Roundtable: How Did You Get into the World of Conservation Detection?

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla hosts multiple guests as they answer one of the top questions conservation dog handlers get: how do you get into the world of conservation detection?

  • Jo Lock’s reply begins at 4:27
  • Lindsay Ware’s reply begins at 10:48
  • Laura Holder starts at 18:19
  • Rachel Hamre’s reply begins at 26:55
  • Arden Blumenthal starts at 29:55

You can find our guests online here:

Jo Lock:     Website | Instagram | Facebook

Lindsay Ware:    Website | Instagram | Facebook

Laura Holder:  Website | Instagram | Facebook

Rachel Hamre:   Instagram

Arden Blumenthal: Website | Instagram

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

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

Transcript (AI-Generated)

Kayla Fratt (KF) 1:55
Hello, and welcome to the canine conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs join us every week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior, and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt. And I’m one of the cofounders of canine conservationists, where we trained dogs to detect data for researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today, we’re going with another kind of experimental podcast setup. I get asked all the time, how do you get into the field of conservation detection? Arts? How did you get into the field of conservation of textbooks? How did you get your first job? What do I need to do to get from where I am now? To that point? I love this question. But obviously, my response is just kind of an n of one I my path cannot be your path. And it will not be your path. And so as as a way to kind of remedy this but still answer this question in a variety of ways in one place. We have collaborated with a whole bunch of conservation detection dog handlers from a variety of other organizations. We’ve got Lindsey, where from science dogs of newly England, we’ve got two handlers from conservation dogs collective, we’ve got Arden from the New York New Jersey trail conference, and a couple others, all answering this one question for you. So I hope that this episode can be inspiring and helpful if you really want to get into the field of conservation detection dogs, as kind of a different way to look at how to get into the field. As I listen to the responses from all of these amazing handler trainers, there was a couple big things that came up to me. One is, for a lot of us there is this element of what could be perceived as luck. But it’s really kind of a combination of preparation, and being in the right place at the right time and being ready to jump on an opportunity when it came your way. So that’s a huge one. And then the other big thing that really came up to me was how many diverse options there were as far as the route you were taking, you’ll hear about blood tracking, you’ll hear about GIS mapping, you’ll hear about just competing and Kainai nosework. There’s a lot of different ways to get into this field. But so much of it is network continually growing your expertise, and then being ready to jump on up on opportunity when it comes your way. So without further ado, let’s get to how we all got into this field with a wide variety of amazing guests.

Jo Lock 4:27
Hello, my name is Josephine lock. I’m the founder of news, no limit and a keeper with the conservation dogs collective. I’ve been involved in canine scent detection work for over 10 years. Most of that time in search and rescue for human life wilderness find in both the Midwest and in California. And for the past three years I’ve been working in conservation detection. Right now I have three dogs in my life all black Labrador Retrievers, all females and all working with working in field line genetics. Holly is the youngest. She’s 18 months old Willow is nine and Brenner is in her 16th year Willow and Holly on my current conservation detection dogs. I have loved dogs all my life. But I was unable to have one growing up as a child because my dad’s job meant that my family moved around a lot. And I spent most of my early childhood in Bahrain in the Middle East. However, I did spend a lot of my time befriending feeding and looking out for all the feral dogs as a child. And I also rescued a lot of other injured or displaced animals, including goats, turtles, cats and hedgehogs. I had a very early fascination with animals and the natural world and used to spend hours just watching Animal Behavior or collecting creatures like insects or snails to study. At school, I wanted to be a veterinarian and spent all of my spare time on the school farm, working with the animals there. But in those days, girls were not encouraged to work in large animal practice. So I switched gears, and at university I did my degree in Management, science and then doctoral research in managerial cybernetics. I never lost my love of the natural world though. And throughout my early career, most of my hobbies and voluntary work involved animals or conservation in one form or another. In fact, in my early 30s, when I was the project manager of a large IT project, implementing a new student record system for a university to reduce my stress and improve my quality of life, and negotiated switching to a four day week for a few months, and used my spare day to work with a local conservation group restoring habitat and building trails in local preserves and nature parks. Were entry into canine scent detection work began later in life. After we moved to the United States, I bred a litter of puppies with our Labrador Retriever Brenner, who we brought with us from the UK. I discovered that there was a search and rescue team in our area in our area. So I began volunteering and joined the group in 2013 with a very young Willow. The puppy I kept from the litter will absolutely loved the search game, and I rapidly became hooked on learning how to read her body language and learning all about the science of training and behavior. She was a wilderness lifeline Search Dog and during her eight year soccer career, she passed four certifications in three different states. In 2017, we moved to Los Angeles for two years, and I started broaden my knowledge of dog training with various courses and mentors. And I began a two year program learning about dogs with a high with a highly regarded trainer Kay Lawrence. During that time, I became aware that dogs can do conservation work can be taught to find endangered or invasive species, and a tiny seed was planted in my brain that I couldn’t shake. As that seed grew, I had two pieces of good fortune. The first was that I became part of a network of trainers in Southern California. And as part of that group, one day I had, I got to sit next to Ken Ramirez at a lunch following a weekend seminar he’d given us on advanced training concepts. I was already extremely interested in how to become a conservation dog handler, and was aware of the many conservation projects that he’d been involved in. So I got to ask him some questions about his work and seek his advice on how to get started. From then on, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could become part of that world and get to have the privilege of helping conservation efforts with my dog. So I did a ton of research on the projects where dogs had already been used, and started compiling a list of groups and contacts who might be able to help me.

You May Also Enjoy:  Search & Rescue Needs in Indigenous Communities with Shelby Homer

Jo Lock 8:18
The second piece of good fortune I had was that Laura holder, who at that time was the founder of Midwest conservation dogs, which is now conservation dogs collective, had also been through K Lawrence’s two year program. And so when Kay learned of my passion for canine conservation work, she connected us. Laura gave me a lot of support and advice. And at the end of 2018, I took the plunge and began the process of setting up nodes no limit, which was launched in 2019. The initial learning curve was very steep. And there was a huge amount of work involved in setting up an enterprise building a website, creating a social media presence, and networking with all the conservation groups in the area. Our first two contracts came to me again through personal connections. The first was a season of batten bird carcass detection surveys for the wind energy industry, which we did over four months in the fall of 2019. The work was being conducted by an environmental consultancy company, and they had sent emails to all the local search and rescue groups hoping to find experienced searched dog and handler teams. That email was forwarded to me by a friend and colleague I’d worked with previously in search and rescue. So I applied and we got offered a position subject to passing the three day on site evaluation. The second contract came to me because someone had posted a news article in the Indiana nature Facebook group, about some dogs in Iowa that were trying to find rare turtles. And an artist friend of mine who had designed knows no limits logo, saw it and commented that I was doing similar work right here in Indiana. The then director of the Eco lab at Marian University, saw the post, looked at my website and then contacted me to ask if I could help them locate Eastern Boxster. Tools on their property, so they could attach radio trackers to study them. Most of the projects we’ve been involved in since have also come about due to word of mouth or chance conversations. And of course, much of the work I now do is for the conservation dogs collective. So these days, my network is much bigger and continues to grow. There is no simple or clear path to becoming a conservation detection dog keeper. The best advice I can share is that if you are truly committed to this work, then you have to create your own entry point through research determination or initiative, you will probably find that to begin with, you will have to do a lot of volunteering and a lot of research before you find opportunities that are open to you. Given the skills that you have, and the environment you live in.

Lindsay Ware 10:48
I wouldn’t be where I’m with science dogs or New England. I’ve been in this field, I guess officially for four years. Get to detection dogs Delta, who is an Australian Shepherd and chili bean, who’s a Labrador Retriever. I also have a conservation tracking dog, although who is a Wirehair dachshund, or also known as a tickle. Although and I do wounded large game recovery together. As far as when I first fell in love with dogs and conservation, I guess it’s really been my whole life. For the most part, I grew up with dogs and loves dogs. And I always knew I would have dogs. But honestly, I never really thought about them as working partners or considered a career working with them. For conservation, I really had been saying since I was a really young kid that I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. And this is probably a product of growing up loving animals and wildlife and just being raised in the outdoors. So wildlife biology was what I did for undergrad and grad school. And I spent several years just traveling around North America, doing different jobs as a field technician on wildlife research projects. The beginning of science dogs, for me, at least in my mind, anyway, actually goes back to before I even heard of conservation detection dogs. I was getting into a very similar activity that wasn’t quite conservation sent detection. But it was a really big factor in preparing me for the work. So I got involved with using tracking dogs to track and recover wounded game for hunters. And even though this was tracking, and technically really quite different from set detection, I really consider it the beginning of developing science dogs because it introduced me to the entire lifestyle of handling, training and living with conservation working dogs. And it actually has a little bit of a side No, it surprises me all the time. How much working with tracking dogs and working with scent detection dogs actually are very similar to each other. I honestly never really expected that in the beginning. So obviously, the training is very different. But a lot of the working with and reading your dog aspects are very, very similar. In both cases, you’re a team with a dog and each of you bring something very different to the team. The working conditions and environment are also very similar between the two activities. So around the time that I was getting into tracking, so this was around 2011. I also started becoming very enthralled with dog training. I had a puppy, gander. And I was training him for tracking. And also just so excited about raising a puppy and learning everything that I could gather also developed some behavior challenges. And so what I did is I just kept absorbing information, I took a lot of classes and learn more and more and more about dog training. And I ended up getting mentored and hired at a dog training facility actually the same dog training facility where I was getting some help with candor. And so I eventually started teaching dog training classes there and actually I still do so at this time in 2011 I worked full time at a research lab and was pursuing my dog training passion in the evenings. I first heard of conservation detection around 2016 or so maybe 2015. When my husband showed me an article about the University of Washington conservation canines. At the time, I was still carrying on with my passion with dog training and tracking, I would work during the day. And then during tracking season, I would sometimes be out all night long tracking for hunters.

Lindsay Ware 15:30
But I was really interested in leaving lab work and getting back into wildlife and conservation work, because that’s really where my heart was. So I got inspired by learning that conservation dogs existed, and started committing to learning everything I could about scent detection, I was eventually able to get some help from some amazing mentors, and I met these folks, mostly through my tracking work. And these people were mostly in law enforcement, conservation, law enforcement, and search and rescue. I also did a small business program because I was definitely lacking in experience and education related to running an organization dealing with financials and promotion and things like that. In 2018, this all kind of came to a head where I left my laboratory job, specifically to start science dogs in New England. My first couple of jobs in scent detection came from either connections I made, or there was actually one where I was just approached after being found through my website. But the largest and most important partnership to date actually came from me, approaching the researchers. And the more that we talked and met, the more things led to this amazing collaboration that has just been mutually beneficial for all of us. It’s led to other little partnerships and side projects. And it’s just been a really huge deal for me. So I take very close to my heart this, this kind of collaborative approach that was taken with this wood turtle project that I’m involved in. One of the biggest pieces of advice I give people that approached me and that are interested in getting into this work is to approach it, like this huge learning process, because that’s exactly what it is. You’re really in a constant state of learning. Yes, the learning curve won’t always be super steep. But I really think it’s helpful. I know it is for me. If you embrace the idea that you’re never going to stop being a student of your dogs, and for that matter student of all the amazing pioneers that we have in this field. And that’s actually in my opinion, one of the very best things about it.

You May Also Enjoy:  Safari Science & Fieldwork Experience with Dr. Stotra Chakrabarti

Laura Holder 18:19
Hi there. My name is Laura holder, and I’m the Executive Director for conservation dogs collective. In 2017, Midwest conservation dogs was founded. However, in 2021, we renamed ourselves to conservation dogs collective. I’ve been involved with the organization since its foundation, and even before then since 2010. I’ve been a professional dog trainer. I have my CPD T K certification through the CC PDT as well as my cn wi certification through the NAC SW My heart is absolutely owned by my two dogs. Both of them are Labrador Retrievers. Ernie is my five year old yellow lab. And Betty White is my three year old black lab. I fell in love with dogs as a very young child. However, I did not actually have my first dog until I was 22 years old. Believe me, I asked for a dog for my birthday every year. I mean Christmas Valentine’s Day, every made up holiday that I could imagine. But my parents loved them dearly and they loved me very much. They always said no, you know and I got a lot of stuffed animals and I got some fish along the way.

Laura Holder 19:40
As a grade school kiddo, I remember barking out of my second story bedroom window out into my neighborhood just hoping that you know some stray dog would show up in my backyard that never happened. I also would eat my cereal out of a bowl on the floor pretending I was a dog you know even going so far as to walk Hanging around my parents house that way. And I took up every single opportunity I could by looking up different breeds in the encyclopedia and watching dog shows on TV. And of course, every time I went to a friend’s house that had a dog, I was the first one to just sit there and you know, like, connect with that dark before most of the humans in the in the room. And when I think about when I first fell in love with conservation, I wish I could say that dogs kind of connected me to conservation as a young person. However, as I thought about this particular question that Kayla posed, I really settled on my college post college years when I was able to travel for work quite a bit. I really connected with different parts of the world and being outside in different parts of the world. And I really didn’t have a keen appreciation for my own community, so to speak. So as I got more involved with working with dogs, and working alongside dogs, I have just, you know, become much more appreciative of conservation and conservation focused efforts on smaller scales as well as you know, large scales. I have 100% memory of when I first heard about conservation detection dogs, though, it was in 2016, and I received a phone call on my cell phone from the executive director of Mequon nature preserve. She had recently been at a conference where working dogs for conservation, had given a dog demo, I think they were doing emerald ash borer up there at this conference. And the executive director called me and she was really excited about this new method. And admittedly, I had, you know, I was like, Oh, that’s really cool. And I pretended a little bit like I knew what they were. And we just got to talking. And she really wanted to bring this method to the property at Mequon nature preserve, they have about 450 to 500 acres of land there. And my name, fell across her lap as she was looking for scent detection trainers in the metro Milwaukee area. By that time, I had been involved with canine nosework for several years. And she just flat out asked like, hey, is there something we can do here? And the short answer was, yes, absolutely. So yeah, it was a very positive memory. And at that time, I had been fully employed in a corporate office setting. And I put together a full proposal to train up a puppy and a dog handler for Mac when nature preserve and over the course of, but 18 to 24 months, I completely exited out of corporate America to pursue this industry of work full time. So I definitely come at the conservation dog world from the dog trainer side of the fence, so to speak. You know, I have been training since 2010. As I mentioned earlier, I was doing several different types of puppy classes, group classes, I did some, excuse me, dog sport classes. I started teaching actually started participating in nosework right around 2011. And then shortly thereafter, I started teaching canine nose work. And along the way, I got myself into some trial. So I got that experience of doing blind searches at new locations and across different search elements. And then I also had the opportunity to meet Amy hurt from working dogs for conservation in Omaha, Nebraska in a couple of years ago, I went down with her alongside the MK one Nature Preserve team tilian Quarry and shadowed her in the fields. She was at that time training Lily who just recently retired to detect some Crown Vetch at a nature preserve. And that was really cool to see her and meet her. You know, she’s kind of like a goddess and everything and just her willingness to allow us to come down and watch her. Getting started on a new project was incredible. As far as how we landed our first few jobs, or how I landed my first few jobs, like I said, with Mequon Nature Preserve giving us that call. They were really the impetus of conservation dogs collective getting up and running. So you know, as we develop that dog handler team from puppy hood and Therap

Laura Holder 24:41
we always had the goal of like, okay, we there’s more work to be done out here. We want to get MNP up and running with their team, support them how we can, but we just started networking and meeting more people through Mequon nature preserve and other places and really expanded our own An offering with our own trained dog handler teams at that time. In 2019, we had a catalyst of an idea to actually start our own program and kick started our pollinator program to focus on at that time it was honeybee detection for different diseases and parasites, but we quickly shifted after homie quickly after about six months or so we shifted over to focusing on Bumblebee nest detection. And you know, here we are in currently about middle of 2022 and we have two dogs that have several seasons of Bumblebee nest detection under their noses and their additional dogs are the canine finders as we call them. The additional finders for ctci there are six other ones that are going to be started on the bumblebee nest project this year. In addition to the bumblebee nest work, our current crew at ctci has eight finders across five different keepers. And the progress we’ve made since then is I think, first and foremost, like education of getting conservation detection dogs as a method out into the ears and also into the eyes of prospective clients who might be hiring us but also into the communities that we’re working in. So we set up demo days for the general public to come learn about it. It’s also a really great way for the founders to do some marketing for us because it’s really exciting to see them work. So I look forward to continuing to educate others and remember how exciting and intriguing it was when I first heard about this industry.

You May Also Enjoy:  Do Our Working Dogs Owe Us Work?

Rachel Hamre 26:55
My name is Rachel Hamre. I am planning to work for West this coming summer and fall. It will be my second season doing conservation detection dog work, but I’ve done about seven years of data collection and field work. I recently adopted my border collie named Sookie. How did I get into this field? I have been doing field work and data collection for about seven years now primarily botany related, a lot of plant identification and Habitat Monitoring and conservation. I got interested in dog training though when I was about 12 I adopted a dog who was scared of just about everything but especially people. Her name was Josie and I adopted her from an organization called Colorado Springs all breed rescue and training. I got really lucky that I just kind of fell into positive reinforcement training because of them. And Aubrey rescue and Josie were the things that really allowed me to discover my interest in behavior and training. Since then, I fostered about 20 dogs. And so I kind of just got a broad range of behavior issues and experience in training. One summer while I was doing field work, I was working on a sage grouse project, monitoring plants in the habitat that sage grouse live in, I stumbled upon a job announcement for another conservation detection dog group. I applied with them multiple times over the course of a couple of years. The last time that I applied with them, I made it to the last round of interviews, and just didn’t get the job. But I decided that even though that was pretty disappointing, I was going to just continue making myself a more competitive applicant. And I was just going to keep applying until I got in with them. It was right around that time that I met Kayla, and I got really lucky that she offered to let me borrow barley for my first season of working for West. Pretty early on in that season. I realized and I knew that conservation detection dog work was just what I wanted to continue doing. I maintained that relationship with West and I adopted my dog Sookie and I’m planning to work for them with her this coming season. I think I would emphasize that my experience in scientific data collection was really a thing that made me a strong applicant. I think most people enjoy working with their dogs. But I think understanding just all the things that go into good study design and good data collection and good science are a pretty important aspect of the job that sometimes get overlooked.

Arden Blumenthal 29:55
Hi, this is Artem Blumenthal, the conservation dogs program coordinator for the New York New Jersey trial conference and my dog is Pete, I got involved in the conservation detection dog field. As I was finishing up my master’s degree from Purdue in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, I was job hunting, looking for opportunities in the wildlife field. Specifically, I was interested in jobs that were related to human wildlife conflict mitigation, animal behavior. And I knew I wanted to work. I didn’t want to be involved in research or academia anymore, I wanted to work for an NGO or, or a government entity. However, as I was looking for jobs, I realized that I was sort of a jack of all trades person I had worked with a lot of species had diverse skills, and many of the job opportunities were targeted towards, you know, folks that had very specific skills, who’d worked with a specific species in particular for quite some time. And the jobs that were more geared towards what I was capable of doing. Were offering to pay very little, I would have to move across the country, or, you know, they just weren’t, they just weren’t spike sparking any fire in me, then kind of went back to the drawing board at that point and ask myself, if I’m, if I’m not going to pay much anyways, which is the truth of it? What would I be doing if I could be doing anything, and I knew that, obviously, shows that have so much privilege. And it’s, it’s true, I had an amazing support system, people and, you know, support to fall back on. So I just, I just want to acknowledge that that I do have a lot of privilege. But I was able to ask myself what I would really love to be doing if I could be doing anything and conservation detection. Dog handling and working as a, as a general biologist, in that way, had always kind of been in on my radar. So I essentially contacted everyone in the country who is doing that sort of work, I sent a lot of emails and asked just for general advice. And it just so happens that I had contacted the New York New Jersey trail conference, at the same time that they were looking for an unpaid intern. So I started out as a volunteer, essentially, and after around 400 hours of work, I was hired on as an assistant. And, yeah, just a couple of years later, here I am as the program coordinator, and dog handler, so it’s been quite a whirlwind.

Kayla Fratt (KF) 33:13
Thank you so much for listening. I hope you learned a lot and you’re feeling inspired to get out to be a canine conservationist, potentially by following the path of some of these amazing trailblazers in our field. If you enjoyed this episode, let us know on social media or by rating and reviewing wherever you find this podcast. You can find show notes, donate canine conservationists, buy merch join Patreon, all of those great things over at Canine Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll talk to you next week.

Transcribed by