trainings, because we, in New Zealand, we’ve got a whole heap of mammalian pierced and we’re selecting, you know, as a small group that, that we want the dogs to find. And, and then we also have these vulnerable, endemic, particularly ground dwelling bird species, and so forth. So for me, I always try my own dogs from a pap. And they, right from the start, when you’re going out with them, they have to learn to not that they’re not allowed to chase anything and then and indefinitely without, they can’t just choose their own, choose what they’re going to do. So when I’m out where I live, I’ve got lots of I’ve got lots of rabbits, I’ve got lots of Pukeko, which are a sort of a swamp in I’ve got the odd cat got lots of little pester ions, quail, right from the start, any kind of chase behavior is shut down straightaway. And what is useful for me as I ran my dogs for morning walks and evening walks as a pet, and the older dogs don’t chase anything and don’t show any interest in anything. And the young dogs quite quickly sort of realize that no one else is following them. And and when they’re getting. So basically, they get they get told off. And I try not to let them ever have a successful Chase odd or a fun chase on anything but it always happens of course because they’re a little PAP and they’re pretty oblivious. But the important thing with so you can imagine there’s quite a lot of negative negative stuff going on and getting getting Total for pretty much everything that they’re investigating or seeing. So I’m kind of bringing in the target at the same time, or, or plenty of other positive. So lots of play and fun stuff in basic obedience that they can achieve lots of recall, and praise. But also, if they’re a really soft dog, and they’re getting told off when they’re meeting all these creditors, they need to be getting some positive or the credit as well. So that’s when I’ll bring in with rodents, there’ll be dead rats and mice, wild caught rats and mice, that, that I can hide and play with them with so that they, and they get preys on that they get to find them. They, they, and we play a little game with them in so that’s the positive because I don’t want them to shut down completely. You know, stop, stop searching, stop using the nose. You think that they’re not allowed to do anything?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 16:11
Right. Yeah, that’s, that’s the interesting thing to me is, you know, how we’re teaching them to channel these instincts very, very specifically, because it’s not that you’re saying, Oh, I’ve got a terrier that I’m never ever going to allow to hunt. I’m never going to allow these guys to be terriers. They’re allowed to be terriers, but they need to do it towards a very, very specific target. So am I understanding you correctly? That it’s kind of it’s twofold. On one hand, you’re not allowed to make these decisions independently, and you’re getting some sort of correction? When you do, and then at the same time, you’re also building up excitement and value and interest in your actual target. Species odor. Is that Is that about? Right?
Miriam Ritchie 16:56
Yeah, that’s that’s completely right. Yeah. Yeah, and and with, with rodents, there, they’re everywhere. What the dogs usually encounter them naturally, before I intend for them to anyway. So they they will meet wild mouse or a wild gret at some point, and NFA, as you know, obviously, that first find or that first, you know, sort of, Oh, my goodness, there’s that thing that we’ve been playing with for ages, but it’s alive. That’s, that’s encouraged, and celebrated. Does that make sense?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 17:49
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And so then that also, that you’re, you’re doing a great job of leading right into my next question. Like, are you using rewards? Are they just getting rewarded by being able to, you know, Chase and dig and do the searching things that terriers like to do? Or Yeah, are you using kind of praise food toys? Is there anything to kind of help drive that message home when they do find what you’re looking for?
Miriam Ritchie 18:17
Um, there’s lots of praise. Yep. And lots of vocal encouragement. I sort of get quite whispery and excited and, and I try and associate a word sort of rats rats, when they’re hunting, Rhett so that I have got that later if we’re doing a really boring job, and likely to find nothing, just if I need to read the map at any point. I have that that vocal association that I can pull out in my back pocket, but generally they their excitement is Yeah, I just encouraged the excitement and make it as fun as possible, but they’re pretty much self rewarding. And yeah, that the digging that I mean, they get really frantic. If there’s a live animal, they get really frantic. And I just sort of share share the fun of that and make sure I’m a I’m a part of that for them. If that makes sense.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 19:22
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And then so when they are they’re getting frantic. They’re digging there all sorts of excited and I’m sure yeah, that’s highly rewarding. For a terrier. I can see how you wouldn’t necessarily need to introduce any other rewards to that. But then what is kind of what is the next step? Are they allowed to dispatch the rodents? Do you mark the area and come back for trapping? What is the next step when your dogs have found a hotspot?
Miriam Ritchie 19:49
It’s different at home and on the job so at home, just for a start. They very rarely actually catch what they’re what their hands thing, they sometimes get to catch up a little field mouse, they sometimes will find a need of a nest of rats and there’s there’s young that can’t run away, but generally, they’re just hunting and the thrill of it is, is what keeps them going. But in the field on a job, they are muzzled they, our job is justified and the hotspot get as much information as we can. And market and then whoever’s employed me will come back to trip or poison, but usually trap so we have the bodies for analysis. Yeah, so but but when it home, I let them have a good hand and heaps of fun. And then I sort of take them away when they’re when they’re peeking.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 20:59
Gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, so yeah, we’re not we’re not necessarily letting them yeah, they’re they’re muzzled, which I’m sure is partially also for the safety of, you know, just in case a mistake happened with something else popping up. Or I don’t know if this is a possibility with your target species, but shared shared burrows or something where the dog could be technically correct, but still coming into close contact with something else. Okay, yeah. And that sounds similar to like, when I’ve done invasive plant work, they don’t unnecessarily at least to the job that I worked on, they didn’t necessarily expect us to also, you know, come back out with the pesticides and the shovels and try to deal with the plant even though you know, I’ve done that work separately and other jobs. It’s just too much to ask them a handler to handle all of that at once.
Miriam Ritchie 21:50
Yeah, yeah. And, and yeah, we keep that quite separate. So the dog handlers, the dog handler, the trappers, the trapper. And an often, often you’re really remote in this, there’s no one with you anyway. But there are some sort of close quarter islands with the Bay of Islands where I do quite a bit of work. There’s actually they have reasonably frequent incursions, because the islands are actually swimmable. So it’s not, it’s, we occasionally do find an animal and the team are there with the wherewithal to come in and put trips out at the time. So that’s a really good scenario, I call them up on the radio, and they’ll be working somewhere on one or the other islands. And they come in and set up a response straightaway. And that’s really it. Yeah. Wow. Yeah, that’s really cool. Because we usually get that they usually two days later, they’ve got a big Norway rat and a trap. And it’s, it’s, you know, the confirmation you you like to hear and but I was just gonna say back to the reward that we’re talking about before, when when the dogs are on the target and excited that they’re really not interested in any kind of reward anyway, so even even if I tried to give them the their favorite favorite food at that moment of while they’re hunting, they’re totally not interested in in food. They’re, they’re rewarding themselves. At the time. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah,
Kayla Fratt (KF) 23:42
I know, I back when I was. When I made most of my money. As a dog trainer, I ran into that all the time where you know, someone would have a Jack Russell who’s chasing squirrels or whatever. And we had to work so hard, I’d get so creative to try to get to the place where we could use food to reward the dog for ignoring the squirrel because, you know, nine times out of 10 We were too close and the terrier was too excited. They wanted nothing to do with our hot dogs. Yeah. Yeah, you gotta get creative. I mean, especially, you know, when you’re trying to reward a dog for ignoring something, you know, you’re trying. You’re trying to reward them for something that’s already so intrinsically rewarding. It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to try to bring anything else in. Yeah, it’s kind of like I mean, I don’t need to teach either of my dogs, particularly not barley. If I tried to give him a piece of food every time he returned the tennis ball or the Frisbee to me like he wouldn’t eat it because the reward that he really wants his throw it again. Yeah, like introducing food to the equation just muddies it up. It doesn’t help anyone in any way.
Miriam Ritchie 24:57
Yeah, yeah, totally. And I should probably add in terms of the the non target stuff. What I think is my main weapon, there is my rapport with the dog. And that’s, that’s why I’m going for them for the softer, more bearable. terrier. So So when you’ve got a young dog, obviously you try and avoid situations you can’t deal with. So I’m not going to be, I’m not going to be going into places with lots of birds where they’ll be overwhelmed, and, you know, and, and chase those birds, until I’ve got a report with a dog so that they, if I call them or I reprimand them, that’s worse than the reprimand is worse than the chase. So they’re attached to me in a way that they don’t want to upset me don’t want to make me angry with them. And I think that’s my biggest weapon. Because what you know, what you have, you have to make the punishment be worse than the result, the result be worse than the chase, so to speak. And,
Kayla Fratt (KF) 26:23
right. And that makes sense to me too, then we’re you know, but the both sides of it, where you would like a softer dog, who, you know that punishment can be less severe while still getting the point home. And then also, I see what you’re saying about not wanting necessarily the terrier with the highest possible prey drive, because we want to be able to have that balance there while still falling within, you know, some amount of safety and whatever, because I’m sure there are hard enough prey driven enough terriers where it wouldn’t be safe or feasible or responsible, or some combination of those words to really, you know, get those dogs to the point where they are able to ignore other items. Because, you know, either the, the, basically because the reward of the hunt is so salient that the the punishers available are just not enough. Is that am I? I’m guessing here, obviously.
Miriam Ritchie 27:24
Yeah, no, no, that’s exactly right. Yep. Yeah. And, and I find that Excellent. Yeah. And the softer materials are, are super easy to train to, because they just want to please you, you’re the number one. And they really don’t want to be offside with you. I mean, it’s like any dog, isn’t it that if they really focused on you, that’s super handy. And, and, and training? Yeah.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 27:55
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I know, part of the reason that I like my border collies is that they are so in tune with me. And I consider myself someone who’s pretty far along the positive reinforcement only continuum. And, you know, I’ll admit, like, part of the reason I’m able to do that while working with working dogs is because I selected dogs that allow me to do that in a way that I feel really good about it versus, you know, there are other dogs that I’ve worked with in the past where it is much, much harder for me to stay with him that like force for your positive reinforcement. Contingency, not that it’s not possible, but there are dogs that are there. So HYDrive and so focused on so many other things that it’s, it’s, it starts getting really, really tricky in a working situation, to figure out how to balance, you know, what the dog’s behavior is showing to you and what you might consider your your personal ethics and morals. And, you know, I’m not saying that I like, I’m not saying that at all, as a way to say anything about your training methods, of course. But I as a point of commiseration, as far as like, I like my software dogs, too, because it makes it easier for me to get across the points that I want, without feeling the need to, like, for example, sorry, I’m rambling. My younger dog niffler. You know, if he’s, he, you know, he caught, he caught. He caught glimpse, glimpse of a squirrel on our walk today. And I can just say to him, and he immediately is like, Oh, crap, okay, sorry. You know, I just keeps going. And I think for some handlers, that would be far too soft. I’ve had to really moderate myself as far as how I work with him to make sure that I don’t scare the bejesus out of him. But I also like that it makes it very easy to redirect him away from prey animals without having to resort to keeping him on a long line or having an E collar on him or anything like that. It’s Test. He’s very responsive. And I like that.
Miriam Ritchie 30:03
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. That’s, that’s really similar to one of my current dogs. And when he was a pup, I actually, I thought he wasn’t going to work out because he was too soft. And I nearly didn’t persist with them. And he’s, he’s eight now and he is he’s turned into such a good dog because he, he’s just so honest and so safe. He just won’t do anything that he thinks would upset me. And but he is. He’s got a he’s a wicked little find. He’s constantly constantly looking for rodents, and he just loves it. But he’s just so safe. And I literally I don’t even really need to say anything. What I don’t with him, he’s, yeah, he. He’s kind of he’s kind of my prototype for he’s he was the turning point where I went, right. You know, soft, soft is good. And I thought he wasn’t gonna work. Yeah, but
Kayla Fratt (KF) 31:09
if anyone’s coming out of like, a military background, at least here in the US, they’d be like, what? You want a soft working dog? And we’re like, Yeah, our dogs don’t have to ride on helicopters and like, you know, deal with like, overhead shelling or whatever in order to do their job. So we like Yeah, well,
Miriam Ritchie 31:29
well, I have my dogs don’t need to they go and choppers reasonably regularly. On ship around lots of loud noise, especially especially. Yeah, especially biosecurity work. You can be working in really noisy yards and lots of vehicles. And it to be fair, he, he was my most, he is my most timorous and he’s the only one that’s really freaked out the first time he had to get on a chopper, but he, you know, he came, he came, right. He’s, he’s. Yeah, he’s definitely yeah, that makes neurotic buddies. But that the good qualities definitely outweigh that, and then those aren’t an issue now. Yeah,
Kayla Fratt (KF) 32:18
yeah. And, you know, I suppose I like it’s a little bit of conflation on my end to say that a soft dog is also environmentally unsound. You know, that’s not necessarily true. Like, yeah, my, my elder, my older dog barley is. I would say, trading wise, he’s relatively soft. But he also, I mean, yeah, he’s been on planes, trains, automobiles, boats, ferries. He, yeah, he doesn’t have any environmental issues. It’s much more about our relationship. And if he feels Gosh, I’m anthropomorphizing. But like if he feels like he’s disappointed me or upset me, that is very, very challenging for him. And, you know, I’m able to use that to get training points across in a way that is, is very quick and efficient.
Miriam Ritchie 33:12
Yes. Yeah, exactly. That’s, that’s, that’s like, Well, yeah. And he’s honestly, he’s the quickest and easiest dog I’ve ever trained. He was just he just got everything and he didn’t want to do anything wrong. And it was. It was a it was a breeze. He was cool.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 33:34
Yeah, how old is well now? He’s eight. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, it’s it is it’s so interesting. And I know, you know, James Davis and I were just talking about this on an episode we recorded not too long ago. You know, everyone’s got their their preferences was what they’re looking for in their dogs as well. You know, he talks a lot about wanting an Uber Uber independent dog. And, you know, that’s, that’s not my MO. And I think part of that is handler personality. And part of that is also project. It doesn’t sound like for what you’re doing that having a dog who ranges really widely and works really independently. James Davis does a lot of he’s doing fox den stuff in, in Australia with Springer Spaniels. You know, it’s a very, very different search style, and I can’t imagine that the search style of his Springer’s would work very well for your goals.
Miriam Ritchie 34:31
No, they there are a few Springer’s that have been trained on Lord how they’re using Springer Spaniels to to look for rodents in and that their bull bull driven I find them frenetic. But let me both Yeah, that’s just not what I’m used to. But I, I find they sort of wear themselves out quite quickly and don’t have the longevity on a job that I require. And I don’t know if that frenetic searching actually produces more results. Yeah, it was, it was really interesting we’re working with with them and seeing seeing the difference. And I’ve just been working with a new Springer Spaniel. And our program that’s the same just got this frenetic work pattern that dogs finding. Stokes get and and the hate just the need to stop and drink and get the breathing down and sort of regroup would drive me nuts I quite I quite like just just the dogs just cruising along. And yeah, my dogs are basically pretty low energy. But because of that, when when they find the target, they’re super easy to read because they completely change and, and that’s, that’s all I use as their indication or alert, I don’t know what you call it, but we talk about an indication as a change of behavior. And the extent of that changes is what I how I know what they’re showing me. So when they get completely frantic, and absolutely top energy energy level and really hanting That’s a live animal present. And it’s a bit of interest, a bit of tracking, but not that real franticness it’ll be sort of recent sent. And if it’s sort of just a bit of centering around the area that could be older sent. And yeah, it’s sort of an interpretation game. But it’s all it’s all about the energy level. Whereas, you know, the spring is so incredibly obvious when they get their target. They just stopped it and, and but yeah, they’re just totally different, really out there.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 37:26
Yeah, yeah, very, very different dogs. And I can see like, the wind farm work that I’ve done, I could see a Springer Spaniel doing really, really well at because it’s a larger area. And, you know, I can totally imagine basically standing at the base of the wind turbine and just letting my dog run, because we’re doing like 100 meter by 100 meter plots under each wind turbine. That sounds great. But you know, when I’ve done plant worker, there have been a couple other projects I’ve worked on where I think you would have to work a little bit harder to work with that particular search style in order to make it really effective. So, you know, it’s just Gosh, it’s just so interesting, how many, there’s so many different ways that this job can look. And based on the target and the environment and the handler, you know, there’s just so much to think about with finding the right dog.
Miriam Ritchie 38:17
Yeah, yeah, totally.
Unknown Speaker 38:20
Hi, Quinn and Luca here, Luca is an Akita mix and I adopted from a shelter almost two years ago, from a very young age, Luca has struggled with some general fear and anxiety, especially out in the world. I randomly took a nosework class and noticed a massive difference in her behavior. She was lot more interested in exploring her environment and love going on adventures. I love being a Patreon because selfishly I get so much great information about nature and conservation that I would not have gotten otherwise like books to read and articles to look at. I also get access to Kayla’s great knowledge. I am new to Patreon. But I’m excited to have a group of people to help Luca and I move forward with combining our love of nature and her natural sensibility. I love that I’m able to support someone exploring two of my favorite things, conservation and dog behavior. And maybe one day with the support and knowledge from canine conservation nests. I can get there myself.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 39:14
Yeah. So let’s, let’s go. We’ve got a couple of questions from Patreon. As we’re kind of wrapping up here, and we can, you know, we can talk as long as we like, but we’ve got two more questions that I have written down, I guess. So Taylor from Patreon asks, if the dogs are actually hunting the rodents and whether or not that affects your selection, I think we’ve talked about this, the dogs are finding them, but they’re not allowed to actually dispatch. So just to confirm that question from Taylor.
Miriam Ritchie 39:42
Yeah. So I definitely let them hunt that they are they are hunting really, that they don’t get that end result. And they there’s almost never been a situation where they they could get that end result anyway, you know, Retta They’re underground or they’re behind something you can’t shift or the upper tree. But the dogs definitely do have them. That’s, that is basically my Yeah, that’s how I know. That’s how I know what what they’re doing.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 40:21
Yeah. And then Taylor also asked if the like, what the, the relationship she asked what the welcome has been with the project and then clarified, you know, wondering what the response has been from the public or, you know, people who own the land, or who are running the chips that you’re searching? What does that been like?
Miriam Ritchie 40:40
Um, well, the, the, when the program started back in the late 1990s, it did take quite a lot of persuading people in conservation circles, to trust that we could safely use terriers to find mammalian predators, and that we could move them around endangered species in these fragile environments. But now they are standard operating procedure to be used in any kind of if there’s a boat wreck, or that we do, the dogs are the the first tool that comes in when there’s been a sighting a boat wreck, a suspected incursion. And we used a standard operating procedure for spring and autumn surveillance on Ireland’s so that sort of gives you an idea of how, how they’ve been perceived and the usefulness of them. Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. And the general public just loves working dogs in New Zealand, I’m sure it’s the same way you just when our dogs have a uniform, they were a little fluro jacket with, off with our our logo and the Department of Conservation. And they, they were their muzzle. And we have a high vis vest on. So they’re, they’re very obviously a working dog. And we encourage handlers to talk to the public and tell them about what we’re doing. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the job, you know, and encourage advocacy on the job as much as possible.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 42:46
Yeah, yeah, that’s great. Yeah, and I think, you know, it’s, it’s always interesting to me how sometimes the the communications side of things varies a little bit, depending on what you’re looking for. You know, I know when I’m doing invasive plants, or invasive zebra mussels, that’s pretty easy to talk about. Most people are pretty receptive to that people get really excited when the dogs are looking for the scat of, you know, some sort of charismatic megafauna. But back when I was at working dogs for conservation, they work with some dogs who have done bore Scott detection. And, you know, they’re pretty far removed from the ultimate removal of the bores. But they there were some cases where people would get pretty upset about the fact that the these invasive bores were ultimately going to be euthanized and removed. And even though again, these dogs were I think they were actually dogs that working dogs or conservation had originally trained and then we’re with Alberta, and then we’re, you know, they’re just finding the scat to figure out where the boards are. And then, you know, it’s a totally different team that comes in, but there still was some like issues with public perception and I suppose at least with rats, you know, most people are pretty happy to have rats removed. I have you noticed any differences in public perception from the rats to the mustelids?
Miriam Ritchie 44:09
No, not rats from Astellas but definitely cats so we do have dogs at home find feral cats and and that is that’s fairly controversial and you generally don’t talk much about what what you’re doing if you have a cat dog. Yeah. So my first dog was a cat dog but I was on offshore islands so I didn’t have any public to deal with but you know that when that when it first was being developed is dogs to find feral cats there. There was there were sort of death threats and abuse, you know, fairly full on abuse. Yeah, at the at the thought of it, and it’s really, so we try and always say fear All cats now rather than just cats and yeah, and make it very clear that the dogs are finding, finding where they are and then they bury that trapped or they’re put up a tree and shot. They’re not. They’re not sort of ripped apart by a rabid dog sort of thing. You know, the dogs. Yeah. And there’s a face to face, then they’re not they’re not even, you know, they’re at a distinct disadvantage straightaway.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 45:33
Yeah, well, your dogs aren’t all that much bigger than cats either. I would imagine. No, I don’t know how that Fox Border Terrier cross ends up weighing but I can’t imagine that’s exponentially larger than a cat the way that like, yeah, if I had like, an 85 pound male Malinois German Shepherd across.
Miriam Ritchie 45:51
Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. It wouldn’t be a very, it would be a fairly even met criteria on a big Tom. So yeah.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 46:01
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So yeah, I can totally see how that would be really difficult and controversial. And that seems potentially even more challenging than any of the other invasives that I’ve worked with. Because, yeah, you know, like, I grew up with pet cats. I and I, I have a lot of really complicated and nuanced feelings about feral cat removal and that sort of work. Because it’s, yeah, it’s it’s tough. It needs to be done. And it’s the right thing for the ecosystem. But oof, man, I don’t know if I could work on it.
Miriam Ritchie 46:36
No, no, I don’t think I could these days either.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 46:42
Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah. So okay. And then Megan, from Patreon asked, she’s got kind of two different questions about introducing the rodents to the dogs during training. Her first question is a little bit easier. So we’ll start with that. Do you wild caught captive bred or domestic animals for training? Kind of what is the source of these? These animals that you’re using?
Miriam Ritchie 47:06
They’re all wild caught. Yeah. So the the rats that have trapped myself? And my dog food shed or my roof or wherever and I freeze? I freeze them? Or use them? Fish if I if I can, but and mice as well. Yeah. I don’t use any domestic or. Yeah,
Kayla Fratt (KF) 47:32
we don’t. Yeah. And then when you don’t need to? Yeah, there’s
Miriam Ritchie 47:35
so many. There’s so many rodents around in anywhere that and they’re very easy to catch to.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 47:42
Yeah, I suppose. And so basically, what you’re running into is that the infestations are high enough in some parts of the, in the country, like where you live, that you can easily just source them on your own locally, versus and then when you go out to your worksite that’s where there’s a lot fewer of them. And that’s where the dogs are actually useful.
Miriam Ritchie 48:06
Yes, yes, exactly. So all our work as in areas are very, very low numbers. And often it’s like the surveillance is sort of presence absence, definitely the pest free islands that some of them have never had rodents ever. Some of them were eradicated many years ago. And we’re just checking we’re just we’re just making sure nothing has got there. But that question about sourcing animals as it’s quite different with muscle it’s so again, I use I use wild caught stoats and weasels to train with but muscle it’s much harder to find in the wild to for the dogs to hunt for so I’ve got I’ve sort of put the word out and I have a whole lot of people that will let me know if they see one or the best time the only really time of year when you get a lot of like your dog can get much exposure to them as from October through till about now March where when they’re thinning and breeding and the young around you know, you’ll suddenly get reports of people seeing a bunch of stoats playing and and yeah, it’s really really difficult to keep to training keep muscle a dog and those on their target and an ad and and to keep them target specific because they’re exposed every day to all these other things and all these other critters and and basically never see the target.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 50:04
Gosh, that’s super difficult. And yeah. In theory if you wanted, it wouldn’t be that difficult to keep some amount of, of captive rodents. You know, you could have a couple of Norway rats in some cages in your basement if you really wanted but I’ve never tried but gosh, I’ve got to imagine that keeping stoats captive would be incredibly difficult. I’ve personally tried to keep them out of chicken coops before or homing pigeon lofts. We had endless problems with them growing up on the farm I grew up on and yeah, they’re they’re tough Top Animals.
Miriam Ritchie 50:41
Yeah, yeah, they they really are and then there’s the odd there’s the odd stoke kept for research or they don’t survive very well in captivity either. And there I don’t know how humane it is either for an animal that that ranges over such a wide area to be kept captive. I I couldn’t do it myself. And it would, it would make home life really tricky, because it’s hard enough anyway, with having different targets and trying to keep so I need to try and keep my place as rent free as possible because I can’t have my my rodent dogs, hunting rodents around my Mustela dogs? Because, you know, that’s Yeah, yeah, that’s the biggest issue is for micellar dog is it they’re gonna get keen on rodents, because they’re just everywhere. So I have to ensure there is no, there’s there’s nothing that they can be going with their mates to hunt at home when I’m, when I’m so when I’m when I’m home, they’re, they’re out of their hands. And they’re hanging out when I’m out there and their runs, but you know, if I’ve got a rat and my, under my outdoor bath or something in my rat as a sort of hunting around getting keen and and in the muscle of dogs or with them them, you know, they’re very quickly learning to hunt rabbits. And that’s not good.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 52:28
Yeah, yeah, that that makes a ton of sense. And yeah, so your your the dogs are also totally separate. You don’t have dogs that do both, which I guess in some ways makes sense. And in other ways, I’m kind of so you wouldn’t necessarily want a dog who is searching for both because the stoats are so few and far between that you wouldn’t want the dog also telling you about the rat? So is that kind of the thinking there?
Miriam Ritchie 52:50
Yeah. And we need we need to keep the target separate. So we can guarantee what the dogs are telling us. So if I was doing surveillance on a piece free Island, and they indicated on something and and the target was rodents and muscle IDs, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to guarantee what what they were telling me and that then we need to know so that we can track appropriately. You know, right.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 53:26
Yeah. Yeah. Because the the next step is not equivalent from one to the other. Now, you’re not necessarily going to see which it is. No, I see.
Miriam Ritchie 53:35
Yeah, almost. Definitely not. And yeah, that people often wonder why we don’t let our dogs chase rabbits, for instance, because there’s rabbits everywhere and everyone hates them because they dig up their garden and blah, blah, blah. But we have we have a few mainland sanctuaries, fence sanctuaries that have rabbits in them. And if you’re if you’re asked to go and check for a rat that was cited by a member of the public, and your dogs allowed to chase rabbits, or find rabbits, and you go to a sanctuary with with a whole lot of rabbits hopping around, you know,
Kayla Fratt (KF) 54:22
the dough Yeah, your dog is going to be finding the rabbit says, Well, you know, 44 Rabbits for every one rat. Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, I’m so used to working with scat or carcasses or plants, like I’ve got something to find. Yeah. So you know, even if sometimes it’s it can still be really difficult to confirm whether or not the dog has found anything like when, and actually, this was the one project I’ve worked on, but the dogs are finding live animals when we were doing black footed ferrets. You know, you’re just looking at a burro being like, I guess there’s a ferret? No, that’s what my dog is saying. Yeah. And I can see how if my dogs were trying to find both ferrets. I And burrowing owls, you wouldn’t necessarily have the same response, if you wanted to capture each of those to get a sample or put a tag on them or something. Yeah. Yeah, that’s really interesting. Because usually, you know, within reason, I’m pretty comfortable layering multiple different target odors on my dogs. But it’s because generally what we’re finding are things where, you know, if my dog like next year, if we’re supposed to be going out and finding, I don’t know, Sierra Nevada red fox scat and the dog finds a dead bat, I’m gonna be able to see that he found a dead bat and say, Okay, good job, buddy. We’re not going to bother the biologists with that, because I can see that he just found something that’s relevant to the other project.
Miriam Ritchie 55:44
Yeah. Yeah. And that’s, and that’s, that’s exactly why our dogs have to be so target specific so that, because I yeah, I basically never get to see what they found. So I have to have 100% confidence and their indication. And, and, and, and, and my training so that I know that I haven’t cross pollinated them, that my muscle a dog isn’t going to show me a rat, or a, or a seabird, or whatever, you know, that when they show this behavior, this is what they found. And, you know, I’ve got, I work closely with a lot of species, dog handlers. So they’re the ones using pointers and setters and, and bird dogs to find endangered species. And they they don’t have to be nearly as target specific if their dog does a really nice say find on a on a penguin. When they’re looking for a seabird. Petrol, that’s, that’s acceptable, because they can pull that bird out and go, Oh, that’s a penguin. That’s thanks. Thanks for that. Whereas week out, we never will find out our will never see our target. And a lot of the species dogs can actually have multiple targets, because there’ll be in a different environment, you know, they might be looking for a rear duck. So they’re working up a river versus a keyway, where they’ll be working in sort of a bush, a bush reserve. But if they did find a kiwi roosting on the edge of a river, that’s, that’s not a bad thing. They can pull them out and go. Oh, so kiwi, thank you. Yeah, sort of gone off track a bit. But yeah, we wait, wait, I have to be able to say, yes. That is a mouse borrow. The only thing that they
Kayla Fratt (KF) 57:51
would tell me would be a mouse burrow. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Gosh, yeah, you must have to be so careful with that. And then, you know, so Megan, also asked how you introduce the rodents to training. And we talked about this a little bit early on, as far as when they’re young, they’re being told no, not this? No, not this. No, not that you can’t do that. But also this. And you said that you’re doing that with a couple different versions of the odor profile that can be available? What does that? Let’s let’s dive into that a little bit more before we go here.
Miriam Ritchie 58:27
Yep. So sorry, what’s the question?
Kayla Fratt (KF) 58:32
How do you introduce the rodents to the to the younger dogs in training or the or the stoats or whatever it is.
Miriam Ritchie 58:39
So normally, for a start with just a young pet, I would have probably the the stokesay on a string and drag it around, get the PAP sort of interested and encourage them, play with it a bit, then maybe throw it, they get to go and find it and bring it back to you and you give them lots of praise, that kind of thing, when they’re, when they’re quite into it. I’ll do really easy little trails in finds so that they follow the trail and find the animal and heaps of praise and have them on a string so that you can make them sort of move around and, and be exciting for them. And yeah, that’s, that’s kind of how I introduced them.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 59:34
Gotcha. Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. And that’s, that sounds a lot like how I grew up with labs and we didn’t personally Burnham with our labs, but we had a lot of friends and neighbors who did and that’s pretty much how you introduce them to ducks. And you know, that’s a little different. It’s a retrieving dog versus a hunting dog. And you know, in theory there, the duck is getting shot out of the sky. So it should be pretty obvious what they’re going for. but you are also really building up their value for that specific odor so that they know what they’re looking for when they jump out of the boat and go barreling through the marsh trying to find the bird you just shot.
Miriam Ritchie 1:00:11
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And as it progresses, you’ll start, you know, putting them in likely spots where a wreck would be found, or, you know, that just gets more complicated and more difficult is as they progress in and just keeping up the, the praise and the excitement when they find it. And yeah, so, so fun.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:00:37
Yeah, that’s great. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about that I should have or anything you wanted to circle back to and expand on a little bit more? Before we wrap up?
Miriam Ritchie 1:00:48
I may be sure to explain the muzzle wearing. Oh, yes. Yeah. So so it’s just a row and it with any of our conservation dog species, dogs and peace detection dogs, that they have to wear a muzzle, and that’s just like you said, it’s just to prevent any
Miriam Ritchie 1:01:14
if there was, you know, a dog’s dilla dog is still a predator, if something flashed really quickly straight across the nose, you know, the, the instant response would just be to grab potentially, it’s just to guard against anything like that, just just so just to take that out of the equation. They have so much training, to not grab or chase anything. That that shouldn’t be an issue, but it’s just the rules. And also it also protects them from eating stuff, they shouldn’t eat toxin, or animals that have been poisoned. Especially working in forests, where they’ve been using airily sown toxin and so forth, you might have carcasses that are poisoned, you don’t want to dog scavenging or grabbing anything. So yeah, sort of. It’s just part of the uniform.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:02:17
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I know. Yeah, I’ve worked with dogs and mussels, and a couple projects. And it seems like the sort of thing that, you know, if they’ve got any amount of likelihood of running into really close contact with, you know, the target species or anything else, it’s vulnerable. And, honestly, in some cases, even things that are again, like, like where I live Eurasian cottontails are not at risk of going extinct in any way. But it’s still not a good look for a conservation dog to grab one. So, you know, a muzzle can be part of that toolkit.
Miriam Ritchie 1:02:52
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, the only the only thing we struggle with is, you know, there’s a lot of islands we work on that the public are allowed or not, not a lot, actually. But there’s a number of islands that you, you know, there’ll be a theory that takes the public over and you’re wandering around with the dog or the muzzle and people think they’re aggressive or, or that yeah, that they are a risk to birds. It’s like, they’re not a risk to birds. They have so much training, they have to be certified. They have, you know, it’s just a I like to say it’s just part of the uniform. So that doesn’t sound like yeah, that, that they are any threat
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:03:36
has. Yeah, yeah, exactly. It’s just part of the uniform. It’s, you know, it’s like, you know, just because I’m wearing a hard hat, when I’m on the wind farm doesn’t mean that I’m planning for people to throw wrenches at my head it just to be a little bit more prepared in case in case something does happen. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And just because your dog is wearing a muzzle doesn’t mean that you’re expecting them to go grab a key we know, that means that you know, we’re just Tripoli protected,
Miriam Ritchie 1:04:06
just in case. Yeah. Yeah.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:04:10
Well, thank you so much, Miriam. Do you want to let people know where they can find you online? If you have any social media or anything like that, and if you don’t, that’s fine, too. But just in case people want to look me up.
Miriam Ritchie 1:04:21
I’m, I’m not a big social media person. But I have got an Instagram. I don’t even know what it’s called. I think it’s New Zealand conservation dogs.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:04:34
Okay. Yeah, that’s that sounds right. Yes, yeah. New Zealand conservation dogs. I follow you. Yeah, so, excellent. Well, we’ll make sure that I’ll share that Instagram link in the show notes if anyone wants to find it.
Miriam Ritchie 1:04:55
Yeah, that’d be cool. Oh, I put up as photos of the dogs working
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:05:00
I would imagine that’s all people want. Yeah. Most of our listeners to the podcast I think that’s what they want out of social media. I could be wrong, but seems to be like, like the main purpose.
Miriam Ritchie 1:05:12
Yeah. Because I don’t know my God, though a lot of it but yeah, what I mean is it’s not a personal one. It’s just dogs.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:05:21
Yeah, yeah. Well, again, that’s, that’s what I’m on Instagram for. It’s the only reason I haven’t gotten rid of it. Yeah. Well, thank you again, Marianne, for coming on the podcast and to our listeners. 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. You can find show notes where again, we’ll link to Miriam’s Instagram, you can donate canine conservationists, you can join our Patreon learning club and book club all at Canine conservationists.org Until next time.
Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:06:13
Are you on Patreon yet? If you love this podcast and want to support it in the long term, Patreon is the way to go. I spend hours per episode researching guests writing out questions, recording interviews, posting on Patreon to engage with our patrons about all of those, cleaning up the audio and putting together all of the promotional materials. Even with the help of volunteers. This is an enormous task that takes up a ton of my time. And right now I’m not paid for it. For just $3 a month, you can support the show while also gaining access to our exclusive detection dog training video help calls which happened once a month, our learning club calls which are currently quarterly but I’m hoping to move to monthly and a lot more. You can join the fun over at patreon.com/canine conservationist or using the link in our show notes. You also may want to share this with anyone else you know who is interested in getting involved in the field of conservation detection dogs, because this is hands down the lowest cost way to get as much mentoring and assistance and joining the community of other professional and aspiring conservation detection dog handlers. And you’re gonna really enjoy it. See you there.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai