For this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla wraps up our discrimination series with a Q&A and provides some updates.
Science Highlight: None this week
- How to “mix” discriminants/control things into your one sample without containing it?
- Any good ideas for avoiding over discrimination/specification with limited samples?
- Should we swab the storage rooms?
- Any ideas for promoting generalisation across individuals, stages, phases with very few samples?
- Testing for generalisation vs. specification before imprinting on target /deploying?
- Is discrimination training something they always do as a training step before fieldwork? Why? Or is it something they do if there is a challenge in fieldwork? And especially: what is their preferred method to do the training? Line-ups or go – no-go or search type scenarios? Why?
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/k9conservationists.
By Maddie Lamb with the help of Chat-GPT
Megan’s Inquiry on Mixing Discriminants:
- Megan is conducting research on a rare underground orchid. To avoid contaminating her sample, suggestions included a jar-within-a-jar setup, double vials inside a jar, and Getxent tubes.
Training Dogs on Limited Samples:
- Concerns arise when training dogs with limited samples, especially ensuring they can recognize samples at various life stages.
- A key solution is training generalization: teaching dogs to identify related species and rewarding them for generalizing between similar odors.
- Megan considered swabbing the storage room for training, but it might not be essential in wilderness settings.
- For holding samples without contamination, the ‘TADD’ from SciK9.com was recommended.
Fieldwork in California:
- Dogs were trained to identify scats of specific carnivores: Puma, Bobcat, and Black Bear. There were initial mix-ups, with domestic dog scat mistaken for black bear.
- Crowd-sourcing through Twitter aided sample collection, receiving contributions from various places.
The Dual Nature of Discrimination:
- Discrimination allows dogs to distinguish between similar scents. The challenge is especially notable with visually indistinguishable samples.
- Barley tended to generalize over a wide range of scents, while Scotty was more precise. Both strengths were utilized: Barley for broad detection and Scotty for specific differentiation.
- Discrimination training’s application varies with the project. Kayla, initially not using it, now sees its value after exposure to its proponents.
- In the California project, while Barley generalized, Scotty was specifically trained to exclude non-coyote scents.
Barley’s Health Challenge:
- On a trip to El Salvador, Barley developed severe neurological issues, which were eventually diagnosed as tick-borne bacterial infections. Prompt treatment ensured recovery.
Adjustments to the California Project:
- Barley’s health crisis led to the introduction of Scotty, a Border Collie with strong detection skills, for the California project. Acquired in April, Scotty’s unique background and toy passion made him suitable for conservation tasks.
Research in DANGERMOND Preserve:
- In collaboration with notable entities like Nat Geo and Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, a carnivore diet study was conducted in the previously unexplored DANGERMOND Preserve. The objective was to understand carnivore diets and movement patterns.
Kayla’s Future Research:
- Kayla secured the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and will be joining Oregon State University. Originally targeting Kenya, she’s now considering research in diverse regions like Alaska, Central America, and California.
- Juggling professional responsibilities with personal commitments like weddings, Kayla underscores the essence of adaptability in her field.
Kayla Fratt 00:10
Hello and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast, where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every week to discuss ecology, dog behavior detection, training, and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt, one of the cofounders of K9Conservationists, and I am super excited to be here to do our wrap up episode on our discrimination series, our odor discrimination series, as well as update y’all on some stuff that’s going on here at K9Conservationists and in my personal life.
Kayla Fratt 00:38
So we’re going to start with the q&a from our patrons and students regarding our discrimination episode. If you’re interested in submitting questions like these, you can sign up for Patreon for as little as $3 a month at patreon.com/k9conservationists or by following the links in our show notes or website, you can also sign up for our course, which gives you access to the Facebook group where you’re also able to ask questions that may be read on the podcast.
Kayla Fratt 01:01
So we’re gonna start out with Megan, she’s got a bunch of questions. So her first one is how to mix discriminants or controls into your one precious sample. So Megan has been on the podcast before and has asked and has told us about her work with a super duper endangered underground orchid. So she is wanting to know how to mix these discriminants or controls in here one precious sample without contaminating it. She’s thinking about implementing a jar within a jar setup. So you’ve got the sample inside of a jar, the other sample in an outer jar, but then is worried about contaminating the sample jar itself. I actually really liked that idea. I wonder if you could even do two jars or even like two vials inside of a jar so that they’re not touching each other. You also could clean the outside of the jars. You could also consider using get sent tubes to try to multiply your sample so impregnate those get sent tubes with your one precious sample, and then use those tubes for the mixes. I would experiment with both of those. Because we don’t necessarily know exactly how those who get sent tubes are going to interface with these underground orchids, it might be a good thing to talk to get sent about. I know Gregory has said multiple times that he is very open to questions. And it might be something you even would want to experiment with and see how it goes with a tart a neutral odor if you have time to play around with that beforehand. But those are kind of my two ideas. I well. The Jar idea is your idea, Megan, and I really liked that idea. Because yeah, you don’t have enough of a sample to cut it up and separate it out or just have a bunch of different samples, some of which have been mixed with things like you know, wood or soil or other nearby plants in order to kind of create that more complete odor picture. This is something that Paul bunker talked about in his episode.
Kayla Fratt 02:51
Next up, Megan asks if we have any good ideas for avoiding over discrimination or specification when you have limited samples, so again, if you only have one or two precious samples to train with, how do you ensure that they animal that your dog is not just going to try to find, you know, say an orchid at that particular life stage on orchid that has grown in that particular soil type and be unable to discriminate out to other individuals or individuals that other life stages or you know, you could see this with, you know, hypothetically say you accidentally trained your dog only using scat samples from adult male Bob Cats. And then you don’t know whether or not your dog is going to spontaneously generalize to lactating female Bobcats or juveniles. So I think as again, Paul bunker described when he was talking about the work with a solid foundation, you could do something like training generalization. So potentially, in the case of this, this orchid, you could train to very closely related G A plant within the same genus, if that exists, or some other orchid species. And then reward the dog for generalization that may be tricky, because I understand this is a pretty unique species. I don’t know enough about this particular species to know if that would work. But that’s something that you could do, again, as Paul was describing, with training the dogs up on a couple of specific species, then exposing them to a new species and rewarding for generalization with the hope that then they will be able to spontaneously generalize to Salem. Again, it’s tricky. I don’t know enough about this particular orchid to know if that’s possible for you as far as finding other species that would work with work for that. But overall, I would be considering trying to reward logic leaps. So reward those times that the dog is able to make a guess, or generalize a little bit and I would reward that because in this particular case, for Megan, she actually would like a dog that is able to make that gas able to make that logically, that’s not always something that we’re looking for, as we’ve discussed in this series, but sometimes can be beneficial and maybe something that you would consider in this So I hope that’s clear. And Megan, knowing that you have three working dogs at this point or two operational dogs and one in training, I might consider doing some testing to see which dog spontaneously generalizes the best, or which dog is kind of your most liberal dog. And I might be considering doing preliminary early surveys and the highest likelihood areas with that dog so that you may be able to acquire more training samples to use on the other dogs.
Kayla Fratt 05:30
Next, Megan asks, Should we swab the storage room? So she is meaning Should we take some swabs collect the odor in our storage room to kind of train the dogs off of all of the contaminants that exists that exist in our storage room? I think you certainly could. I don’t think there’s any harm in doing that. It’s probably, it’s a good exercise. However, for me right now, I am not worried about those odors occurring in our operational environments. So I’m not necessarily going to spend my time training the dog actively to ignore them. Because while it’s a useful exercise, it is just not something that we’ve focused on because the dog is not going to be running into glass jars that I have touched in the field. And we need to ignore those. That is something that again, would be really good if your dog needs to, like stand up in court, or discriminate against glass jars, because they’re a TSA dog, and you don’t want them to alert to someone’s, you know, jam jars in their luggage. But for us out in the wilderness, generally not a thing I would be super worried about. That could change subject to change, as always.
Kayla Fratt 06:48
Next up, Megan asks, if we have any ideas for tactical glass jar holding device so that we can just grab the jars for training and not have to move the sample and degrade it? I think what you’re looking for here, Megan is a tad, which you can buy from psi canine.com. I know, Megan, you are Australian. And the exchange rate is tough right now. And shipping is probably not any better. But I think that’s what you’re talking about Tad’s are these kind of self contained odor containment does devices, they preserve your odor for longer than glass jar is. They have different occlusion lids that you can put on to allow more or less odor to come out. And they have some fancy one way valve sort of things. I’m obviously not super well versed on them. But I think they’re what you’re looking for. Because basically you can bury these things in sand and come back up and your sample is not contaminated. They sound pretty incredible. Otherwise, if you’re just talking about ways to like move your glass jars around without contaminating the outside of Gloucester, are we thinking about tongs? And Megan, as always, you have my whatsapp. If I’m missing this, just follow up with me.
Kayla Fratt 08:01
And then next up, she’s got two questions that I think are gonna have a similar answer. So one is any ideas for promoting generalization across individuals stages phases when you have very few samples. So quite similar to the questions you already asked. And then next up, how do you test for generalization versus specification before imprinting on the target or deploying? So overall, I think these two questions are both answered pretty well in Paul bunker’s episode. Um, they’re also touched on Caroline’s episode, I mean, they’re really touched on in all of these episodes, but I think those are probably the two most relevant. So I would say that as you’re following the protocol that Paul Walker describes for the salah to promote generalization. So again, kind of working with closely related species, and then rewarding the dogs for spontaneously generalizing, as you’re doing that training you if you’re taking good data are going to be able to see which of your dogs are doing that more easily more rapidly. And so I think by doing the training and taking good data, you will get the answer of which of your dogs are doing that well and doing that spontaneously.
Kayla Fratt 09:05
So I’m going to tell another story that kind of exemplifies this, that is related to the recent fieldwork that we completed in California which I will fill you all in more on shortly. But basically what happened was, so Barley and Scotty and I just recently completed a project in California where the dogs were tasked with finding the scat of a variety of carnivores, the main project focus where we’re Puma, bobcat, and a black bear. However, one of the researchers that we were working with was also interested in coyote so we’re gonna circle back to that in a little bit. But for now, we’re going to talk about bear because what happened was that we had several Puma, bobcat and black bear samples collected by our PhD student partner and a couple others mailed to a friend of mine, who then ferried them over to me in El Salvador so that we had our training samples. In the meantime, the labs sent these samples off for genetic testing to see what species they were. And I just kind of sat on the samples until we got confirmation that they were the species they were supposed to be. Particularly for bobcat, I wanted to be very careful to ensure that we were not accidentally training the dogs on what we thought was bobcat, but was actually Coyote. But something really interesting happened. The three bear samples that had been collected and were sent to us all came back from the lab genetically as dog. So and then when I opened, I finally opened the Mylar bags, I left them sealed just kind of for freshness. They were almost certainly domestic dog poop. So we had made a mistake in our collection. And by we I mean our very lovely PhD student partners. And they had accidentally collected some domestic dog. So we had no bear scat to train on, which normally would not be a problem if I were in North America, but I was in El Salvador. So it was very challenging for me to try to get hold of more black bear samples to use for the dogs. So I put out a call on Twitter, and managed to get a couple of black bears Scout samples collected and sent. So huge shout out to we had three different folks, one from the Yukon, one from Washington, and one from Albuquerque, New Mexico, all send samples into us. And then we also had our volunteers slash patrons, Alice and Maddie collecting samples as well. So one sample arrived before the other so I had access to that sample on day one, basically when the dogs and I were stateside. So we did a bunch of training with this one black bear sample. And then as soon as the other samples showed up, and I think the first ones we got access to after that one was from our volunteer slash patron Alice. What we did is we put those out in the environment in kind of a real search setup, released the release the dogs one dog at a time and watched for their reaction. What we saw was that barley immediately caught or odor did a really lovely nose hook came over and alerted with a lot of confidence. That’s classic barley, he is very sure of himself and his generalizing again, potentially to our detriment at times. Scotty similarly, caught odor nice nose hook source the odor and then spent a couple seconds sniffing it before kind of looking up at me and then lying down. So in both cases, they were able to spontaneously generalize. Scotty though showed a little bit more hesitation. And we just threw a big party for both of them. So we really, again, we had been working with this pretty dehydrated sample from Albuquerque, and then they were exposed to a quite fresh, quite stinky sample from California. And rather than taking that out and putting it in our kind of imprinting tubes, I put it out in the environment to test and my plan was had they not spontaneously generalized, we were going to click first sniff. And if we saw no change of behavior at all, they didn’t approach it at all, then we were going to take that step back and put them into our imprinting setup that I had with me. But we kind of I was able to get get enough confidence from the fact that they did spontaneously generalized to this other individual that we were on the right track. And then we continued doing that as more and more samples arrived in the mail, and ultimately ended up feeling really good about the fact that the dogs were pretty confidently, spontaneously generalizing from one individual bear to the next. So that was great, nice little. I hope that’s a helpful example there. So next up, we’ve got two questions from Jana. So Jana writes, quote, The discrimination theme in the podcast has been very interesting. It’s so cool to have the experts explain different options. I’m interested in hearing your summary of the interviews you had with practitioners doing fieldwork is discriminatory is discrimination training, something they always do as a training step before fieldwork? Or is it something they do if there’s a challenge in fieldwork? And especially what is their preferred method to do the training lineups or go no go to search type scenarios and a wide? So I love these questions, Jana and I think I might try to reach out to everyone who had had come on the show and see if they can give me a short written response. And if so, I will add that as an update in an upcoming episode. I will answer for myself based on everything I’ve learned here. And this has been a journey and a learning experience for me as much as the rest of you all at home. I think you all have heard me agonizing over this discrimination question on air for like a year now. And I have some thoughts and some experience but it was so great to learn from so many amazing experts. And here’s some of the struggles and questions and explorations that they are all experiencing as well. So I historically have not done discrimination training because again, my mentors didn’t promote it or teach it, we pretty much never did it when I was first coming up in the detection dog conservation dog world, which is why I was so interested in it, because I had not been taught it I had been taught more or less not to do it. And then would hear other people, both in and out of the conservation dog world doing it. And I was, you know, I trust and respect my mentors so much. So when I hear a fair number of people suggesting something otherwise, I, first I get defensive, and frustrated, and then I get curious. So this has been that exploration. So going forward, I am going to do more discrimination training, when it is possible and helpful. And by possible I mean, sometimes in the conservation dog world, we don’t have the permits, we don’t have the samples, or we don’t have the time to make something happen. So for example, with this bare example that I just gave, we didn’t have access to enough samples to really do the sort of training I would have liked to do. And that was because I live in El Salvador and the training samples were all in the States, and El Salvador’s mail system is not reliable. So nothing could be mailed directly to me, I also didn’t have access to zoos, or rehab centers, or kind of my normal network, I couldn’t just go to my North nearest National Forest and try to find bear samples myself. And had it been really important to, for example, do black bear versus grizzly bear discrimination, we would have been really up the creek without a paddle trying to figure out how to give the dogs enough examples of both species that they understood that it was grizzly, no BlackBerry Yes, because in that case, you would really want to have more samples, because if you just had one sample of grizzly, and one sample of black bear, i Your it may be challenging for the dog to determine why one is being rewarded versus the other. And the difference that they pick up on if you only have one example of each may not be the species, it could be reproductive status, it could be sex, it could be diet, could be any number of things, you would want more examples, and that’s not always possible. And then again, helpful. So for example, I would not bother spending my time discriminating between a black bear and domestic dog but for because they’re, I don’t expect them to be olfactory really similar or challenging for the dogs to tell the difference. And generally speaking, I would not expect myself to be tripped up by them visually at all. That is to say, you know, especially if you think about listening to Caroline’s episode, she did a really great job of explaining how she layers and discrimination using some different items first, and then moving closer and closer in kind of older profile or expected difficulty as the dog improves, so I’m not saying I would never bring domestic dogs Scout into training as a discriminatory stimulus. But I wouldn’t necessarily spend weeks trying to ensure that my dog who’s supposed to be finding black bear is not finding domestic dog. unless for some reason we had a problem with it because I’m not expecting that to be a problem. Because if it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem. Historically, again, I just haven’t needed to do it. You know, for example, on the wind farms when the dogs are finding birds and bats. I have not yet had a problem with my dogs consistently alerting to other decomposition. And even if they had I feel relatively comfortable handling out in the field, because it’s pretty easy to visually distinguish the two so barley highs alerted to a dead frog like once he alerted to the dead frog. I looked at it I said nobody that’s a frog search. He never got rewarded. He never really did it again.
Kayla Fratt 19:05
If for some reason I couldn’t tell the difference visually between dead frogs and bats, which is what we’re gonna get into now with the coyote Bobcat question than I would want to go ahead and do it. So coyote and bobcat, Coyote and Bobcat as well as coyote and red fox and red fox, bobcat, those three species in textbook examples you can tell them apart. Definitely. There there are examples where I have looked down and said okay, I feel pretty darn confident saying that’s a bobcat, or that’s a fox or that’s a coyote. However, when animals have upset tummies when scouts are old, when an animal has maybe been using a latrine, so there’s a lot of scouts mixed in together. If they’ve eaten something a little odd if it’s rained, all of these things can change the appearance of the sky. That’s, and then you might be getting, it’s very easy to get into a situation where it’s pretty challenging to tell the difference. So hypothetically, Bobcat scouts should be more segmented, and they should be very hard to the touch. So, in this recent project in California, there was a lot of putting on gloves and squeezing turds. And coyote scouts hypothetically should be more tapered, maybe a little bit bigger, less segmented. And if a scout contains grass or seeds, or berries, odds are very good. It’s not a bobcat. But there were a lot of times where we really weren’t weren’t sure. For this past project, what we did I really liked this. So barley, a very, very good spontaneous generalizer. Again, almost too good it can be. It has been challenging for us in the past. However, what we decided for this project because Hillary Young’s lab, did want coyote samples, rather than spending time that I quite frankly, didn’t have, as I said, we’re gonna get into some of the personal stuff in a minute here. Getting barley to tell the difference between coyote and bobcat, we decided to let barley generalized to coyote and then barley got to be our generalist dog. He now knows Coyote, he knows red fox, he knows bobcat, he knows all of the carnivores. And we just let him be that generalist, a because it plays to his strengths and be because it was beneficial to the project. Then, what we did with the Scottie was we did not let Scotty spontaneously generalize. So if there was any doubt in my mind as to what Scotty was alerting to, you know, looking at it, and there was any more than like a 20% chance that it was a coyote, we didn’t reward him. And we did not as aggressively reward him for kind of guessing, in training as well with known samples. And what we saw was that then we had one search area that we took barley out on for the first quarter mile and I kid you not y’all, he found close to 50 samples in the first quarter mile or so it was just coyote Coyote, Coyote, Coyote coyote every like couple of years. So we put him away after that, because it was just like, alright, we’re finding way too much even feeding him kibble. This is not necessarily helpful, and weak. There’s so much Scott that we can see it. We don’t really need a dog here right now. But what we would like is a dog who can come out and find all the non coyote stuff in this area, so that we can still see the coyote, we can still pick it up. Honestly, barley found us plenty of coyote. But let’s see if Scotty picks up anything that is non Coyote. So we pulled Scotty out of the car, took him out on a search and he passed up probably hundreds of coyote scouts easily hundreds of coyote scouts. And every so often probably every five or 10 minutes, he had the duck and right between his front paws, he had a scout that gosh darn it, it did look different. It was rounder, harder, more segmented, et cetera. And again, if there was any doubt between myself, the PhD student and her advisor, we did not reward Scotty and there was enough samples out in the environment that that was not a challenging variable, schedule of reinforcement for him, or intermittent schedule of reinforcement. But we were able to see that because there were so many coyote scouts out there Scotty was definitely ignoring lots and lots and lots of coyote Scott and finding us all of the other predators. So it was really useful for us to play into the dog strengths, and have different levels of generalization across this project. I don’t know if that really answers your question, Jana, because again, I think you were asking about kind of getting a poll from all of our practitioners. But I have not been able to ask that yet. So I hope that kind of explains how and when we’re thinking about discrimination going forward. We did collect a bunch of all of the samples and I sent them home with Heather so that she can continue doing discrimination work with Scotty to ensure that he stays off of coyote in the future. And again, we’re just choosing to let barley be a generalist, he is nine and a half he is getting closer and closer to retirement. So I am pretty okay with letting him just lean into his strengths for now. And not worrying too much about discrimination work. There may be an upcoming project where that is something that I do with him. And I would be eager to do that because it would be a fun challenge. But for this particular project, we were able to just make the decision to let him generalize. I am really excited to try out doing some more generalization stuff though based on all of these conversations that have been highlighted in this series.
Kayla Fratt 24:40
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Kayla Fratt 25:28
So those are the questions we have so far on the discrimination series. I have been thinking about this a lot because of this past California project and the ways that it did and did not come into play for us out in California. But now it’s time for some personal updates. So we’re gonna start out with the least fun news, which does have a happy ending, don’t worry. So on June Fourth, I was still in El Salvador. Bye barleys started showing some really scary neurological symptoms. The first thing I noticed is we were about to go on a walk. So I had him on leash, we were leaving the hostel that we stay at. And we paused I think we’re waiting for niffler and Danny to catch up or something. And when barly turned, he turned his front legs normally. And it was like his hind end just stayed in place and his back legs actually crossed. And one of his legs knuckled under one of his toe feet knuckle under and it was his left leg, which is his non surgery leg. So not the leg he just had his tplo done on in November of last year. And what I mean by knuckled under is that you imagine his paw pads were actually facing up and the hairy part of his toes were facing down. And he just stood there like that for a couple seconds. He didn’t notice. And that is a really distinct lack of proprioception that is very odd. That is never something I’ve seen before in him or really in almost any dog I’ve ever worked with, except for some extraordinarily old dogs that I’ve worked with in the shelter environment. So he was just a little bit clumsy. At first, it was just a little bit weird. And it seemed like only his hind legs and his tail were affected. So when he was walking or trotting, his tail carriage was a little like stiff and low. But over the next three days, those symptoms progressed to him falling over, struggling to stand up, tripping, if he tried to turn, et cetera. It was very, very scary kind of at its worst, if he was just standing, his hind end was just giving out and like he didn’t seem to know what was happening. But he was just like falling into a sit and he was, it was a totally sloppy set, like all the way rocked over onto one side, not his normal square set. And when he was getting up from sitting or lying down, you could really see he was hauling himself up and forward with his shoulders. He seemed happy enough and attentive enough but he was definitely lethargic and didn’t seem painful. In the hind end, there was no pain when I palpate it or massage his back, there was no pain when I palpate it or massaged or stretched his hind end. But he did have a couple of really scary falls as well. He actually, like took a pretty bad tumble out of the van on one of these days. So at this point, we’re on day three or four of this situation. And I am terrified. I don’t know if he is dying. I don’t know if he’s ever going to get his legs back. I’ve no idea what’s going on. It does not seem like there was an injury or a trauma of any sort. So I emailed Dr. Leslie is our kind of main veterinarian at this point in the States. She is a Sports Med veterinarian, though, so I knew this was not her area of expertise. But I just wanted to talk to someone I don’t want to talk someone in English right away.
Kayla Fratt 28:43
And Leslie, it was amazing. She was like pulling textbooks down off the shelf and we’re flipping through stuff. You know, we’re like looking at toxo we’re looking at tick borne diseases. We’re looking at tick paralysis. We’re talking about degenerative myelopathy. We’re talking about spinal lesions, we’re talking about spinal tumors we’re talking about, we’re talking about botulism, you know, and I literally I had multiple pages in my journal just written down with all the different hypotheses, and then the evidence for and against each of these. I had some of the worst panic attacks I have had in years and years over though, that day, and the next day, I mean, I was a disaster. Barley seemed to be worsening. But the good news was he did not seem to be worsening as quickly as you would expect for like botulism, he would have been dead already. And he also did kind of seem to be getting worse, a little bit too quickly for some of the other scary things like degenerative myelopathy or a spinal tumor. Things like a slipped disc or possibility, but it was odd that he wasn’t painful and we hadn’t noticed any sort of hit or anything. So what we did was we decided I was going to take him into the veterinarian. Luckily niffler had a root canal already scheduled because he had a couple broken teeth. And I call that veterinarian and she was willing to get us in. So we took barley and we did a full physical, we did a fecal, and we did bloodwork and what we found was that he’s positive for Ehrlichia and Anaplasmosis. Those are both tick borne bacterial infections. So we started medication right away, and he seemed to improve pretty quickly over the next two days. Pretty quickly, he wasn’t he at least wasn’t falling over. From a standing position, he still seemed a little uncontrolled and clumsy and his hind end, and then had a little plateau for about a week and then got a little better and then plateaued again. And then about three weeks in he plateaued for a little while longer. I am currently recording four weeks after starting his medication. So at this at this point, barley is able to trot and twist, he’s sitting and down lying down square. And his proprioception is improving quite a bit. So if I flip his foot over his hind feet over, he flips them back to the correct position within about a half second. So the great news is, at this point, we feel pretty confident that the tick borne diseases were the problem, period. If he were suffering from any of the other really scary things, he should not have improved for this much with antibiotics, he should not have improved this much at all. Antibiotics will not cure degenerative myelopathy or spinal lesions or a slipped disc. He is playing fetch. He’s bright, he’s goofy. He’s looking great. Right now again, about four weeks afterwards, we’re doing a two month course of antibiotics. And I’m feeling really good about where where we’re at right now. But this was incredibly scary and incredibly fast as a downward slide. I kid you not I had a video of him on May 29. Looking totally normal. I then got lasik surgery. So there I didn’t have any video between then and June 4. But by June 4, this dog looks like he was 17 years old. I mean, he looked like he was on death’s door. Just like physical mobility wise, we were thinking about getting him an MRI, but he has improved, so close to where he was on May 29, which is, again, pre symptoms that I’m at this point not planning on doing an MRI. And yeah, I am feeling a lot better about everything. Now I’m so incredibly happy and grateful to have my best buddy back. I love barley so much and would do anything for him. And, you know, I know that at some point, he’s going to need to retire. I know at some point he’s going to die. But y’all I was not ready for like the emotional turmoil of thinking that he was going to go from perfectly fine to like some sort of horrible, horrible downward spiral that we weren’t able to get him out of those four days in between the onset of symptoms and getting a diagnosis were some of the worst days of my life. And then even honestly, in the two or three weeks after that. It took to about three and a half weeks of antibiotics for me to feel like he had improved enough that I was pretty confident that this was the answer that it was the Ehrlichia Anaplasmosis. So I am planning on trying to do a tech safety episode for us all I’m going to try to track down a veterinarian because Barley was up to date on his bravecto he had a had a dose about five maybe six weeks ago before the symptoms started showing up. And that medication is supposed to be good for three months. These tick borne diseases are not supposed to be transferable when a tick is embedded for less than about 24 hours. So it’s odd that this all happened. We did find a tick on him the day two or three of symptom onset, it was dead, but it was embedded. So we are also in contact with Merck, which makes bravecto to see if they will cover his veterinary costs. Luckily, that quote unquote only came out to about $1,000. Mostly I’m just feeling very traumatized over the whole thing. I was pretty quiet about it on social media. But if you do want more consistent barley updates, the best way to get those is on Instagram at collieswithoutborders. That’s where I post things because we try to keep it a little bit quieter on the dog health front on the canine conservationist Instagram. So all of that relates into our California work though. Barley fell ill on June 4. I was flying with him from El Salvador to the United States. For him to start a project on June 10. We had already completed all of his international health certificate paperwork we had paid for it i had gotten him approved to fly on American Airlines. And we were six days. But by the time he got the diagnosis, it was June 8. So I was like 48 hours from flying out. And he was, you know, there’s not really any clear sign at that point that he was going to be any better. So on June 8, we had an emergency call between me and Rachel and Heather, where we kind of explored all our options. You know, we talked about do we need to cancel this project? Do we need to ask them to reschedule? Do we need to call some of the people in our cabinet you know, probably someone like rogue detection teams and see if they have any possibility to send a handler out and take over the contract for us. We obviously didn’t really like any of those options. We were incredibly excited about this project, which again, I will tell you about more shortly, but I’m trying to stay in chronological order as far as barleys through line.
Kayla Fratt 35:52
So what was decided was Heather now has two dogs. Now Ellie is her still still her main working dog there on the wind farms together. But she had also acquired Scotty, a two year old male Border Collie in April. Thanks to our hiring posts and a lovely connection through Facebook. We love Scotty he has proven to be an absolute natural at this line of work. He is out of hurting lines, but has been through three homes. We are his fourth home. Heather is his fourth home. He was a little bit too much for the first family. He went back to the breeder she tried to get him interested in sheep. All he wanted to do is play fetch. So she adopted him out to an agility home or sold him to an agility home. He was not interested in weave poles though he just wanted to stiff when he started. When Scotty started jumping fences at his new owners place, she decided that it was no longer appropriate for him to stay in her home. And when she saw Heather’s post and what we were looking for, she thought, Gosh, darn, this is a dog who has no interest in livestock, and no and only wants to run around sniffing things. But it’s also absolutely over the top in love with his toys. Heather drove out and met him picked him up. That was April. So now we’re on June 8 again. And we decided that I was going to collect Scotty from Heather and he was going to come with me on a big old road trip to go do this project. So luckily I was flying into Minneapolis and Heather was in Illinois at the time. So she was able to drive him to Minneapolis. We stayed in a hotel, I got to meet Scotty we did an introduction with barley and we hit the road together. We’ll talk more about all of that in a moment. But now I want to take a pause from the chronology of this through line to tell you more about this project I’m sorry this is a little bit disjointed. My notes are all over the place and you will you will understand why momentarily.
Kayla Fratt 37:49
So this project we are working with Nat Geo explore University of California Santa Barbara researcher, Dr. Ray wind grant, you might know her from the ologies podcast where she did a carnivore ecology episode she specialized in black bears for her PhD. She’s also studied lions and Tanzania. She is amazing. We love her. And we were absolutely thrilled when she reached out asking if we would be interested in working on a carnivore diet study in the DANGERMOND Preserve. So the Dangerman Preserve is a nature conservancy property. It’s about 25,000 acres. It’s just north of Santa Barbara. And it was recently acquired by the Nature Conservancy in the last five ish years or so. It had been privately owned for a very long time and The Nature Conservancy really wanted to buy it when it came up for sale, but did not have the funds for it. This was a obviously many millions of dollar sort of property. And Jack and Laura Dangerman heard that the name The Nature Conservancy was trying to purchase this property. They created ESRI which is a mapping software and had the money and they donated the money so that the Nature Conservancy could purchase this, this property. Again, it’s 25,000 acres its coastline its bluffs. It’s oak scrub. It’s gorgeous. There are so many foxtails plenty of ticks, plenty of rattlesnakes, but it is gorgeous. And one of the coolest things about the study that Dr. Grant, along with several others is conducting is that this area has never really been surveyed or studied by scientists. It has been in private ownership for a very very, very long time and again, just has never really been surrounded by again like settlers scientists, there’s plenty of indigenous knowledge of the area. And there it was inhabited by people before white people came around. But nobody has really catalogued this area or spent much time figuring out who’s there who’s eating what and who’s doing what. So Dr. Ray wind Grant was particularly interested in getting us to come down and having the dogs find scats of a variety of carnivores, although she’s primarily Are you interested in some of the bigger ones? Kind of across the preserve so that we can see what they were eating and where they were moving. And some of those other really basic questions. There are some other exciting things that may come out of this project. But that’s where we’re starting for now. And then through the process of getting scheduled with Dr. Wind grant, we also got a contact from Grace Lewin, who is a PhD student at the Berends environmental school at UC Santa Barbara, who is it and she’s in the young lab. So that’s Hillary young. And Hillary young and Grace Lewin, who we will hear about soon on the podcast, or we will talk to you soon for the podcast, are interested in kind of the complete carnivore community, what they’re eating and where they’re moving. So that’s why we weren’t just looking at the biggest of the big carnivores with Dr. Wind grant. But we also train the dogs to do some of those smaller carnivores, so the bobcat, and then in barleys case, also Fox and coyote.
Kayla Fratt 40:57
So that all kind of stuff ball started rolling in February, I actually did my exploratory call with Ray, back when I was in Guatemala. So my internet was really spotty, she was extraordinarily patient. And then we connected with grace and Hillary a little bit later on and started getting everything scheduled. There was a film crew on site. So we had some complicated scheduling. As far as coordinating with the NatGeo team, I cannot tell you much more about that. But stay tuned, it’s gonna be really exciting. That is just that as your teaser that as your tidbit. Can’t tell you much more than that for right now, but who it’s exciting. So that is kind of what this project was what we needed to do. Again, we started connecting with Ray back in February. But we didn’t have training samples on hand for me and barley until early May, which is plenty of time for imprinting for a dog as experienced as barley. But then, as I said, barleys health really fell apart very last minute for this project. So we did learn a lesson, no matter how short of a project we’re sending, we’re going out on from now on, we are always going to plan on to dogs going to any project. Because this was a really good reminder that things could go wrong at any point. And even though we only had five surveys planned with the Santa Barbara team, which was something that normally I would feel pretty comfortable with virally covering. Obviously, this was a great reminder that anything could happen at any time a dog could injure a shoulder jumping out of a car, they could tear a toenail, they could get a cold, they could get a foxtail up their nose. We are not planning on only sending one dog to a project, probably ever again. You know, I reserve the right to have exceptions in specific cases.
Kayla Fratt 42:47
So I pick up so we decided that Scotty is going to come on the project and I gosh, guys, I love Scotty he has a brilliant he is super duper sweet. He’s a little blue merle with kind of a split face most of one of his eyes, or one of one half of his face is almost all white with a little bit of eyeliner on his eye and then he’s got some spots on that ear and then the other face is got more typical Merle markings. He is the world’s cuddliest dog. And he is as naturally talented as barley, if not more, so he was already succeeding on the wind farm for Heather. Heather felt that she and Ellie could hold down the fort for a couple of weeks. And so as I said, I flew into Minneapolis, which I was already planning on doing because I had to pick up my Prius from my dad’s house. So our board member Rebecca Krueger drove my Prius from Ashland, Wisconsin, which is where I’m from to Minneapolis. So she and Heather and I had a very quick little brunch, get to know you thing with the dogs. And then I loaded up my mini Prius with two dogs crates, dog food field gear, and my clothes for two different weddings. And barley and Scotty and I started driving West, Scotty and Scotty and barley and I did to 10 hour days of driving to get from Minneapolis to Sun Valley, Idaho where one of my best friends was getting married. And we had this absolute whirlwind of a drive where every time I pulled over to walk the dogs to pee to get gas to get food. I pulled out our PVC snorkel tubes, and we did a quick training session. So every single time I stopped for gas, I was pulling both dogs out and I was introducing them to the Puma to the bobcat to the bear sample that we had. For Scotty this was the first time he was introduced to any of these target species. For barley. It was the first time he was seeing bear and bobcat was also new to him. And the Puma was new in that he had been trained on Guatemalan Pumas in the past. So those those Pumas had been eating, you know Scarlet macaws and howler monkeys and stuff. And then these Puma in from California are eating like wild boar and white tailed deer. And you know, in the meantime, so I’m doing a lot of cool Like treat for our initial introductions with these odors, particularly for Scotty, because the other thing that I realized very quickly is, you know, Scotty doesn’t know me, Scotty is not used to being handed around to different handlers. He has not done this before, before the way that barley has. He neither knows the game as well as barley does, nor has he been worked by a bunch of different handlers the way that Bartley house. So we had to do quite a bit of at anywhere that we could, there were some areas where I could do like an on leash, PVC snorkel training session with the dogs, but I couldn’t do a play session, I also had to do a lot of work on Scotties toys skills to teach him that he could bring the toy back to me that I would throw it that I wasn’t going to be mean about anything. Not that he’s necessarily had a bad or a hard or a scary life as far as we know. But he just is not a dog who kind of naturally trusts people with his toys, his toys are a big deal to him. And we had to do quite a bit of negotiation conversation, trust building toys, skill building over those couple days. So like our first 48 hours together were wild, it was 10 hours a day on the car with five or six different mini training sessions throughout the day.
Kayla Fratt 46:13
So then we get to Idaho, and I am kind of thrust into a maid of honor mode for this wedding that I was at. It was beautiful, it was perfect, best wedding I’ve ever been to. Doesn’t hurt that it’s two of my absolute best friends in the world who got married to each other. And as I said, I was in maid of honor mode. So I was still sneaking away to train the dogs, but I was pretty darn busy for the next five or six days. Luckily, my friends did choose to get married at a four H camp. That was several 100 acres. So I was able to pretty quickly start exposing dogs to much larger search areas as soon as they were ready for that and start kind of taking them out on to more naturalistic searches. And so luckily, we had no shortage of groomsmen and bridesmaids who would take my take the gloves, I handed them take the samples, I handed them and go hide them for me. So very quickly, I was able to particularly with barley start transitioning him to blind area searches. And as soon as Scotty was kind of ready with his imprinting, we were also able to transition him over to first known and then blind area searches. Luckily, again, both of these dogs are pretty good at this barleys extraordinaire is very experienced. So imprinting them was not super duper challenging. Although it was a pretty stressful whirlwind. And at this point as well, Barley was not very coordinated, he was able to sit and stand and walk and trot in a straight line. But if you asked him to twist or turn, you could see that he was still lacking coordination pretty profoundly. So I was still very stressed about his health at this point. And really uncertain if he was going to be ready to do this project at all, but wanted to keep doing the training in case he did improve. Part of that was almost certainly be me being in denial about his health status, and being very scared about that. But in the end, I’m glad I did because he did continue improving. As little as three days before our project started though I was not sure if he was going to be able to work. And then he did continue making really steady improvements through the miracle that are antibiotics. And he was cleared by by our vets to go to work, they basically said that the most important thing is to keep him moving and keep those neurons firing. So as long as he is comfortable, and confident and safe and happy, he could go to work.
Kayla Fratt 48:47
So after the wedding wrapped up, I drove from Idaho to California, did a couple more days worth of training before our volunteers slash patrons Maddie and Alice showed up and we did two days of field readiness testing together. So I had these two lovely ladies helped me set up some blind search areas for me where we had one area that was blank one area that was chock full of wild samples that we could use for discrimination as well as rewarding wild samples depending on the species that it was and start getting the dogs to use to their outfox head nets which Alice had so kindly picked up for us because we had heard the foxtails were bad. And you know rec specs and really like putting these rather last minute final touches on the dogs field readiness. We also did one day where we just did a lot of recall and emergency down practice with Scotty, trying to make sure that the dogs were where we would like them to be safety wise as well as odor and search strategy wise. And I’m going to be honest, this was not perfect. I would have liked to have spent a lot more time with Scotty really by perfecting his directionals his down at a distance, his recall. But we were really doing the best we could in an emergency situation. And he was at a place where I felt that he was safe and ready to work. But not where I would really like our dogs to be in the future for work. We were also in pretty close communication with Ray and the rest of the team about what was going on. And they were all very understanding about barleys health concerns and that that had put us in an odd position where we were bringing on a second dog that was a little bit less well prepared than barley, just in that barley had had a he’s got years and years more experience than Scotty he’s been doing this for quite a bit longer than Scotty has been alive. And that he had just had more time with the samples and more time for me to know that he was going to be doing this to brush up on any of the other skills. But they did well, Maddie and I even took the dogs down to a dog friendly beach and practice some shoreline searches to ensure that the dogs were a little bit more familiar with searching on sand. And they weren’t overly distracted by pelicans and waves and those sorts of things. So the dogs did great. So then we headed out and we did our fieldwork. We’re going to talk in more detail about that fieldwork when I have my upcoming interview with with grace and Hillary from the young lab. So I’m not gonna go into too much detail about the fieldwork. But just know it was a success. I’ve already given you a couple little stories about some of the discrimination and generalization things that happened or didn’t happen as part of this project. And it was so much fun I I was exhausted at the end of every day. And the dogs did, but the dogs did brilliantly. And I am just so thrilled that Barley was healthy enough to do this project really happily and comfortably. And he is continuing to improve even now and we’re hoping he will continue to improve going forward. So that’s that.
Kayla Fratt 51:54
Now let’s talk a little bit about my future and how that pertains to K9Conservationists because I have hinted at this in a couple episodes already, but I’ve recorded so many episodes, and they’re all coming out of order. I’m not really sure when and where I’ve talked about this and I want to give everyone a full update. So I won the National Science Foundation graduate research research fellowship. This is known as the NSF GRFP or just the GRFP or just the GRF. This is basically the golden ticket in graduate studies for American scientists. So last summer when I was on the wind farm, I spent every afternoon and evening after an app in a shower and lying sadly in front of the air conditioning for a while thinking about how sweaty I still felt. Writing the application for both the GRFP and the Fulbright. I proposed to return to Kenya and do a study with scat dogs to find the Scouts of all carnivores in the Magi community conservancy which is where action for cheetahs and Kenya has their field headquarters. Then the plan was to use that information from the scouts to create maps of activity based on dry season resources so shade and water to reduce human wildlife conflict as climate change and drought undermine long standing coexistence practices for the herders in the area. It was really curious to see as well, if you know more hyenas in the area predicted fewer Kara calls or you know if servos and chemicals avoided each other or you know any of these other kinds of dyadic relationships. I’m really interested in questions about kind of niche partitioning and these multi carnivore systems.
Kayla Fratt 53:29
Ultimately, I was awarded both the Fulbright and the GRFP, which is a huge dream come true, something I never expected to happen. Both of these grants are pretty big, long shots, and many, many qualified excellent proposals are rejected every single year. However, unfortunately, you can’t accept both funding opportunities at once because they’re both federally funded grants. The Fulbright is just one year of funding and the GRFP is a full ride for three years of graduate program, as well as a stipend that is pretty generous for grad school and covers all of your other school fees. So unfortunately, between the two, Well, Matt, not even necessarily unfortunately, but between the two, it was pretty clear that I was going to take the GRFP and turn on the Fulbright. So long story slightly shorter. I am heading to Oregon State University in the fall classes start in late September and I’m going to be joining tal Levi’s lab. So tal Levi is the adviser of Ellen dimmit, who we talked about and worked with in Guatemala. So you’ll remember her from our Guatemala Jaguar episodes. I’m superduper excited talls lab is huge in kind of the wildlife genetics world. It is in the Wildlife Biology Department. He’s an ecologist, a conservation biologist and his lab does amazing work and I’m super duper grateful to have the opportunity to join them. I won’t be doing My fieldwork in Kenya after all, because of some funding and logistical concerns with Kenya. Luckily with the GRFP, they understand that you’re going to propose a project and then it might not work out logistically, they’re really grading you on who you are and how well you write a scientific proposal and how well thought out that is that you’re not expected to complete it. So I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to be doing. We may be going to Alaska, we may be going to Central America, we may end up in South America, we may be going back to California to continue some of the work that I just described. We may do all of it. I don’t really know. At this point, we’re still working on funding and figuring out what’s feasible tall. I am so excited though he is a huge dreamer. He is very much so encouraging me to think big with my PhD and I’m going to be very busy for the next five years. getting that done. I am so excited, a little bit nervous. I’m going to be living with Ellen, as a roommate, we have a fenced backyard for the dogs, I’m going to keep the van but I am going to move out of the band. It’s all very exciting. I do expect to be continuing the podcast and Patreon and helping out with K9Conservationists as much as I can. But I am going to be relying much more heavily on Heather and Rachel as we kind of move forward into my PhD because I am sure that there are going to be long stretches of time, where due to coursework or writing or fieldwork, I am not able to keep up with all these things. So over the next five years, I hope that you all can share in my enthusiasm for my PhD by being a little understanding of episodes are late or we miss episodes. But I do really it is a priority to try to keep the podcast alive as I go through this program. And, you know, keep K9Conservationists alive and then when I am out the other end and I am Dr. Fratt I am really excited to dive back in full full bore with K9Conservationists and we are going to be so much better prepared to answer bigger and more interesting conservation questions and be just to better partners for all of our project partners going forward. Again, I am so incredibly excited. The GRFP is a huge long shot to apply every year. There are many, many, many qualified, smart applicants that don’t get the grant. And I am thrilled that I got it. We’ll talk a little bit more about that. And we’ve got an upcoming podcast kind of all about discrimination of the racial sort, as it pertains to the National Science Foundation and the GRFP. But for now, I can just say I’m incredibly grateful – I do not have the funds to go to grad school without being paid. And many grad school opportunities are pretty woefully underpaid in a way that was also going to feel unsustainable for me and tal is so supportive of canine conservationists, I’m definitely going to be doing dog stuff for my research. Barley is gonna get to retire. Throughout my PhD at some point, I’m really hoping he’s around to get his doctorate with me. But we’ll see. And niffler is going to be my main man for a lot of my PhD research, which is going to be perfect for him, he is going to need a big revisit to his foundational work. I’m really excited to have the opportunity throughout my PhD to take a step back with him and his training and reassess where we’re at. And not be necessarily needing to take clients money for his work for this period of time. Because I think his training was rushed. I think we all knew that myself included. And then particularly wind farms, teach dogs, some specific skill sets that don’t necessarily transfer over to all other conservation dog work. So I’m really excited to kind of revamp his training. Hopefully it won’t take too long to get him back on track and kind of ready to start stepping into barleys shoes as my main dog. And yeah, that’s those are the updates I guess, just to highlight exactly why I’m so tired.
Kayla Fratt 59:08
Now we are just rambling. We’re just talking now, we’re in our we’re deep into the parasocial relationship at this point. So we spent seven days total in California for the project two days for field readiness testing, five days of surveys. So seven days of work back to back. Thank goodness we had two dogs because they did need the brakes. Then I had another 20 hour drive. So I loaded the dogs up and we headed east, this time to Colorado. Luckily, this time, I didn’t have to train the dogs every single time we stopped for gas. So that was much less stressful. And we left California and we spent two days hiking with my mom and celebrating her birthday. So that was a lovely surprise. It worked out rather last minute that my mom was going to be in Colorado and I could go up and celebrate with Her firework we’re recording on July 5, sorry everyone. So we spent those two days with my mom in Colorado and then barley and Scotty and I drove eight and a half hours east to get to Lincoln, Nebraska because I had to get Scotty back to Heather. So the original plan was that Barley was also going to be handed off to another handler, our amazing patron Emma Lustig, who you have heard on the podcast as well talking about her first season working on the wind farm, but it ended up not working out that the project didn’t actually need another dog and because of kind of barleys health concerns, it was decided that he is going to stay with me. But we still needed to Scotty back to his mom. So we stayed at our board member Justin’s house. He treated me to a nice Fourth of July, dinner on just sleep honestly. Which was very nice. Got a good night’s sleep at in his spare bedroom. And then this morning, Heather and I met up and I handed Scotty off to her and they drove six and a half hours each way to pick him up and they did all of that in one day. So by now as I record, they are back home they are with Ellie. I’m sure Scotty is very happy to be back with his with his real family. And it’s just me and a barley. Now we are back in Colorado. So I drove seven hours back today. And now I have tomorrow I’m picking up some friends from the airport and we are going back into the high mountains of Colorado for wedding number two, all of my college roommates are getting married. So we are just too deep in wedding celebration season. I’m very excited for the wedding and barley is going to be staying with a Sittard throughout this wedding because it is not a dog friendly venue. And then I pick him back up in a couple of days. And we fly back to El Salvador barley has all of his health certificates squared away and he’s just going to come with me back to El Salvador. And we’ll spend a little bit of time there before I start mosey my way back northward in time to start classes.
Kayla Fratt 1:01:59
So that is our full life update. I hope you understand why I am tired. I hope you understand why we’d missed an episode for Fourth of July. But we do have lots of lots of exciting episodes planned for y’all. I do as I said really want to do this tick episode. So if you know of any vets who for some reason are really into tick borne diseases, send them my way. I also would really like to do a foxtail safety episodes. If anyone knows anyone to talk to about that. Hit me up and you can always send me guests suggestions. But until next time, you know where to find us online. We’re at K9Conservationists.org. Go buy a bento box, go sign up for Patreon, I don’t know buy a sticker for Pride month we still have them in our store because I have not time to take them down. If you buy a sticker there cool holographic plot pride flag logo stickers. We will donate $1 from each sale to trans lifeline. And with that, get outside me a K9Conservationist. I missed podcasting. It’s good to talk to y’all. I wish you guys could talk back. Okay. All right.