Pre-Guatemala Fieldwork Discussions with PhD student Ellen Dymit

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Ellen Dymit before their fieldwork in Guatemala.

Science Highlight: None

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Barley’s First Find

Where to find Ellen: Ellen’s Twitter | Taal’s Twitter

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

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Ellen Dymit’s Ecological Journey:

  • Began in pollination ecology at Emory University, leading to fieldwork in the Rocky Mountains.
  • Her transition to studying larger vertebrates included an honors thesis on salamanders and a Fulbright in Norway focusing on Arctic Foxes.
  • Currently, a PhD student at Oregon State University, Ellen specializes in non-invasive genetic sampling of carnivores, particularly coastal wolves in Alaska.

Project in Guatemala:

  • Originally focused on Jaguar conservation and diet analysis, expanded to include arboreal camera trap monitoring.
  • Upcoming project involves Scarlet macaws in collaboration with her lab.

Challenges in Scat Collection:

  • Contrast in fieldwork challenges between Alaska and Guatemala due to the dense tropical environment.
  • Issues include camouflage, animal burying behavior, and rapid degradation of scats in the humid climate.
  • Odor dynamics in dense vegetation presented challenges for the dogs, with Niffler and Barley adapting differently.
  • Challenges arise when training dogs to differentiate within a category, like finding meso-carnivores while ignoring apex carnivores.
  • Ellen and Kayla discuss the issue of searching for scats in trees, given that many target animals in her project are arboreal, emphasizing that dogs trained on ground-level scents may struggle with elevated scats.

Introduction to Conservation Dogs:

  • Discovered idea of using conservation dogs in Norway, intrigued by their potential for large-scale scat searches.
  • Collaborated with Kayla Fratt to integrate conservation dogs into her Guatemalan project.
  • Ellen hoped the dogs would find hidden or off-trail scats that humans might miss.
  • Apprehensions included the rainforest setting, potential danger from snakes, and uncertainties about how scent travels in the jungle.

Generalization of Targets:

  • Discussion on training dogs to detect multiple target animals and scats from different species.
  • Common in conservation dog work, with dogs often able to generalize within broad categories.

Preparation and Balancing Fieldwork:

  • Focus on acclimating dogs to the heat, maintaining fitness, and monitoring signs of distress during fieldwork in challenging environments.
  • Strategy involves a maximum of two hours of work per day per dog, with breaks and close monitoring for signs of fatigue or stress.

Connecting with the Research:

  • Listeners invited to follow Ellen on Twitter (@EllenDymit) for project updates, and her advisor, Taal, at (@TaalTree).

Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt 

Hello, and welcome to the K9Conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every week to discuss ecology, odor and dynamics, dog behavior and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt, one of the cofounders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to protect data for land managers, PhD students, conservation associations, and anyone else who needs conservation detection dogs.

Kayla Fratt 

Today, I’m joined by the lovely Ellen Dymit to talk about the work that we’re doing here in Guatemala, as well as specifically some of the research she’s done in the past and how we’re hoping dogs are going to be able to help out with that. Before I get into it, we don’t have a science highlight today, nor do we have a review highlight that is partially because we are recording in the field vehicle. We are in route to Tikal right now. Toni is driving, you may hear us hit speed bumps, rumble strips, be passed by motorcycles, the engine coming and going, we’re going to hopefully finish up this episode before we hit the gravel roads. We are way too tired at the end of each field day to do a recording at the end of the day. So we’re doing it and route to work.

Kayla Fratt 

So Ellen, why don’t we start off with give us kind of the highlights of your CV? Tell us a little bit about your history as an ecologist and if it fits in well, why don’t we start out with talking a little bit about this project and what some of your goals are here.

Ellen Dymit 

Awesome. Thanks, Kayla. So my journey in ecology I guess started when I was an undergrad at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. And I started by working in a pollination ecology lab with Dr. Barry Grossie where my first fieldwork was conducted in the Rocky Mountains at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory studying phenological mismatch between flowering plants and snow melt timing and their pollinators. And after that, I kind of decided I wanted us rank up a little bit started studying bigger vertebrates. So I did an honours thesis project with salamanders and then following my graduation I did a Fulbright in Norway, where I focused on studying Arctic Foxes.

Ellen Dymit 

And then after completing my Fulbright year, I was awarded the NSF GRFP and took it to Oregon State University where I am now a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Taal Levy. My research there is mostly focused on non invasive genetic sampling of carnivores so I have sort of two field projects going on. One is in Alaska and southwest Alaska, specifically into the national parks Katmai National Park and Lake Park National Park. And my work there is focused on coastal wolves and in particular their utilization of marine resources. So what that looks like on the ground is me flying in a super small plane and landing on the beach and then camping for two or three weeks at a time while I walk across the landscape and try and find as much wolf scan as possible to collect. Later on in the laboratory, back at OSU, I analyze these wolf scats using DNA meta barcoding and something called SNP genotyping, which allows us to not only see what every single wolf has eaten, by using the prey DNA and scat, but also allows us to identify individual individual wolves with a sort of genetic fingerprinting method.

Ellen Dymit 

Here in Guatemala, I have a somewhat different project that is using a lot of the same methods. But I initially came down here because they wanted somebody to help with Jaguar conservation work, and in particular Jaguar diet work. So collecting Jaguar scats and doing that same DNA meta barcoding to figure out what they are eating in the biosphere reserve of Guatemala. But since I came down here, the project has expanded quite a bit. Now we have some arboreal camera trap monitoring of smaller carnivores, we decided to collect scats of Ocelot, Houma, Tyra and other carnivores as well just to do a whole food web reconstruction rather than being focused on one species. And in the future, a couple of months here, I’ll be starting a new conservation genetics project for Scarlet macaws that I’m doing collaboratively with another member of my lab.

Kayla Fratt 

Gotcha. Well, thank you for that. And so why don’t we dive into a little bit more of kind of what your fieldwork has looked like here in Guatemala in the past and kind of what it looks like to actually go out and try to find some of the carnivores scouts in this environment? What’s worked well what some of your struggles have been. And yeah, take us through this project and your last field season in a little bit more detail as much as you’re able to share?

Ellen Dymit 

Well, I think that the best way to explain the difficulty of finding carnivores scats in the tropics is to contrast it to my work in Alaska. So I’ll actually just start by explaining what that’s like a little bit. Like I mentioned, we get dropped up on these meat beaches and the landscape is very open. It’s large sedge Meadows edged by shrubs and trees but given that it’s, you know, Tundra adjacent Alaska, in between the mountains and the sea there on the Alaskan Peninsula, there isn’t a ton of thick forest or even thick underbrush. So most of the time we’re walking on bare trails where it’s pretty obvious to see when there’s a lot Just get sitting in the middle of the trail, that is the last of us to collect over 1200 stats just as a human only search team because, frankly, they’re very easy to see most of the time, especially if they’re, you know, in the search meta or on the vacation.

Ellen Dymit 

Now in Guatemala, it’s quite different. If you picture sort of the thick Condor growth of a jungle setting, combined with all the detritus that’s on the trail of the dead leaves, and sticks and rocks and everything. Not only is there a lot more to camouflage the scouts, but there’s also a lot more stuff for the animals to sort of hide and bury them under. And given that our research here is focused mostly on cats, a lot of the times we’ll encounter scats that are mostly buried by the cats, because after they defecate, they like to do that anyone with a capital letter box has probably seen this behavior before.

Ellen Dymit 

So right off the bat when I came here last year, we were having a lot more trouble encountering scouts here, opportunistically, we’re probably passing by a lot of them on the trail and not even noticing. And on top of this sort of obfuscation of the stats issue, we have the fact that we are in the tropics, it’s incredibly hot, humid, stats degrade really, really fast here, we don’t actually have a real estimate for how long they are on the ground. But it’s definitely weeks, if not months, less time than they would persist in the environment someplace like Alaska. So our window to actually find fresh carnivore scouts here and to sample scouts that even if you still can’t find them, we’ll have enough DNA in them, for us to be able to work with is much smaller, it’s a lot more difficult here.

Kayla Fratt 

Gotcha. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And it tracks with what we’ve seen already.

Kayla Fratt 

And so we’re about to head into our third day of fieldwork; I was really hoping to get this episode done before Ellen had ever had the chance to see the boys work. But we didn’t manage to make that happen.

Kayla Fratt 

And I’m really glad that you mentioned as well kind of the difference, this difference between feeling and canine scat or defecation behavior. And especially as far as yeah, there’s just so much leaf litter here that even if fields weren’t necessarily trying to bury their scouts, it still would be very difficult, safe. But then when we do have the added component of these guys potentially putting leaves or detritus or whatever else that they can scratch off on top of their scouts. It’s just really challenging.

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Kayla Fratt 

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Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, so why don’t we dial that down a little bit and talk a little bit about scat dog. So what do you what did you know about scat dogs before starting this project? And why were you interested in bringing scat dogs into into this project? Or was this even your idea was as tall as idea? Where did this all come from for you?

Ellen Dymit 

So how did I learn about conservation dogs? Well, when I was living in Norway, studying the foxes, I was at a party casually talking with someone about my work and I mentioned that it’s very poorly known what Arctic Foxes eat and oh, we so badly need a meta barcoding study of arctic fox scat. And just in this conversation, this friend of mine sort of offhandedly mentioned, pay somebody who I went to school with actually has dogs that she works with at the time. I think it was just one dog actually a dog that she works with who is able to help find things like scouts, for example, and would you like to talk with her? And lo and behold, that was actually Kayla, and we through this a small world connection all the way in Norway, we’re able to have a phone conversation and when she kind of explained to me what conservation canines were, what was it, you know, involved in training them how I might consider training one of my own; fast forward, that didn’t actually happe, because turns out it’s extremely time consuming as I’m sure most of you listeners know. But yeah, that was kind of my introduction.

Ellen Dymit 

Funnily enough, it was through Kayla, and now fast forward. I’m working here with her. So then when I joined Taal’s lab at OSU, we already had a lot of lab members who were employing conservation dogs services to do sort of large scale scat searches over the course of an entire field season and turning up hundreds if not 1000s of scats projects in Eastern Oregon in particular and on the Oregon coast in the dunes to collect bobcat and bear and coyote and Fisher and Martin scat. So the whole concept of using conservation dogs to discover scat It was already something that people were talking and thinking a lot about in my lab. So it was on my mind. And when I went to Guatemala the first time and realize that, you know, I can search for four months, but only turn up around 50 Jaguar scouts by myself, that it was time to get a dog crew involved. So of course, I had to reach out to my original introduction to the conservation dog world, Miss Kayla, and now we’re here together.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, and part of this, and I think this has mentioned in the kind of update episode that should be airing before this. But it also just ended up being quite sound evidence that I am physically in Central America at the same time as your field research, I hope that this could have worked out otherwise. But it certainly made it easier than I was literally driving distance from the field site, instead of instead of having to do international flights with the dogs. So I’m pretending that we haven’t done these couple days of fieldwork, because I’d like to do another episode with you to kind of right at the very end of our work here. And in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. What are some of kind of the hopes that you have for having worked for working with these conservation dogs and any questions that you have?

Ellen Dymit 

Yeah, when I went into this, I had never seen conservation dogs work before. So I really didn’t have any expectations. Other than that, we should find more stats. And in particular, that we should find some scouts that would either be impossible for us to see with our own eyes like scouts, the cats have buried underneath the leaves and litter, or scouts that are off trail because when we’re walking especially in these pretty remote areas of the rainforest, we tend to not leave the trail just for safety reasons. There’s snakes, dangerous plans and other things that you don’t want to run into out there. So you might miss a lot of scats, especially from the smaller cats, because things like Pumas and Jaguars tend to use human trails a lot, but the smaller animals might meander a little bit more and might be dedicating more often off of the trail.

Ellen Dymit 

So I was expecting the dogs to be able to find scans that we can’t find for many reasons. And then I was also a little bit apprehensive about dogs working in the rain forest setting given that something like a snake might react differently to an rapidly incoming dog compared to a human walking by with boots on. And also things like thorns and dangerous plants and just the pure density of the undergrowth, I was a little bit uncertain about how the dogs would do in that sort of setting. I also don’t know so much about how scent travels. I was introduced recently to the term sent colons. So it seems like there is an entire terminology around this phenomenon that is very interesting. But one thought I did have was that the humidity and context of the jungle might make scent work a little bit different. I wasn’t exactly sure how. But I guess the concern that I also had would be that it would be more difficult, especially after something like crush rain, maybe for dogs to find a scat in the jungle.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, and I think we have a lot of the same hopes and a lot of the same worries as well, as people will have heard in my kind of preparatory episode for this project, you know, snakes were the biggest thing that I was most worried about. And then you know, ensuring that the dogs are successful in this environment is kind of secondary to making sure they don’t get bitten by any snakes. And you know, in talking to some of my mentors as we were preparing for this project. And luckily I also I had applied for a Fulbright last year to go to the Amazon and do very similar work to this. So also looking at kind of neo-tropical feline scat collection. I had done quite a bit of conversations with folks at like Skylos Ecology and Working Dogs For Conservation and other folks who have done quite a bit of work in the tropics, around the snakes. And as well as kind of asking a lot of questions about how odor tends to behave and these sorts of environments.

Kayla Fratt 

And in a lot of ways working in these Neo tropical jungles is actually really ideal as far as scent transport goes because the high humidity and relatively low wind means dense vegetation means that there’s quite a lot of volatility in the odor, but it’s not necessarily moving super duper far; it’s getting kind of trapped based on low winds and high vegetation in areas. So one of the things that we’ve seen a little bit so far is niffler struggling a little bit with some of these kinds of clouds of odor because it’s not really behaving in a typical scent cone fashion, particularly when compared to like a big open wind farm where niffler has had most of his experience, but it’s been cool to really see barley sorting that out very well. And so far actually Niffler has found several possible latrine sites and is working through it well, but it’s definitely been interesting to see kind of the more versus less experienced stuff dealing with some of these, some of these different odor dynamics. But again, so far the odor dynamics haven’t seemed to be our biggest problem.

Kayla Fratt 

Which, again, we’re going to do a recap, instead of the answer, we’re going to try not to get too much into what we’ve seen so far. So I guess, you know, as we’re maybe rounding out here, this is gonna be a nice short episode, did you have any kind of questions or things that you wanted to pick my brain about? Or maybe even just for the sake of listeners, things that you’ve already asked me or already picked up that you think someone in your position who’s kind of considering conservation dogs, but hasn’t yet worked with them might want to know.

Ellen Dymit 

One thing that I’m still sort of wondering about even after the couple of days of work that we have completed here, and I know we’ve discussed this a little bit already, but I’d be interested to know, if you could speak more about dogs being able to generalize multiple target animals and detect a multiple scats coming from different defecators at the same time. So in a lot of instances of conservation dog work that I am familiar with, from my lab mates or other people in the scientific community that I’ve read papers from the dogs have been focused on detecting scat or something else from one animals specifically, versus with my project we’re looking for, you know, any fields that we find plus mustelid, scat plus, you know, gray box and coyote, if we find it, we’re really just looking for any of these large terrestrial carnivores. So, um, yeah, what do you think about training dogs to detect multiple species rather than just one?

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Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, this is a great question and a really common one as well. So generally, what we’ve seen in kind of the world of conservation dogs, is that having dogs detect multiple targets at once, is generally considered helpful and useful. What it seems to be for a lot of these dogs is that they’re able to understand a broad category of things. So particularly in our case, we’re looking for predators, and those are the ones that dogs are able to kind of pick up on. Okay, there are similarities between these groups, particularly like the fields are going to be old factorials most likely quite similar, though we did talk about how like the the Tehran’s which are on the Stellan are probably going to be quite different are omnivorous canines might be a little bit different. But as they go, it can be helpful to have dogs that are better at generalizing than others. And that’s something we’ve also talked about on this show.

Kayla Fratt 

So as I’ve said before, Barley is a very good generalizer, which can be both a good and a bad thing. But it has been really helpful here. So far, we’ve already seen him having more success than Niffler. And I think a huge part of that is his experience, but also a huge part of it is his personality, and that when we trained him on a bunch of dehydrated Jaguar scouts, and then took him to the jungle, and he ran into his first super fresh ocelot scat, he was much more skilled at being able to be like, Oh, this you want this says well, versus Niffler is much more of a ticket literally sort of dog. And I think he may be struggling a little bit more with this generalization from old, dehydrated one species to fresh on dehydrated different species of scat.

Kayla Fratt 

As I do expect, as we’ve said, we’ve only had two days of fieldwork, I expect that to continue getting better for both dogs. And in an ideal world, we actually would have probably gotten here a couple days earlier and had a couple days off training. Before we actually expected the dogs to be fully operational, which I know we’ve talked about, we feel good about where we’re at. But yeah, so generally, multiple species – not a problem.

Kayla Fratt 

A lot of times dogs do seem to kind of pick up on these categories. What can be really challenging is if, for example, we wanted the dogs to only find all of the meso-carnivores but ignore the apex carnivores, or find gray fox and all of the fields but ignore coyote or things like that it can be a little bit more challenging to kind of get them to say everything in this category except for one thing or maybe half of this category can be a little bit more challenging versus what we’re actually doing Norbert has a lot of opinions about this apologies to everyone at home because of very vocal. Versus what we’re doing where we’re kind of open to and accepting of anything within this category of carnivore you know, if Barley were to start generalizing to monkey feces, for example, that might be a problem. But luckily, we’re in a situation where that shouldn’t be visually distinguishable and anything that he would alert to that fell in the monkey category, we’d be able to say no about it. Sorry, we’re not going to reward you for that and hopefully be able to nip that in the bud pretty quickly.

Kayla Fratt 

The only other caveat I’ll put into this kind of multi species discussion that can be problematic and this is something that we had talked about in our preliminary calls as well. If hypothetically we were in an area where there was just an infestation of gray foxes or coyotes and they were kind of, they’re kind of like a tertiary level of interest for you with your project. Having dogs who are trained on all species may, can kind of reduce their efficacy with those rarer species, if there’s just a ton of something that’s much, much more common in the area. And mostly, that’s just kind of like a time and energy spent sort of thing for the dog.

Kayla Fratt 

But again, this is all it’s so nuanced. And I’m going to try not to just keep going in circles on it. Because on the flip side, if something is really rare, so for, say, for example, we expect to only find a Jaguar scat every week or so. In that case, it’s incredibly helpful to have the dogs cross trained on multiple species to ensure that the dogs have kind of these wins every day, and that they’re able to remain focused and have success in the field. So it’s just kind of there does get to be maybe like a point where there is so much of this for common species that’s less important to a study, that could be problematic, but where we’re at right now, and especially with your project goals, I think we’re in really good shape. And generally with these kind of big carnivore projects, it’s considered best practice to have the dogs trained on a variety of species.

Ellen Dymit 

Cool. Another question I had, is that a lot of the animals I am looking for scats from for this work are arboreal, meaning that they spend most of their time in the trees, for example, margai, which are a small conjugator cat of ocelots, and Tyra are both animals that spend most if not all of their day, up in the treetops. And that means that they’re like getting deprecating up in the tree and also marking the base, the trunks, the branches of trees, with urine as well as scat. How does that sort of third dimension of having scats up in the sky almost from the dogs perspective impacts their ability to detect things we can actually collect?

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, this is a great, this is another great question. And I think the long of the short of it is it makes it harder. If you’ve got a scat, that’s three meters up a tree, or 10 meters up a tree, or, you know, just anything that’s much above kind of dog standing on legs level, that is almost certainly going to reduce detectability for the dog, particularly if that’s just not something you’ve spent a lot of time training on with the dogs, which it hasn’t been for either of our dogs, neither neither Barley nor Niffler are kind of experts in suspended elevated, you’re really, really high as sorts of targets.

Kayla Fratt 

And then the other thing that we tend to see even in those situations is say that there was a scat that was three meters of a tree, which you know, hypothetically, that’s not that high, that’s like, you know, 10 feet, maybe 11, I don’t know, meters two feet. But we might see that dogs kind of showing a bunch of interest in circling and casting their noses up, and we might even see them alerting. But if we’re not able to find that scat, because again, it’s 10 feet up a tree, we can’t necessarily reward the dogs and in pretty short order, we wouldn’t be able to accidentally train the dogs to not find those elevated scats.

Kayla Fratt 

And then one of the other things that we’ll run into is just odor dynamics. So if a scat is three meters up a tree, and it’s warm, so he rises, which means our air is potentially rising up these trees. And we can call this there a variety of different odor dynamics, things that can cause heat to rise. So it could be chimney and off the side of a tree. It could just be getting some convection, thermals, all sorts of different things, we might just be in a situation where if this dad is two meters off the ground, and they’re the odor is completely unavailable to the dogs because the odor is rising.

Kayla Fratt 

So there’s a variety of reasons that it could be really challenging for these dogs to, or really any dogs to find something that is in the trees. And again, even if they were able to find it, we have actually seen barley in particular showing interest kind of casting off and checking around bases of trees. We think he’s probably looking at some latrine sites or urine at this point. But there is a chance that there is a scat two meters up a tree and we haven’t been checking for those. So it’s entirely possible that he’s been correct, or could be corrected at some point in the future and we just wouldn’t be able to find it and therefore wouldn’t be able to confirm it.

Ellen Dymit 

You probably talked about this on the podcast before but I feel like since we’re talking about scat work in the Neo-tropics I need to bring up the heat issue as well as the hazards of snakes and plants being present. What considerations and preparation did you have going into our fieldwork here to make sure that the dogs stay safe and cool while working out in the jungle?

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, so our biggest thing that I was able to to do ahead of time, once again, luckily, I was already in the Neo-Tropics I crossed into Mexico on November 1 or second, and it is now February 8. So the dogs have been in the neo-Tropics now for several months, and we’ve been kind of doing our daily walks and our workouts and our runs, and all of those sorts of things in the heat and really helping them get acclimated to the heat, which there is a fair bit of research behind that being really, really instrumental to helping prevent heatstroke is just making sure that the dogs are automated. That’s a huge issue for like military working dogs, if they spend all their time in air conditioned training units in the US, potentially, it’s winter in North Carolina and the dogs fly over to Iraq, and are in the desert. That can be a really big issue for these dogs.

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Kayla Fratt 

So there’s some great information out there from the veterinary town school group. They’ve got a free webinar on heat injury and working dogs and can really recommend any interested listeners to check out. So acclimation has been part of it, making sure that their fitness is where it needs to be. For Barley, one of the things I do a lot of is I make sure I’m brushing him consistently heading up to fieldwork, he is a long haired Border Collie. So making sure that I can remove as much of his undercoat as needed. And make sure he’s not just carrying around an extra winter coat can be really helpful.

Kayla Fratt 

And then as far as our search strategy goes, it’s getting up and getting at it as early as possible. So far, that’s been a real struggle here, which we can talk about a little bit more, but because of our permits, and because we’re working in really highly sensitive areas, we need to have chaperones with us in the field. And that means that we have to work around their schedule. So in an ideal world, we would probably be driving to our field sites in the dark, getting there at dawn and starting our field research. You know, at dawn, as soon as it’s kind of physically safe and possible to be doing our work, we haven’t been able to do that.

Kayla Fratt 

And so far, I’ve actually been really pleasantly surprised with both how the boys look in the heat, and how the heat has felt kind of in the really dense understory here. So far, we haven’t had a day where I felt like it’s unsafe for the dogs to be working. And then in the real moment as the handler, I’m just keeping a really close eye on the dog. So I’m looking for things like spatula tongues, or spatulate tongues. So that’s when the tip of the dog’s tongue as their panting gets really, really fat, it kind of looks like a soup spoon. And if that happens, you know, making sure we’re taking lots of breaks, the dogs are drinking lots of water, I’m monitoring to make sure that they are peeing, and that their pee looks normal, and potentially even smells normal. Not that I’m sniffing their pee. But when they are really dehydrated, if I’m close enough, I can tell right away from the odor.

Kayla Fratt 

And yeah, again, just really watching the dogs and making sure that we’re we’re communicating with our partners who the crew that we’ve been with have been really good about kind of checking with me when we reach a fork in the trail about okay, do we need to take the dog back now? Do we need to swap dogs? Do we need a break? Or are we going to keep pushing on. So it’s it’s kind of this constant dance constantly monitoring. I, when I left the US was not anticipating doing fieldwork in Central America. So I don’t have things like the dog cooling coats with me. Although what I’ve also kind of heard anecdotally and seen with my own eyes is that cooling coats don’t tend to work as well in really humid environments. Because they work off evaporation. If you’re in an environment where the air is already practically saturated with water, they just don’t tend to work nearly as well.

Kayla Fratt 

So yeah, it’s just kind of a lot of a lot of monitoring ahead of time trying to make sure that the dogs are fit, ready to go. With Niffler, I guess the last thing I’ll throw in there. And we’ve also been searching with Niffler on his 30 foot long line, especially in the beginning to kind of try to help reel him in he gets so excited to search that he really wants to run at full speed, which A) is less efficient and B) really burns him out very quickly. So he’s been working a lot more on his leash versus barley has been able to search off leash so far. Continuously. Does that answer your question?

Ellen Dymit 

Yeah, thanks. I guess I only have one last question, which is when working with two different detection dogs, you’re only one Kayla. So how have you sort of balance their efforts over the course of the day to make sure that both dogs are getting to work but also that we’re doing that balancing in an efficient manner?

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, I mean, first off, I’m just really really grateful that Barley is able to work because I think this would be very challenging to do with just one dog. No matter how amazing difference it would be challenging to do with one dog. So what we did on the first day was we took Barley out, and my decision to take Barley out as our first working dog was primarily around not really knowing exactly what this field work may look like, not knowing how many people we were going to have shadowing us etcetera, and wanting to take the dog out that I knew would react well to anything we threw at him, get a good idea of what this research actually looks like. And then come back for Niffler. So that was really helpful.

Kayla Fratt 

And then now what we’ve been doing is if they’re struggling more with waiting, so we’ve been searching first with Niffler. And second with Barley, we’ve been aiming to do maximum of two hours of work per dog per day. So that means we’re kind of going out monitoring on the GPS and our clocks to see exactly how far away we’re getting, how long it’s been. And then also really monitoring based on the dogs taking breaks as needed. And returning to the van as needed, we’ve also kind of allowed the dogs as needed on our return to the vehicle to stop working, if they really need that break, and we just turned around a little bit late, but still needs to get them back to the car, actually allowing the dog to stop searching and just walk with us has been really, really helpful as well.

Kayla Fratt 

But yeah, I think honestly, this was the sort of project that given the heat, it would have honestly been really great to even have three dogs on this project. But as we’ve talked about, as well, one of the struggles we’ve had, at least so far where we’ve searched, is that there aren’t a lot of trail systems around here. So it’s a lot of outback. So it has been a little bit challenging to take one dog out, put that dog away, and then take a second dog out. Because there’s no good way to do that without covering the same section of trail four times. And I know you’ve said that in one of our next study sites for next week that shouldn’t be shouldn’t be quite different and will will be a really welcoming change.

Ellen Dymit 

All right. I don’t think I have anything else Kayla. I other than that, I’m really excited to keep working with you and to work with these dogs and define more poop!

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, we’re, we’re really stoked to be here. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been really cool to get to see the dogs getting to work. And it’s been really cool to just be out in this environment. I guess maybe just because we have. We have already done a couple days of fieldwork. We’ll save the dog stuff for later. But do you have any favorite moments from fieldwork so far?

Ellen Dymit 

Well, yesterday Barley found a dead howler monkey, and we got to see its tail up close. So that was pretty incredible.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, that’s pretty good. Toni, since you’re driving, do you have a favorite moment of fieldwork so far?

Toni Proescholdt 

I think seeing all the spider monkeys and just seeing the way that they act in reaction to the dogs is really interesting seeing some of that behavior. And just seeing monkeys is pretty cool. It’s a first for me.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, definitely. And I think I said I was gonna save the dogs up for later. But obviously, my highlight was Barley finding his first sample of this, this project and especially Toni actually got it on video. So we’ll make sure this goes up along with this episode. But you can hear in the video as Barley alerts me saying I don’t think so. Because I had alerted to the spot underneath a bench in kind of a human resting area, and I assumed he was picking up on human scent. Luckily, we did trust the dog enough to go check and find the sample. So that was very exciting. And obviously a highlight for me.

Kayla Fratt 

And so without further ado, I hope everyone at home and listen to this and this feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. We’ll be back next week with more awesome episodes all about conservation detection dogs. We’re gonna do another episode with Ellen right at the end of our fieldwork here to reflect on some of the work we’ve done and hopefully all the amazing successes we’ve had and share some stories of some of our finds.

Kayla Fratt 

And Ellen, again, thank you so much for coming on this project with us or bringing us on this project with you I suppose. And thank you so much for coming on the podcast with me. If people are interested in keeping up with your work your research this research, is there any good places for people to check out? Check that out online?

Ellen Dymit 

Yeah, well, you could always follow me on Twitter, I try to keep up to date project updates while I’m out in the field on there. It’s @EllenDymit, my name, or you could follow Taal, my advisor, he’s pretty good about tweeting updates about our research as well and his handle is @TaalTree.

Kayla Fratt 

Excellent and I can vouch for the fact that they’re both great Twitter follows. And alright, so we’ll be back next week!