Selecting a Conservation Detection Dog

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla Fratt talks about considerations when choosing a conservation detection dog, sourcing a dog, and screening a dog.

Episode suggestion: “Don’t sacrifice clarity at the altar of generosity”

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Discussed in this Podcast:

  • Considerations:
    • Make a list of your must haves from a lifestyle perspective to help which type of dog works best for you. This can be anything from breed type, grooming requirements, size, etc.
    • You should also make a list of “nice to have” and “bonus points”. These are types of things that aren’t a must have, but are still of some importance to you. These are usually aesthetic type desires.
    • You also need to consider your work lifestyle, whether your dog can handle being off leash around wildlife, water, other dogs, people, etc. 
    • Consider if you’d want to do outreach work at events with your dog. Would a social dog be more ideal, etc. 
    • Travel is something to consider. A dog that thrives on routine may not be best for conservation work. 
    • Most trainers in this field prefer dogs that have a high drive for toys
    • Consider what kind of dog you like to work with; high drive, low drive, preference for food reinforcement, preference for toy reinforcement, low energy or high energy personality, etc.
    • Consider the detail level of the work you want to do
    • It’s very important to consider your skill set and experience with dog handling
  • Sourcing:
    • Rescue
      • This can be challenging and rewarding. There are a lot of pros and cons with rescue!
      • It’s hard to know whether they fit the work or not, as there are so many elements to consider from the dog’s previous experiences
      • It’s also hard to find “the perfect fit” 
      • Some rescues have strict rules regarding adoptions as well
      • Age is something to consider, and a lot of rescues are older
      • Health screening is very important
      • There are amazing benefits such as; saving a life, offering an excellent home, adoption fees often cheaper than a puppy purchase, etc.
    • Career change dog
      • Organizations such as guide, service, and detection often career changed the washed dogs, so this is a great option to get a little ahead on training
      • Most of these dogs are washed from the programs due to minor issues such as; allergies, not reliable for work such as search and rescue, just not suitable for that specific line of work
      • Many of these dogs are high energy, high drive, which is generally great for detection work
    • Purpose bred puppy
      • Generally the “simplest” sourcing option, though training isn’t always easy or fast
      • Lineage is easy to find
      • Some breeders breed specifically for detection work
      • Some people like to start with a blank slate
      • Choose a reputable breeder
    • Started dog from a handler/school
      • Very expensive, but reliable dog
  • Screening
    • Read details carefully, ask questions and raise concerns
    • Talk to other conservation handlers for advice
    • Test the dogs ability and drive
    • Interest in reinforcers and interest in working for those reinforcers
    • Puppy testing and adult dog testing might differ slightly
    • For an older dog, see their movement, see them act in public, and how they search

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

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Full Episode Transcription

Hello and welcome to the K9 Conservationists podcast where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every other week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt and I run K9 Conservationists where I train dogs to detect data.

Today we are going to talk about selecting a dog for conservation detection dog work. You may hear some coyotes and crickets in the background. I just got interrupted by some coyotes. I’m in a cabin in rural Nebraska right now and my windows are open. So hopefully you get to enjoy that ambience.

Today, we are going to talk about selecting a dog for conservation detection dog work. We’re going to cover how to narrow down your needs, where to look, how to screen dogs, and what to do if it doesn’t work out. I’m super excited to get to this, but before we get to it, I wanted to start with something new. From now on, for each episode, I want to have a suggestion at the beginning of the episode and a call to action at the end. 

This week’s suggestion is, don’t sacrifice clarity at the altar of generosity. This comes from something Hannah Branigan said in her podcast Drinking from the Toilet, and it’s really stuck with me. As an example, early in this field season, I wanted to be generous to my dogs. I started rewarding both Barley and Niffler with a little game of fetch at the end of their searches if they didn’t find anything. Very quickly, it became obvious that I was not being clear enough with what earned the fetch and Barley in particular started looking at me and offering behaviors instead of searching, because he really wanted that game of fetch. In my goal of being generous to Barley when he wasn’t finding anything during searches, I actually made things more stressful, because he didn’t understand the rules or goals anymore. Don’t sacrifice clarity at the altar of generosity. This comes both in training and in our interpersonal communications. 

Now let’s get into dog selection. The first thing and arguably the most important thing to think about as you’re looking at selecting a conservation detection dog, is your lifestyle. What is going to work for you and your lifestyle when you and your dog are not working. The reality is, even if you do this job full-time, you’re still going to have weeks and/or months at a time where you and your dog are not in the field and the vast majority of your time, you and that dog are going to be interacting and coexisting outside of the context of the search environment. 

For example, perhaps you live in a dense, urban environment and really need a stable dog that can handle busy streets and sharing elevators with kids or other dogs. Perhaps you’ve got kids at home, perhaps you’ve got chickens in your backyard, or a spouse who would prefer a smaller or low shedding breed. All of those are completely valid considerations and are actually really important as you’re thinking about what dog is going to fit well in your home.

I like to start there and make a list of your “must haves” from a lifestyle perspective. For me, this included that I really prefer highly active, attentive, and friendly dogs that are easily adaptable to a variety of housing situations and don’t need routine. As our listeners may know I have moved a lot in the last years. I currently live in a van. I am hoping to drive the Pan-American Highway with my current dogs. Dogs that really get stressed out by routine changes or dog sitters are not really a good fit for me. 

I also really need dogs with low prey drive, because I love fostering kittens and in the lifetime of my dogs, I might get a parrot again. I had a parrot when I first got Barley and there’s a chance that that bird will come back to me as he continues to age and the family that he’s with continues to age; we’ve got a bit of a joint custody setup.I also prefer dogs that easily handle visitors, dog sitters, and busy trailheads. I strongly prefer medium sized dogs, which kind of puts out some of the Malinois and the Dutch Shepherds. I just prefer the dogs that are a little bit smaller than that. And I don’t love extreme shedding, which also puts labs out. Although, as I think I’ve alluded to on this podcast, there’s a chance that my next dog is going to end up being a lab.

Once you’ve got your thought process there for what you need for your dog in your personal lifestyle; what I did when I was planning for Barley, and again when I was planning for Niffler, and what I suggest friends and family to do when I’m counseling them on finding a dog is I actually broke down that list into “must haves” versus “nice to haves” versus “bonus points.” I can go into a lot of detail on this, I will try to keep it brief.

Essentially, there are things, like when I brought Barley home, that one of the top things on the list was that he could not be interested in eating my parrot. I would not bring a dog home that was going to kill my other pets, first pet rights. That was in the “must have” column. If you have children, that might mean that you need a dog who can handle children. If you know that you need to be able to leave to go to the grocery store, you might put that the dog doesn’t have separation anxiety really high on your “must have” list versus “nice to have.” I know one of the things I had on my “nice to have” when I adopted Barley was that I would like a dog who was dog social, but I didn’t need a dog who was necessarily going to be a dog park, frat boys sort of dog. That worked out for me, Barley is not a dog park dog, but he is a dog who can easily handle a variety of different dog personalities at trailheads and in another situations.

Finally, then I had a list of “nice to haves.” I did have a preference for and continue to have a preference for fluffy dogs, dogs with pointy ears, and dogs with white toenails, because that makes it easier to trim their toenails. There are little things on that list that I thought about, but I’m not going to not adopt a dog because it has black toenails. Or in the case of Niffler, he turned out to be a smooth-coated Border Collie, not a rough-coated Border Collie so he’s way less fluffy than I would have hoped. I’m obviously not going to return him for that because it’s not a “must have.”

Next up, it’s time to think about your work needs. Do you need a dog who can work off leash around wildlife? Many conservation detection dogs do need to be able to fit that bill. If you primarily work in boat searches, say you do muscle detection, like zebra mussels, or you primarily work on wind farms; potentially that dog being off leash around wildlife is less important for you than it may be if you and your dog are working on some other types of projects. Will you be working on or near water, near other dogs, near lots of people? Does this dog need to be able to do demonstrations and outreach events with you? Or is it okay if this dog is less social?

I am really dedicated and really enjoy a lot of outreach and education. I put much more emphasis on sociability with my dogs than many other conservation detection dog handlers that I know. One of the perks, particularly when we talk about career change dogs for conservation detection dog work, is for most dogs in the conservation detection dog realm, it’s actually okay if they don’t get along with other dogs. It’s actually okay if they’re not great with strange people, because most of the time the way that the fieldwork for this job goes, that’s actually perfectly acceptable. I’m a little bit of an exception because I do so much school and museum visits and that sort of outreach, and primarily did especially before COVID.

Then we also need to think about what your work hours are like. Does it involve lots of intense terrain that might point you towards a larger dog and ensuring that that dog has a really solid health? Do you need to deal with thick burrs which might point you towards a short-coated or wire-coated dog instead of a really thick, plush coat? Are you going to be doing a lot of hotel stays or RV stays that a dog with separation anxiety, or a dog who really thrives on routine may really struggle with? As an example, my dog Barley isn’t perfectly ideal for this work because of his really long, plush coat. Burrs are the absolute bane of our existence; we do just fine, but it is a pain. I do think he’s beautiful and I love his coat, but if you know that the environment that you tend to work in is going to be really thick with burrs, coat type is a consideration.

And as I mentioned, if your goal is to do a lot of demonstrations or outreach events, you may want a friendlier dog than if your plan is to always be way out in the boonies. Obviously, I think most of us would prefer to have a dog who is social and stable and savvy, but for some of us that might be on the “nice to have” list or “bonus point” list and for others that might be way up on the “must have” list.

Generally, most trainers in this field prefer dogs with really high ball or toy drive. The common knowledge is that you want a dog who’s absolutely nuts for the toy. But if your only goal is to work on wind farms or boat searches, or some of those other more routine types of searches, or that are relatively short and with a relatively salient odor, you might be able to get away with a dog that’s much more similar to a typical pet. The organization that I’m currently subcontracting for generally hires first time handlers with dogs that are far less extreme in their drive levels than what I’m used to working with in past jobs. More and more trainers are having success with these lower drive dogs or dogs that work for food. This does come down to both your goals with your work and your training skill set, and your lifestyle preference in general.

I personally really enjoy working with the really high drive dogs, I like dogs that really like toys. I also enjoy some of the challenging or creative work that might be hard for a less motivated dog. Some of the projects that I’ve worked on might be a little bit more challenging for a dog who’s a little bit lower drive. I do think I could still get away with a food driven dog for most of the work that I do. I’m relatively confident in my training skills for that, but that doesn’t make me or my dogs holier than a dog who does prefer to work for food.

Similarly, if your goal is to find live targets, you may want to find a slightly different personality, (a lower prey drive), than a dog who will exclusively work on scat, carcass, or plant detection. If you’re going to be working to find burrows of an endangered animal, or live turtles or tortoises or anything like that, you really want to make sure that you’re looking for dogs that are going to have lower prey drive. Versus if you know that primarily you’re going to be working in an agricultural setting, or around boats or something like that, it might be okay to have a dog who is a little bit more interested in chasing bunnies.

You may also want to think about the detail level of your work. Detailed work looking for extremely small targets calls for a slightly different work style than searching huge areas for big stinky things. You might not know exactly what sort of jobs you’re going to have at this point, or perhaps you want to be able to apply for a variety of gigs, but it is still important to think about as you make your partner wish list, especially if you do know.

One of the big examples is if you’re looking at a job you know is going to be primarily searching really large areas for big stinky things. Looking at some of our field type dogs, or hunting type dogs; our Spaniels, our retrievers, our pointers do tend to naturally excel at that sort of thing versus some of the detailed work. That’s a little bit more, like bumblebee nest detection, or anytime you’re looking for really small things, or potentially you’re more lab based, then we might see some of the herding dogs really tending to excel there.

Of course, I’m using breeds as a little bit of a shorthand here, but that’s because we do have to start searching somewhere, we have to be able to use some search tabs on Petfinder or some search terms in Google. While there can be extreme variation within breeds, and we may end up working with mixed breeds, I am going to just continue using breeds as a heuristic here because we do tend to see genetic and personality traits that follow along with breeds.

On that note, it’s also important to consider your training skill set. If you’re a greener handler who’s just starting out, and maybe you don’t actually have gigs lined up yet, you’re probably going to opt for a dog that is a little bit more like a Dodge Charger. You want a dog who can do the sort of work that is also going to fit in your lifestyle versus getting a Formula One car or a Lamborghini. The most driven, flashiest dog in the world is still only as good as the handler and the training it’s given. If you’re not used to living and working with a Lamborghini, things can be really difficult both at home and at work. I have personally lived with dogs that are exceptional working dogs who drove me up the wall. I’ve also firsthand seen dogs that are excellent working dogs and have a ton of potential, but in the hands of an inexperienced handler things can get rough very quickly.

Now let’s talk a little bit about where to find that dog. I’ve got experience firsthand with just about all the options here, thanks to my own dogs, as well as working with a few organizations on dog sourcing. You essentially have four options as far as where you’re going to get a dog. You can get a rescue dog, a career change dog, a purpose bred puppy, or a started dog from a professional trainer or handler. 

Let’s start with rescue dogs. This is the option that organizations like Rogue Detection Teams and Working Dogs for Conservation almost exclusively opt for. It’s part of their mission and ethos, and I absolutely applaud that. Barley, my dog, is a shelter dog and I hope that my next dog, my third dog, is going to be a shelter dog as well. There are challenges here, it can be really tricky to source dogs from shelters.

One of the things that you may run into is you get a lot of desperate emails from shelters that are describing dogs that are not a good fit for work, that may be on the euthanasia list, and you need to make a decision in the next three days or something. That can be incredibly exhausting and difficult. Sometimes the dogs are just absolutely not a good fit for working a working dog sort of job and then we can say no there. I’ve also experienced these desperate emails from people who are looking for another option for a dog who may be running out of time or running out of options. That dog might actually be a good fit for work, but we simply don’t have the resources to endlessly take in prospect dogs.

On one hand, sometimes you’re getting a lot of incoming interest from rescues and shelters and other organizations that really need help placing dogs and sometimes those dogs are good fits and sometimes they’re not and the timing may or may not work and that can be stressful. Then on the other side it often feels like all of those dogs just completely evaporate as soon as you do have an opening and as soon as you are looking for a dog. I spent several months, probably about six to nine months, looking for a rescue or shelter dog before I ended up bringing Niffler home. I just couldn’t find a shelter dog that I felt confident was going to be the right fit for both my home and my job. I found several dogs, but then ran into some issues. One organization didn’t want to adopt out of state, another dog that I was interested in ended up getting adopted before I was able to go pick it up. That can happen with shelters and rescues and that can be really challenging to deal with.

You also might run into viable potential dogs that are a little bit older than you’d like. Generally, I would rather bring home a working dog who’s in that two- to three-year-old range. It can be challenging to figure out. This dog is seven, it looks really promising, but do I really want to bring home a working dog and put in the training for a dog who may only have a couple years left in their career? That is a personal decision, but it is something to consider.

There are also absolutely massive benefits to bringing home a rescue dog or a shelter dog. Not the least being that you’ve potentially saved a life. I would argue that Barley, for example, he was absolutely going to get adopted out of that shelter. By the time I brought him home, he had multiple other people interested in adopting him. He was in the shelter for less than 24 hours total. He would have gotten adopted, so I can’t really credit myself with saving his life. I can say that I’m offering him an excellent home for a dog who, as delightful as Barley is, he could have been a hard to place dog. He could have been a dog who ended up being returned to the shelter – high energy and ball obsession and being able to open glass jars and cupboards and childproof locks, and those sorts of things. He can be a real nightmare to live with at home, and I love him to death.

One of the other things that is sometimes argued for rescue dogs is that they’re cheaper upfront, although I don’t really know, there might be extra costs associated with health issues or screening the dog. I know some rescue organizations, they adopt the rescue dog for free, or for $100, $200, whatever, the dog is cheap, but then they go and do the OFA’s on the dog and do all this health screening to make sure that the dog is going to be ready to work. By that point, they’re not necessarily all that much cheaper. I don’t really buy that as much of an argument. In the lifetime of the dog, I doubt that Barley is going to end up really being that much cheaper than Niffler. He might be a little bit cheaper just because I have him for fewer years.

Working with shelters or rescues to screen for working dogs and trying to find that working dog can be both challenging and rewarding. I’ve got a lot of connections in the shelter world, I’ve worked in and out of shelters for years now. While I really enjoy working a lot with people at shelters, sometimes it can be a little challenging to communicate exactly what I’m looking for. There is that emotional baggage of turning a dog down, and potentially the frustration of when you are ready or when you are looking it feels like all of a sudden there’s no dogs in the shelters that fit your bill. Just be patient.

Then we can look at a career change dog. This is also kind of a rescue dog, kind of shelter dog depending on the situation. There are organizations like Search Dog Foundation that intermittently have dogs available for adoption that have not worked out in their program, that would still be a good conservation detection dog. One of the examples that you may see with Search Dog Foundation is a dog who just isn’t environmentally stable enough to handle being a disaster search and rescue dog because those dogs do have to be able to do some pretty extreme stuff as far as navigating rubble piles. That dog might still absolutely have the work ethic and skill to be able to be a detection dog, they just don’t want to be climbing ladders and riding in helicopters to deal with earthquake rescue.

You also can join a variety of different Facebook groups. There’s different sport and working dog rehoming Facebook groups, there’s Facebook groups for just about anything. Those are really excellent places for finding prospect dogs that are either being privately rehomed, or maybe they’ve flunked out of a program, or they’re not working out in a given home. Or they might be shelter dogs. Sometimes the career change dogs are also rescue dogs and sometimes they are purpose bred dogs that need a career change.

One of the nice things here is that there is an additional middle band of screening in a lot of those cases. When I was looking for my next dog, I was primarily looking in those specific sport and working dog Facebook groups. Rather than just perusing Petfinder. I found it much easier to look for the dogs, screen the dogs that had already been posted in a group that was similar to what I was looking for, rather than having to sort through the entirety of Petfinder trying to find the right dog.

Other career change dogs might be purpose bred but didn’t work out in a given job. Several of the dogs that Working Dogs for Conservation were either too high drive to be service dogs or were not quite right for Border Patrol or being a Green Beret apprehension dog or something like that. Sometimes, particularly if you’re looking at the labs, you tend to get flunks or career changes out of a service dog organization and then the Malinois, the Dutch Shepherds may be a career change out of another type of detection dog or apprehension sort of organization. This is a really great way to offer a new home and job to a dog, especially because many of these dogs are the sort of dog that may really struggle in your average pet home. It can be really an excellent win – win.

Then we can also look at a purpose bred puppy. And as many of the listeners may know, that is where Niffler came from. That was not my first choice, I really wanted to get a career change or rescue dog as my next dog. I basically got to the point where I was not having luck for so long, and I had been forwarded so many times with everyone wanting to adopt a dog during the pandemic. I was striking out over and over so I put myself on a waitlist for a puppy. That’s where Niffler came from, and I love him to death.

Some of the pros that come with a purpose bred puppy, obviously are that you can look at the parents, you can look at the lineage, there are breeders that specifically breed dogs for detection work. If you can only have one dog, the smartest thing to do, one could argue, is to go with a purpose bred puppy from proven parents and a really good kennel, a really good breeder. That’s just really going to stack the deck in your favor versus potentially rolling the dice with a rescue dog who might look really good on paper, or really good in initial assessments, and then fizzle out for one reason or another. Obviously, you can get the best puppy in the world and then still have something pop up either medically or behaviorally, or the training doesn’t quite go the way you thought, or the puppy doesn’t develop emotionally the way that you expected. But again, you can really stack the deck in your favor. The thing I would say there with a purpose bred puppy, is really doing your due diligence on not just breed, but also lines within the breed, and then finding a breeder who’s producing dogs that are similar to what you want. We did a whole episode on the Pandemic Puppy podcast talking about selecting a breeder, and I would recommend that people go and listen to that. We’ll link to it in the show notes. It does talk quite a bit about finding responsible breeders.

With Niffler’s breeder, I found his breeder through the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy alumni group. It was her first litter, I went and I met the breeder and both of the parent dogs. When the puppies were five weeks old, I was on the list, but I hadn’t put a deposit down yet. I got to meet all the puppies and I got to meet both parents. I got to really see both parents in action and see that while mom was an agility dog and dad was a Frisbee dog, I felt really confident that they had the behavioral characteristics that I was looking for. The puppies were being raised with puppy culture and all sorts of things that I really liked seeing, and they were Border Collies, I have a very strong preference currently for Border Collies.

So far, it’s working out pretty well. As you heard in my Working with a Teenage Dog episode, Niffler is not even 11 months old yet at the time of recording, and he’s already coming up on wrapping up on his first field season. While I think there’s a lot to be said, for rescues or adopting, I’m pretty pleased with my current purpose bred puppy. I’m not getting a third dog for years and years, but it’ll be interesting to see where it comes from and what I ended up deciding.

Then the fourth option that I see, and I would love to hear if I’m missing something, because I could be, is more of a started dog from a professional trainer or handler. Ford K9 LLC, which they run the K9s Talking Scents podcast, and I believe they’re based out of Las Vegas. They do quite a bit of this, where they will get puppies, train them up, and then you can actually put a deposit down on that puppy and they will start training that puppy for you. Then that puppy, I don’t know what age they go home, it varies quite a bit from organization to organization, but you do bring that puppy home later once that puppy has actually already been screened and started on the training, and then you more or less get to finish it off. This is obviously going to be quite expensive, but it does, if you’ve got the budget, stack the deck in your favor the most because you’re not only getting that purpose bred puppy who’s been screened, but you’re also getting the benefit of having that puppy trained and raised by a real pro from day one. Again, probably really expensive, probably not the most rational choice if you’re just trying to get into this field, but, it’s there. That’s sourcing the dog.

Let’s take a quick ad break. And then when we come back, we’re going to talk about screening the dogs and, on the ground when you’ve found a dog that you think is a good fit how you’re going to decide if that dog is the right dog for you. So, we’ll be right back

Hey guys, Kayla here from K9 Conservationists dropping into this episode to tell you about something that I’m really excited to be adding to our Patreon. We have added two additional tiers to our Patreon, the Sensational Scientist, and the K9 Conservationist.

You can still join our Patreon for just $3 a month to submit questions for us to answer at the end of each episode. You can also still join at $10 a month to submit questions that our experts will help answer. But now for $25 a month, you can join our Patreon and actually join a monthly live training session break down. That means that once a month, we are going to have a video available of me training either Barley or Niffler in conservation dog work. Then we will have a live meeting on Zoom with adult beverages encouraged where we can go over my training process, what I was thinking about in this session, what I’m hoping to get out of it, and what I’m going to do next time.

Even better, at the highest level of our Patreon you can join as a K9 Conservationist for $50 a month. I know it sounds like a lot. What you actually get to do there is you get to submit videos of you working with your own dog, for me to then help analyze and break down in a kind, supportive, and helpful way. That will also be available as bonus content for our other Patreons. While it sounds like a lot for Patreon, basically what you’re paying for at just $50 a month is for myself and other really excellent trainers to assess your training and work at it in a really cool teamwork sort of way.

For $25 a month, you get access to all of that learning. So if you are serious about trying to get into the field of conservation detection dog stuff, I cannot recommend this enough. I’m really, really excited about this program. Especially if you’re listening to this right now, it’s still really new. You are going to get a ton of one-on-one interaction, because there’s just not going to be many people there yet.  You can sign up for that over at patreon.com/k9conservationists. We’ll also be sure to link it over on k9conservationists.org. You just have to remember the one link, and we will make it really easy to find. I am super excited about this! Our first offering of this is going to be in July. At the time that you hear this, you’ll still have a little bit of time to sign up before our first live video analysis. All right, back to the episode.

And we’re back. Let’s talk a little bit about screening a conservation detection dog. This is tricky, so let’s say whether it’s through a Facebook group, through finding a breeder, or through personal connections, or maybe you were just searching Petfinder and you found a dog and you think that dog might be a good fit for you. I would recommend starting out with really reading that bio that you have, whatever written information you have, reading that with a really critical eye. Potentially reaching out to other conservation detection dog handlers, other detection dog handlers, you can absolutely always reach out to me and I would love to help you out with this. Help look at the bios, because I have the experience of working in shelters as well as working closely with quite a few breeders and selecting dogs for this work and doing this work, I’d be happy to help read between the lines.

We’re looking to figure out what we know and what we don’t know about the dog and maybe what they’re kind of alluding to in the text, but you want to get a little bit more information on. One of the things that you may see is that this dog maybe should go to an only dog home or is dominant with other dogs or something like that. Those are things that I would put a little pin in that and be like, okay, we need to ask the source for a little bit more info on that. When you say that that dog is dominant with other dogs, what does that look like? That can vary quite a bit, everyone’s definition of dominance, which is not a term that I personally use, can be very, very different.

Then if you can, get in contact with the source of the dog and ask all of those follow up questions. Ask how the dog is in a variety of situations that are pertinent to your personal and professional life. Ask how the dog is in all of these different settings, how is he at the bar, how is he walking around town, how does he do off leash? Is he attentive? Is he friendly with other dogs? How is he with birds, rabbits? They might not know and that’s not necessarily a red flag, but ask as many questions as you can and then schedule time to go meet that dog if everything sounds good. The actual process of scheduling is going to vary quite widely, depending on where you’re getting the dog from. Each shelter or rescue is going to have different protocols, different organizations are going to have different protocols, even outside of shelters, for a career change dog and for breeders, you might not have a chance to fly across the country to go meet that puppy until it’s pickup day.

If at all possible, then what we’re going to do is go out and start testing that dog. Both for that personality match with you, you can kind of feel it when you feel it, and for working abilities. The test that Working Dogs for Conservation does that is very similar to what Rogue Detection Team does, and is now what I do here at K9 Conservationists, and is pretty standard practice, is a combination of tests based on search dog tests.

Basically, what we’re going to do, and you can actually find the full protocol, available for free, Working Dogs for Conservation put this together and put it up. It’s awesome, free resource, go ahead and use it. It’s at rescuestotherescue.org we’ll link to it. It’s a 10 step process that starts with just getting the dog interested in a toy, and throwing that toy around. If you don’t care if your dog would work for food, you can actually do something very similar with food. What we’re going to be doing is seeing that dog’s interest in the reinforcer, and then interest in working for that reinforcer in successively challenging environments.

That might mean seeing if the dog wants to retrieve the toy 10 times in a row, yes or no? Is that dog willing to retrieve the toy when we put it behind a barrier or in tall grass, there’s a fence the dog has to navigate or something like that and testing the dog’s ability and drive to work to earn that toy. You could do something really similar with food, you just have to modify it a little bit. Then next up, we’re then going to test that dog’s interest in actually searching. By intentionally hiding that toy or hiding that food and having the dog look for it, search for it, in a 3-D challenging, interesting environment. That’s the general gist of it. Again, you can find Working Dogs for Conservation’s entire protocol over at rescuestotherescue.org. I would recommend just going ahead and using that. They’ve got videos of examples of dogs that passed or didn’t pass the test and it’s an absolutely delightful resource.

With puppies, it might be a little bit different. For Niffler, when I was testing his litter, I went and I timed one of my visits to go out when they were doing personality and temperament testing for the puppies. I got to see generally just how the puppies reacted to all sorts of different scary or potentially interesting or upsetting situations to see if there was a puppy that was a big outlier in that litter who was extremely timid, that might not be a puppy I would be interested in just for my lifestyle.

The only big test I really did with the puppies when I went to test Niffler’s litter, and I think there was seven puppies in his litter, his breeder and I put together a food puzzle that was impossible for the puppy to solve. Then we basically tested the puppies on their persistence and trying to problem solve that toy. One of the things we saw was that Niffler was actually a big outlier in his litter. Most of his litter mates gave up on the puzzle after about 15 to 30 seconds. Niffler persisted for over a minute and a half, and he tried multiple different tactics to try to get this toy open. He pounced on it, he pawed at it, he dug at it, he bit at it, and he barked at it. He sat and manded at it, he sat and manded at us, he circled around, he was extremely persistent and creative. That was pretty much my deciding factor for him. It was helpful that he was such an outlier in his litter. He already was my favorite, based on looks and personality outside of that test. So far, I stand by that decision.

If you are looking at more of a career change dog or a started dog, you may have less of an ability to do screening or that screening may have already been done for you. At the very minimum, I would want to see video of the dog moving to make sure that you don’t see any anything in how the dog moves that would be a red flag health wise. Then also doing some amount of seeing that dog both out in public to see if that dog’s personality in public is going to mesh with your lifestyle. Again, if you don’t care that your dog can’t handle being around bikes, or kids, or other dogs, then of course nix that. I think for most of us we do want that. You do also want to see that dog doing some amount of searching or working for food. Then again, thinking about what that personality and work is going to look like in your work.

That’s my crash course in selecting and sourcing a dog. I hope you find that helpful. I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, comments. You can always of course, join us over on Patreon, you can email us at k9conservationists@gmail.com. You can also chime in on social media, we’re on Instagram and Tiktok @k9conservationist. We’re also on Facebook as well. You can find us in a variety of places. I would love to hear how you found your dog, what additional tips you would throw in, or other questions that you have that maybe we didn’t cover.

Now let’s get into our call to action for the week. My call to action is going to be pretty simple. Go ahead and join our Patreon. It’s $3 a month, and that gets you access to just about everything on our Patreon. It helps support the podcast, it pays our editor, it helps subsidize our transcribers. And, eventually, hopefully one day it will pay me because I do all of this for free. Also, at the higher levels of our Patreon, as you heard in our ad, you get a lot of really amazing access to one-on-one training support as well as group training support if you are interested in really bringing your dog and yourself to the next level as a K9 conservationist. Pretty simple call to action this week. It’s not anything you haven’t heard before. I really appreciate you listening. I hope you learned a lot and are feeling inspired to get outside with your dog and be a K9 conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. You can find show notes, donate to K9 Conservationists, and join our Patreon all over at k9conservationists.org. Until next time.