Wildlife Chasing with Alisa Healy

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Alisa Healy from Dog Forward Training about wildlife chasing.

Science Highlight: Training methodology for canine scent detection of a critically endangered lagomorph: a conservation case study

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Episode with Esther Mathews

Where to find Alisa: Website | Facebook | Instagram

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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 detection, training, welfare, conservation, biology and everything in between. I’m Kayla Fratt, a co-founder of K9 Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for land managers, researchers, agencies, and NGOs.

Kayla Fratt 

Today I have the absolute pleasure of talking to Alisa Healy from Dog Forward Training about wildlife chasing, particularly with dogs where that is likely to be a potential problem for us. So, welcome to the podcast Alisa! Why don’t you start off with telling us a little bit about yourself, your history, the dogs who you share your life with; all that good stuff.

Alisa Healy 

Great. Thanks for having me on. I live in the Chicago suburbs with my two dogs. I have an eight year old Rhodesian Ridgeback named Ruby. And then I have a two year old Whippet named Laszlo. And we really enjoy off leash hiking and exploring nature. And I also train and compete in agility with my dogs. And as far as my business, my specialty is puppies and helping people raise really awesome puppies for an active life together. And so I offer in home services for people that live in the Chicago suburbs. And then I also am lucky enough to work with clients all over the world virtually.

Kayla Fratt 

Excellent. Yeah, thank you for that introduction. And I am a little envious that you’ve got the the niche of puppies. Sounds like as far as the dog behavior dog training world, that’s a nice place to be. So I’m really excited to get into this interview. And, you know, talk about how you succeed with some of this off leash work with dogs that are not considered naturally predisposed towards that, to put it diplomatically. And you know, how we can use that to learn how we can learn from that and use that to apply with our conservation dogs.

Kayla Fratt 

But first, we’ve got to get into our science highlights. So today we’re reading a paper that may sound familiar for anyone who listened to the episode way back when with Esther Matthews. And this paper is called “A Training Methodology for Canine Scent Detection of a Critically Endangered Lagomorphs: A Conservation Case Study.” This was published in the Journal of Vertebrate biology in 2021. And the paper describes the training methodology used to investigate the ability of a scent detection dog to locate live riverine rabbits in their natural habitat and how to determine how species-specific the dog was towards a target scent in a controlled environment. That dog was trained using operant conditioning and a non visual methodology with only limited scent from roadkill specimens available that are reached a 98% specificity rate towards the towards the target scent indicating that the dog was able to distinguish between the scent of rubber and rabbits from the center of other lagomorphs species, the dog has already been able to locate 10 of these elusive individual rabbits in the wild. And the training method proves successful in the detection of critically endangered species were sent for training was only available from deceased specimens.

Kayla Fratt 

So this paper was really exciting and interesting to me, because it shows that in the conservation world, sometimes we don’t have access to the samples that we really want. It would be ideal to have this dog actually trained to find these live rabbits using live rabbits. But because of how endangered the species was, they had to use roadkill and the dog was successfully able to generalize.

Kayla Fratt 

And what relates to our conversation with Alisa here today is that this dog was actually expected to go and find these riverine rabbits in the wild, therefore kind of approaching the riverine rabbits and alerting to them without chasing them. So as part of this process, in our conversation with Esther, which will link that podcast in the show notes, she did mention that a lot of times the rabbits are flushing, but her dog Jessie was not chasing them. So that, you know, they still were disturbing the wildlife to some degree, it’s not that the rabbits were never coming into contact with the dog and not having any sort of reaction. But they worked very intensively to ensure that Jessie was not going to chase them.

Kayla Fratt 

So that is, you know, one of the more extreme examples of this wildlife interactions that we can talk about in the conservation dog world and the level to which sometimes we’re asking our dogs to come into close contact with endangered animals, but not chase them. Alright, so Alisa, let’s start off with talking a little bit about kind of like let’s get some background here about why is it that working with some dogs around wildlife and animal interactions, maybe easier then with others, and what have you seen specifically with your own dogs in that realm?

Yeah, so, I mean, one of the great things about dogs is that there are so many types of them, so many different varieties of different breeds, right. And when we think about how breeds were created, or I guess, more more modern, in modern times, we often think of dogs like by their appearance, you know, how they look. And oftentimes, like even some of my clients will choose dogs based on the appearance. But when we think about how these breeds were historically created, it was really that the form follows the function and these different breeds were created for different functions. And some of those functions involved, you know, finding, chasing, grabbing, killing wildlife. And so, um, for some breeds kind of that the full predatory sequence is still intact.

So for the types of dogs that I have a Rhodesian Ridgeback, you know, with it, they, you know, will chase, catch, kill wildlife, my personal dogs have not because I do closely manage them. And we work on lots of training. But I know that they’re these are common breeds that, you know, people own and they do actually successfully kill wildlife. And, you know, when we think of other breeds kind of outside this sighthound group, which my two breeds fall into, you know, something like a herding dog, while they are selected for a very different function than a sighthound, right, where your function is not to engage in grabbing and killing the animal, to some degree, right chasing seeking it out chasing and controlling the movement of animals, but not so much the grab and the kill or the consuming part of that predatory sequence. And so the functions for which breeds were created can either complicate the goals when it comes to something like wildlife conservation detection dogs, or it can kind of work with the goals, right when we think of just in schools.

Alisa Healy 

And I think for a lot of breeds just varying levels of independence versus like handling focus, we might want handler focus kind of come along with those historic functions that we selected for. So something like a Rhodesian Ridgeback, or, you know, an Ibizan Hound is bred to pretty much just go do its thing, right where the person and person doesn’t need to be running alongside the dog giving them any information, dogs goes and does its thing. Whereas when we think of something like a Border Collie, they are receiving instruction from a human to do their historic job, you know, on a farm or ranch or wherever they will be. Which isn’t to say that a border collie needs instruction to go in herding behavior.

Kayla Fratt 

For better or for worse, absolutely. But that’s a part of our genetic package is to to be much more cooperative with their person. Right? Yeah. Yeah, I’m so glad you brought that up as part of it too, because it’s kind of it’s, it’s twofold. And probably more than two fold. But I can think of two things right now. It’s that predatory sequence and kind of where the dog falls as far as which factors in that predatory sequence are strengthened or hypertrophied, and which are suppressed. And then it’s also thinking about, okay, and how cooperative is this dog likely to be with people? And, you know, we’ve been talking a lot about breed.

Kayla Fratt 

But, you know, before the interview started, before we hit record, we were also talking about how this obviously varies quite a bit within breed as well. So, you know, are there different lines of dogs or, you know, different even kennels, or breeders that focus on different things that may make this goal easier or harder for us?

Definitely, yeah, I mean, there’s so much variety within a line or even within a litter. I know your younger dog Niffler, you know, came from a really great breeder and I curious, just, you know, if you notice any variety, even within that litter, because Niffler is so well suited to the work that you’re doing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of his litter mates, I mean, they very well could all be well suited to that.

Alisa Healy 

But you know, there’s just tons of variety, even with a litter within a litter, which can, you know, make it hard if maybe your heart is set on a certain breed that may be considered unconventional or not quite the obvious choice for a particular task. And so it can be challenging to kind of seek out a breeder or kennel or a line of dogs or the right pairing, you know, of two dogs for a specific breeding to try to find a dog that, you know, has that maybe higher level of handler focus, or just maybe more drive, you know, however we want to define that are no, they’re very toy motivated, you want to really toy motivated dog for this work, we want to highly food motivated dog for this work, we want a dog that’s going to be naturally responsive to me, and it’s going to care about me, you know, and it’s not just going to wander off and forget that I exist.

Alisa Healy 

And so I do think it’s important to remember that there is variety within a breed and to not assume you know, I’m getting a Border Collie, or I’m getting a Malinois. It’s gonna be perfect, and just what I need for this line of work. Yeah, he’s so many differences. And so just for an example with my with it, he’s not a conservation dog. But we do hike off leash, and I also do agility with him. And if you’ve been to any agility trials, or maybe watched any trials on TV, you may notice that there are not really many involve involved in that sport. And so I specifically sought out a breeder who off leash hikes, her dogs, all of her Whippets hike off leash consistently. And they are very responsive to her when she calls them out in nature loose, and a dog that wants to engage with me. And that does care about me. And it’s not kind of just often lala land doing its own thing all the time, but a dog that’s more naturally inclined to be responsive to me and want to pay attention and, you know, follow cues and respond to what I’m asking. And so I think, you know, there are dogs out there within breeds that are more unconventional or might be a little out there for what you want to do with them. But they might have that individual dog or that individual breeding might have the traits that make them well suited to what you’re looking for. And so I think, if you’re gonna stack the deck in your favor going with really any breed even that is conventional, and that is the obvious choice for a job that we really should be looking at the genetics of that specific litter in that specific dog and, you know, as much as we can and really see, like, does this does this seem like a good fit for what I’m going to be asking the dog to do? Of course, you know, we don’t have like a crystal ball that we can look into and see into the future, if it’s all gonna pan out. But we can at least do what we can, you know, on the front end and try to stack the deck in our favor.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, I think that the concept of stacking the deck is really probably the most important underlying thing here is just yeah, like, you know, when I say when I was thinking about getting another dog for this line of work, you know, I start with, okay, I know, I really like Border Collies as a breed. They work very well for me, we think alike, we get along. I like their style of work. I’m used to working with one, I like how responsive they are in the field. And I know that generally, they tend to be as a breed highly handler focused, highly responsive to cues. Generally the, the the drive that we want to work is there. So generally, it’s pretty easy to motivate a border collie to work for toys.

Kayla Fratt 

And it’s actually pretty easy to create a little bit of a, an addict or a junkie in the Border Collie breed, which is maybe not the ethical decision that we always want to go down intentionally. But if it’s created like with my older dog Barley, I don’t think I would intentionally ever try to teach a dog to care about his reinforcers as much as he does, because I don’t think it’s actually good for his mental health and I think he could work more. He could work just as effectively without being quite as obsessed. That’s a little bit of a different conversation. But we know that generally Border Collies have that drive to work. And then so then, you know, we’ve got the breed.

Kayla Fratt 

And then yeah, I’m starting to look at the breeders and one of the things that stood out to me with Niffler’s litter that I don’t think I’ve talked about in the past on this show, is I was asking his breeder about herding, instinct trials tests that she had done with both the stud and the dam. And she talks about how with the dam, she was like, Yeah, I thought she was gonna be an okay herding dog. And then we had a lamb that was injured or something like that. It may have been it might have been a goat kid, I can’t quite remember now. But she was like, so we had that. That lamb inside the house for a while and Cora was trained to not to hurt that lamb obviously. And now we can’t get her interested to hurt anything anymore. And that is something I actually really liked. Because I was like, okay, that means that we’ve got a genetic package within at least the mother here that allows for relatively easily training this dog accidentally to not want to hurt. So that was, that was like a tiny, really good thing.

Kayla Fratt 

And then within the the litter Yeah, I was looking for a puppy that was interested in reinforcers, and using his nose, was interested in chasing toys that I threw. And it’s so hard with a little baby puppy to assess whether or not that is going to translate over into hunting. And this was another thing that we’ve kind of talked about, is this concept of part of the problem, I think, within the conservation art world is if you think about selecting for good working dog for a good detection dog, generally speaking, we’re obviously starting with a healthy dog. Then from there, you know, assuming we’ve got good hips, eyes, ears, all that good stuff, then we’re thinking, Okay, we want a dog who has the drive to work. And that generally is going to mean that dog wants to tug like a maniac, that dog wants to chase toys, or that dog is just a total chowhound, one or more of those three options, we’re looking for a dog that has really big feelings and will work very hard for a reinforcer and most reinforcers are based on the predatory sequence, because that’s inherently reinforcing, then, we’re looking for dogs that like using their nose.

Kayla Fratt 

And the problem that we get we run into in conservation or work and I imagine is probably similar for search and rescue is that we get into this place where the very thing that makes our dogs successful as working dogs is also very closely related to being a dog that is predatory. Because we are hijacking their predatory behaviors to what we want them to do. And that may be that may be truffles, that may be the poop of a cheetah, that may be an invasive plant. But the genetic package we’re working with, and the behavioral package that we’re kind of mapping out onto, is the same as what we would do with predatory stuff. And if you’ve got a bomb dog working in a stadium, it’s not a problem, if what makes them a good working dog also makes them very likely to chase squirrels but it is a problem for us. So the selection gets really tricky. And especially again, if you’re looking at a puppy, you can’t know it is so hard to I mean, it’s so hard to assess puppies for anything. But all that much harder to really parse out whether this dog wants to play and chase toys, or this dog wants to also chase squirrels or both.

Kayla Fratt 

Listen, you and your dog are already canine conservationists by listening to the show. So go ahead and show it off join the club, check out our brand new merch store, which is located at k9conservationists.org/shop. It’s stocked with stickers and magnets and bags and shirts, we’re adding new designs all the time.

Kayla Fratt 

If you’re an artist wanting to collaborate, just we split profits and are eager to hear from us reach out at k9conservationist@gmail.com. We also offer all of our webinars on demand through our store. So you can check out our puppy raising webinar alerts and changes of behavior, introducing a target odor, as well as seeking sourcing and alerting. We’re also planning to add new webinars to this all the time. So if you’ve got a request for a webinar, or you’re a practitioner hoping to contribute a webinar, again, we’re going to split our profits with you and you can reach out to us at k9conservationist@gmail.com. Let’s keep the learning going.

Kayla Fratt 

So one of the things that is common in the dog training and behavior world is that we talked about you know before you get the dog assume everything is genetic. And that’s what we’ve been talking about up until this point, you know, we were talking about selecting a breed that sets you up for success. We’re talking about selecting parents, we haven’t actually talked about lines that much. But for example, in the border hybrid, I may be looking more at sport lines versus hurting lines, because those hunting lines are much more likely to be very, very attuned to groups of animals and controlling movement, those sorts of things, in sport lines are more likely to be a little bit more just kind of handler focused and interested in toys, you know, stacking the deck with the line, stacking the deck with the individual parents, stacking the deck genetically with the right puppy as much as we possibly can.

Kayla Fratt 

Then once we’ve got the puppy home, now what do we do, and again, it’s this is in the dog behavior world that now that you’ve got the puppy, you’ve got to assume everything is behavioral, everything is trainable. Everything is something that you can fix, because otherwise, just blaming it all on genetics. That doesn’t help, we can’t change our genetics. So what do you do with your really young dogs? Or what have you done with your really young dogs to stack the environment and their learning history is up for success?

Yeah, I think that’s such a good point. So I’m not really going to wait to see the strength of the high prey drive, because I’m just gonna assume it’s there. And so right from the get go, I make an effort to get them around animals that we may see in environments we are likely to spend time. So that means specifically for me horses, because we do encounter horses pretty frequently when we’re out hiking off leash, and I do not want my dogs pursuing horses. And so you know, just finding local farms, hang out at in my area and expose my puppy to horses first, make sure that they’re not freaked out by them. And then you know, work on some engagement around the horse, work on voluntary offered attention around horses. I’ll do the same thing around other livestock, I’m very lucky to have some great farms that are open to the public in my in my area, and so spent a lot of time there with my puppies and young dogs.

Alisa Healy 

I will also start working around squirrels and critters and birds and deer. Because where I live, we are extremely likely to encounter those when we’re out in nature. And so even something as simple as there’s a squirrel on the deck and my puppy notices it to the glass door, well, there’s a great training opportunity, right, it was a great moment that I can teach my puppy something that is going to work towards a goal of off-leash reliability in the presence of wildlife when we’re outside. And you know, things like taking my puppies to trails where we see lots of deer, where they can see deer from a distance. And then we can work on some super fun pattern games where they learn how to turn away from deer and pay attention to me and give me eye contact and move with me.

Alisa Healy 

And you know, it’s all super fun. And you know, it’s nothing too serious or intense, but just from the get go showing them. Wildlife exists, right? I’m not just gonna, like, hope we never see it because that’s unrealistic. But then showing them look, you can pay attention to me in the presence of these really fascinating animals that I know your genetics predispose you to pursuing. But I’m trying to kind of get ahead and be a little bit pre emptive about it, as opposed to waiting until you know, they’re four or five months old, where you might start seeing more of those instincts common in a stronger.

Alisa Healy 

Even with my puppy clients, you know, this is stuff that I’ll work on, especially if they have a breed that tends to be chasey or, you know, have have higher prey drive where they’ll say like, Oh, he’s fine, you know, like a squirrel route will run by and he doesn’t care. And it’s like, Okay, that’s great. But you know, it’s a nine week old. When it’s when it starts to hit, you know, like four or five, six months, then it’s gonna be ripping your arm off to try to get to this squirrel. So let’s get ahead of the problem and just introduce some fun, you know, attention games or pattern games, I love Leslie McDevitt games, which I can be incredibly useful and very versatile. You know, if you’re on the road or on a trail or out a farm or wherever you’re at, you can adapt those really easily to whatever environment you’re in. So just trying to had a head of the problem and explained to my puppies that you can pay attention to me you can turn away from an early age so that way, kind of a foundation skill in the presence of wildlife.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, and I love you know, the very first thing you said of let’s just assume this is going to be a problem and start dealing with it. Because if we wait until we see it, we’re already kind of behind the curve. And yeah, this is something that I wish I had done a little bit more of with baby Niffler. Because he is highly, highly responsive to me just yesterday, I was able to call him off of a jackrabbit that flushed from not too far away from us. And he kind of took off for a couple steps. And it was funny, you can even see actually, before I called him, he got like three or four strides in. And he was going quickly at this point, it wasn’t that he was just taking a couple steps towards it. He looked over at me as he’s kind of mid stride. And I was like, yep, you’re right, buddy, I’m about to call you and I call him and he came over. And we were able to then kind of do some pattern games to calm him back down and get to the search, which isn’t ideal. You know, it would have been nice if he had not taken off at all. But also, I don’t necessarily expect if he practically steps on a jackrabbit and it takes off yeah, I’m not surprised he went after it. And I’m very happy that he was able to recall away from it and get back to work very, very quickly. But I wish that maybe if I had done a little bit more work with him when he was even younger, we might have a little bit more success with it. Particularly kind of with those like sudden fast retreating things are that’s kind of the one area that is still really challenging for him. And honestly, it’s it is for barley as well, barley is a little bit less visually and chase oriented, the Niffler he’s, he’s honestly he’s so ball and frisbee motivated that it can kind of override it in a way that it doesn’t for Niffler. So maybe I’m eating my words a little bit here. As far as the level of obsession barley has within his reinforcers does actually help here. Because when he has to make the choice between the ball and a jackrabbit, he is very likely to make the choice of ball versus for Niffler it very much. So it’s a training thing, not just that A is better than B.

Alisa Healy 

Yeah, that’s a really interesting point. And I think it goes back to the idea that you shared earlier about how traits that you’re looking for in a detection dog. kind of line up with, like the predatory ways. And, and I think that that’s kind of an interesting illustration, just how you’re sharing like the difference between your dogs. And even though my dogs aren’t doing conservation work, I kind of see your point in my own dogs, because Laszlo just has a lot more drive like he just he cares a lot more about work. And not that Ruby doesn’t care about me. She does have a lot of handler focus, but Laszlo is just super jazzed for everything and like just wants to go and go and go and work and work and work. And so he will like his recall or his offer and attention or his voluntary disengagement from a running bunny is just a lot like jazzier and peppier, and like more intense than rubies, and so even though I would say his prey drive is is even higher than rubies. His responsiveness to me is also just like more intense. Yeah,

Kayla Fratt 

that’s a really interesting point. I like that a lot.

Alisa Healy 

Yeah, sorry. Go ahead. So it’s like it’s like how much he cares about wildlife somehow correlates with how much he cares about responding to me.

Kayla Fratt 

That makes sense, though. Because if you if you think about, you know, part of the problem with a lot of these breeds with intact predatory sequences is not problem, I guess. But like, problem for this particular context is that it often does kind of correlate with independence. And in these breeds, like the herding breeds where we have the predatory sequence and we have more intensive handler focus, it’s just easier to manage. And I was one of the other things that we can throw into the pot as well as sensitivity. So Niffler is a very soft dog. Not I wouldn’t say he’s unusually soft as a border collie. And maybe for anyone who’s listening who isn’t kind of enmeshed in the dark world by soft, I kind of mean he’s a dog who if I say he will flatten his ears apologize and never do it again. I am able to like if barley is playing fetch and Niffler tries to steal the ball out of barleys mouth when Niffler is 50 feet away from me, I can say Ah, and he will stop mugging Barley, you know, and it’s not because he’s got a history of punishment. It’s not that I’ve taught that as a warning for an E collar or something. That is just how sensitive and responsive he has always been. Which is again, relatively typical for Border Collies. And Bartley, on the other hand, is pretty hard headed for a border collie. He is much more likely to like I can fall on yell at him, which is not something I tried to do. But you know, we’re all human. And he may kind of show some appeasement behaviors. But he is very likely to then go back to the drawing board and try again, those corrections are me losing my temper don’t tend to have a long term impact on his behavior, and do not tend to stress him out too much. Which is, again, that’s a factor. That’s actually something that makes him a great conservation dog because he is super persistent. And he will work really hard. And he doesn’t mind if he steps on a thorn and then has to go back to work. Like that doesn’t bother him. And Niffler has some of that tenacity. But I would not say he’s as tenacious as barley. However, with the wildlife, that sensitivity for Niffler works really well. Because if I, you know, if I have to do that, you know, sort of, yeah, well, that works incredibly well for him, even when he is kind of like mentally gone. And it does not work as well for barley for barley, I really have to rely on the reinforcers more than his sensitivity. So like, it’s interesting, because I think these impact our training plans and how we work with each dog, so do you see kind of similar where you have to approach your dogs kind of differently, based on how sensitive they are or how you already talked about Laszlo being more handler focused on that potentially making his recall, snappier.

Alisa Healy 

Yeah, I’m Ruby, my Ridgeback is a very sensitive dog. And, I mean, similar to you, I don’t really yell at my dogs, you know, as like a method of training them. You know, we’re all human. And sometimes it might happen in a particularly stressful situation. Um, whereas Laszlo is very resilient, and less affected. I mean, if I just sigh a little too loud or long, Ruby will like come over and put her head in my lap, like, yeah, do something and say, it’s not like, you know, we have a history of punishing her anything. Whereas last was just kind of like unbothered and like, on to the next thing. Um, but I do think

Kayla Fratt 

it’s interesting that the, just sorry to interrupt but like, you know, this is an n of two, I guess. But we have kind of the same. The same patterns where barley is the more engaged and less sensitive one. And Niffler is the more in more sensitive, but also cares a little bit less about his reinforcers Oh, wait, no, do our dogs map the same way? Because then you said Ruby is a little bit less worried about her reinforcers but yeah, more sensitive. So it’s interesting that, at least in these this case, those things seem to correlate.

Alisa Healy 

Yeah, and I think they each kind of pose their own challenge challenges and opportunities, you know, so, um, Laszlo has higher prey drive and so that opens up the door for me to use certain reinforcers that a Ruby might just not find quite as cool as he does. You know, so putting a piece of really delicious food in like a bunny hide toy that I drag on a rope after I recall him and I run away from him and he gets to chase the bunny for with food in it is like the coolest thing ever for him. Yeah, where Ruby doesn’t really like toys. She definitely has high prey drive and you know will pursue wildlife. I can also recall her off things, but she just doesn’t find like chasing a toy as interesting as he does like for her, right? Just doesn’t compute and it doesn’t relate. Whereas for Laszlo, he finds chasing a toy with food in it really, really awesome. And so that gives me a really powerful reinforcement that I can use, if I do call him off something. Yeah. And you know, in an instance of him chasing wildlife, for example. And so I think, with each dog, as I said, there’s kind of challenges within also opportunities and maybe created like, within the instincts and behavioral repertoire that each dog has, like thinking, how can we leverage this to reinforce the behaviors I want to see even in situations that might be challenging for the dog to respond?

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, and I love Yeah, I love this discussion of how, based on the specific topography of what your dog finds reinforcing what your dog finds, motivating, and the way that predation kind of appears for your dog, we’re able to take these different approaches. So like for Niffler, for example, actually, after I recalled him away from the jack Robin, I threw his toy his ball, which is his reinforcer for all of our work in the field. And he rejected it, he came back and he stood next to me, and he had his pupils dilated, and he wanted to stand next to me and continue kind of watching the rabbit repeat, retreat into the distance, and refused any of the reinforcers I offered him I had hot dogs with me, I didn’t have anything better than that. And I had to toy. And normally chasing a toy is really important to him and something he cares a lot about. And one of the things I’ve actually struggled with him, and this is a side note, but in the heat, you know, for example, yesterday’s High was 108 degrees. It is hard to motivate him with toys if he doesn’t get to really chase them. So we switch over to food and I am working on making tug a game that is really, really important to him, which is something I just hadn’t done with him and it’s coming along. Like it’s been like three days of playing talk with him. And he’s already like, choosing talk as often as he’s choosing matches his chosen reward, which is great. But anyway, so it was really interesting to me to watch like, okay, he recalled to me away from a jackrabbit he was less than 10 meters behind this rabbit, it was really, really close. And then he rejected his reinforcers he kind of did this for a different reason. Versus for barley. Hey, when his arousal spikes his toy drive spikes at the same time. So generally, if I recall barley away from wildlife, what I’m going to do is as he’s running back to me, I’m already pulling out the toy, I’m presenting it and I’m bracing myself for the tug hit that is about to come and potentially almost knock me off my feet. And it’s just it’s so interesting how different it is and how both work. But, yeah, go ahead.

Alisa Healy 

Oh, I was just gonna say, for my Ridgeback Ruby, who’s the more sensitive dog, I find that adding like a lot of praise, you know, if I recall her, I’m going to give her some really high value food, but I’m also going to praise her a lot in a super happy voice, and you know, be super obnoxious about it. And she loves that. And I think that fits with her tendencies to be more sensitive, you know, like, to my voice, or just now I’m doing that day, you know, or it could be unrelated to her boom, I’m just having a bad day. And it kind of affects her right. And so being happy and giving her tons of praise, along with some great food for recalling off something tends to be very motivating, and reinforcing for her. And so again, just kind of working with their quirks and seeing it as an opportunity for reinforcement and getting specific with reinforcement that works for that dog. Yeah. Yeah,

Kayla Fratt 

that makes a lot of sense. So I want to talk about you know, some of the measures that you take to prevent wildlife chasing before it even starts because again, as we kind of said, it’s, it’s very impressive that I was able to call Niffler off of this track rabbit, but in an ideal world, he never took off after it. That may be too much to ask and obviously he if he moved close enough to the rabbit to flush it anyway, That rabbit was going on. was going to flush and was clearly disturbed by our presence, whether or not he had chased it. But again, in an ideal world, we’re not chasing wildlife at all. And that’s something we really are working on. So what are some of the approaches you take beyond kind of puppyhood? You’ve mentioned pattern games, are there any specific that you want to bring up or specific kinds of procedures you use to help the dogs understand when or not to chase at all? Like, not start?

Alisa Healy 

Yeah, so I like maybe we’ll start like really big picture. And then we’ll go back to the nitty gritty, like the patent like specific games, or that sort of thing. So the first thing that I tried to do is choose environments where the chasing is less likely. So where I live, it’s a lot of forest. And then they’re also kind of like some more open prairie type areas. And so I like to stick with the more open areas, because it’s less likely that we’re going to find squirrels, and deer, they tend to live in the forest. And I want my dogs when we’re off leash to either be just kind of being dogs like sniffing and rolling and chasing each other. And, you know, just like decompressing and having a good time, or, you know, checking in with me, which gives me an opportunity to reward them for voluntarily coming over to me.

And so if we’re in a forest, where it’s a windy trail, and I can’t really see what’s ahead, and you know, there’s like squirrels every 30 fee, and then we come across deer, if that’s our experience, of being off leash in nature, then my dogs pretty quickly are going to get into zone where they forget I exist, they’re really far ahead of me. They’re responding to every sound thinking that it’s going to be like their next possible kill, you know, blowing leaf, and that’s not setting us up for success at all. Yeah, what I want to be seeing from them. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those behaviors. Like, if I could have 100 fenced acres, you know, and just let them rip, then that would be, you know, fine with me. But that’s not the reality, I don’t have 100 fenced acres, sadly, and so I have to kind of work with that I have, yeah, so I like to try to be strategic about where I’m letting them off leash in the first place.

So that I’m shaping behaviors I want to see which is staying relatively class, checking in keeping me on their radar, right being responsive to me when I asked them to do something. And I think it’s also really important to do this really frequently, because you don’t do it often, then it becomes a novelty. And even if I am taking them to places where it’s unlikely that we’ll actually encounter wildlife, they’re probably still going to be you know, ranging really far. Looking for critters that they can chase, they’re going to be less likely to actually even be able to respond to me because they’re going to be maybe over showing or, you know, whatever they might be feeling where they can’t listen to me. And then we get into that danger zone where they’re blowing off recalls or just not even checking in anymore. And so we want to make this a really regular practice. So that it’s just normal, though, like Yeah, I’m off leash all the time. This is not a big deal. I don’t need to try to like take advantage of the opportunity because we’re going to do this again tomorrow.

Kayla Fratt 

I love that point. And like I just as like an example I’m doing something similar with Niffler right now where barley naturally stays very close to me on hikes. And in Florida is not nibblers or rangy, rangy guy when I put the GPS collar on him if I am in a place where it is safe, and I do let him kind of let them rip. He’s often hundreds of yards or hundreds of meters away from me. And he’s moving in circles. He knows where we are, but he is far away and often moving at like 20 miles an hour like he’s just he’s not. And the place that I’m staying this summer for like my field housing is it See these little hunting cabins on 85 acres in Nebraska. And it’s largely forested. But we have this field that probably takes 10 or 15 minutes to kind of walk the perimeter of. And we’ve been doing that almost every day. And with Niffler, I’ve been working really, really hard on like, we’re not treating this as a decompression walk. Right now, we are treating this as a training scenario to work on closing that radius that he is in by quite a bit. And like the second he kind of is about to go out of sight into the woods, as we’re kind of walking on the edge of the field, I’m recalling him rewarding him and releasing him back. Even over the course of like the last couple of weeks, what I started with is I was actually, if you can kind of imagine this as as a circle, with the edges being the forest and the inside of the circle being the field, I was walking a really small concentric circle in the field at first.

So we were really far away from the temptation of going into the trees. And then over the last week or two, we’ve been getting to the point where we’re able to walk a bigger and bigger loop, because we’re walking closer and closer to the forest edge. And he is more and more successful at staying close to me, and not going off and engaging in any of these other hunty behaviors. That, you know, while he’s not actually tracing wildlife, if he is to encounter deer when I cannot see him, and he’s 150 meters away from me, I’m not going to be able to recall him. So it doesn’t matter how good his recall is, if he’s that far away. So yeah, what are some of the other things you do to kind of make sure that you’re able to stay on your dog’s radar?

Alisa Healy 

Yeah, so I love just the very simple act of changing direction. So because I reward my dogs so much just for checking in with me, and you know, coming over on their own, and then they get a little snack, and then I’ll release them back to the environment. When I change direction, they’re very inclined to follow me and like, Hey, where are you going? What’s going on? Where are you right? Now, um, and I might just turn right back and go the direction that I was walking previously, I might do this at a walk, I might be really like sneaky about it. And kind of like, let them see me like start tiptoeing. And then I might like sprint and hide behind a tree where they have to come catch me, I might just take off running as fast as I can in the opposite direction, which again, kind of taps into the Chasey prey drive instincts that they have, where it’s super fun to chase me down, and then they get a delicious piece of food when they catch me. Just kind of keeping them on their toes. And this is stuff I do with my clients all the time to with little baby puppies is super fun, right? Like, you know, Chase mom or dad, and then you have a little party when they find you. Um,

Kayla Fratt 

what I love the idea, sorry, I love the idea of kind of using changing direction and novelty to get them to pay attention to you on their own, rather than waiting for a recall. Like I know, one of the things I do a lot of is I’ll do a similar thing where I’ll change direction without calling them and I’m keeping an eye on them to make sure that I’m not totally abandoning them or going to lose them. But using that as a little bit of a learning experience so that when they have that, Oh, crap, I lost her moment, that it’s a little bit of a learning experience to maybe stay closer and stay more engaged in the future.

Alisa Healy 

Yeah, so I think yeah, it can kind of prompt them to check in more, because they don’t know when you might turn around and walk the other way silently.

Kayla Fratt 

They gotta keep track of you because you’re not trustworthy.

Alisa Healy 

We’re also really love. I am pretty sure this game came from absolut dogs, they have a lot of fun games. I can’t remember what they call this game. But basically like finding maybe a big tree or a bench or a big bush or something, and kind of running around it. So you kind of take the tree or the trash can or whatever it is like between you and the dog. And then you do the whole like thing like,

Kayla Fratt 

like faking it and like Yeah,

Alisa Healy 

and that’s super fun. Again, it taps into like the chasi prey drive stuff where they get to run and chase and pursue you and then they get a big reward when they catch you. So I love doing that one too. Um, this other little game I got from Sarah Stremming one of her courses, which is also super fun, is I think she calls it I’m not a regular mom. I’m a cool mom with doesn’t mean girls quote. But like, pointing out cool stuff to them or creating something for them. So like, maybe I find like a feather my dogs really like feathers like a bird feather that I found on the ground. I think passerby and I found it and soggy. Like, you guys come look at this, I can look at this thing over here and pointed out to them and, or I might, you know, take some really good food and put on a rock or a log, and then call them over and pointed out to them. And then they get to discover, like this amazing snack that mom somehow knew about that I didn’t realize was there.

And so the kind of the point of this is like, you know, stuff that they don’t, right, and like you can show them cool stuff or make cool stuff happen. Because you’re like, kind of in the know, and they’re not. And so, you know, it’s a good idea to pay attention to mom or like, kind of see why what she might be pointing out. And so it may not be necessarily like a recall or a chicken, but it’s still related to those behaviors, because they’re coming over to you. And you’re also kind of explaining to them like you’re a person worth listening to and worth trusting because you kind of make cool stuff happen.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah, no, I love that. And I was kind of trying to think, cuz some of these things like we do a lot when we’re out on hikes, like my dogs and I, and then don’t necessarily get to be things that we do when we’re on the in the field and doing a search. But I think they still kind of transfer over as concepts that helped create the behavior and create the repertoire that we want. Because like in the field, for example, I don’t want my dog so focused on me and me pointing things out that they’re not able to search.

But, you know, there are other ways that I can do this, where I might call them over to a puddle, or a place for them to take a nice break. Where you know, it’s something that they need to do anyway. And I will kind of call them over and use some amount of like functional reinforcement there. As a way to kind of Yeah, again, reengage them. But I’ve not necessarily like if I if I find a bad on on a search, which has only happened a couple times where I find something that they have missed, but it does occasionally happen. I will either completely ignore it and see if the dog finds it, which generally is what happens, where I just Spot it 30 seconds ahead of them or something. Or if they if they really don’t notice it, I will kind of run remember where it is, I might drop some flagging tape or something and then I come back to it on my own when I’m going back to process samples anyway. Without the dog knowing it because like one of the things that I’m actually really concerned about doing especially again, because one of the the flipside of Border Collies for this line of work. And dogs that are highly engaged with their people is we don’t want them to get to the point where they’re so engaged with with us that they’re not able to go search independently. So I take kind of, I take pains to ensure that my dogs don’t think that I know where the bats are, even if I have located them. Because I don’t want them to think that they can rely on me to find stuff because they can’t that is their trump. Let’s run out with a couple pattern games.

And then we actually have to wrap up here. So, you know, pattern games. And I think one thing, one last thing that we haven’t mentioned that I’m just going to say really, really quickly here is also, you know, we may search with our dogs on leash, we may toggle our dogs on and off leash throughout the concept of throughout a search throughout a hike. And we can work with our partners for to create study design setups, that are more likely to set our dogs up for success. So all of that ties in to everything that Elise has been saying here, but to bring it home for the practitioners. I think we can think creatively about how to apply this when we’re working with our project partners as well. So, okay, let’s let’s maybe do like one favorite pattern game or one favorite exercise that you have found really successful with your dogs who do really want to chase wildlife.

Alisa Healy 

Yes. So I enjoy kind of combining like the look at that game, which is probably one of the better known pattern games where the dog looks at the distraction, it could be a bunny, and then you initially just reward them for noticing the thing. So you can click or yes and then reward them for noticing the bunny. And then fairly quickly that takes you to step two where then the dog look To the bunny, and then looks at you, and then you can click or yes, the orientation away from the bunny and to you. Um, but for dogs that have higher prey drive, um, I find that adding some movement to that game can really help. Because it can be really hard for a Chasey or hunty dog to be like very still, during this whole process is just kind of going to like sit there very patiently and watch the thing and not move. Yeah, and you know, every dog is different.

And for some dogs, we may do better with like, a calm version of the look at that came and stillness might kind of be where it’s at, for that dog. But for my dogs and I think for a lot of dogs just adding some movement to the game. Um, so kind of combining that with Leslie’s ping pong game, where you’re throwing food, so the dog notices the bunny. And then instead of just rewarding hand to mouth, I might cue them to chase a like a hunk of cheese a ticket to go, you know, Chase 20 feet, and then they get to go eat that. And then I will pay them for returning to me. And then they look at the bunny again, and then I’ll chuck another big piece of food out in the grass that they get to chase down. And that way, they get to move and like expel some of the energy, which I think is really cool, as opposed to just sitting there. And like the soda cans is shaking up like, right? Yeah, they’re about to blow up or whatever it is. And so kind of giving them an outlet to like burn off some energy, but still reinforcing that Orient, orienting towards you, and keeping their head on their shoulders around the wildlife.

Kayla Fratt 

Yeah. And I love and I think that’s underlyings. You know, if we think about how this fits with our episode with Simone Mueller is, you know, she talks about the stalking game where she teaches the dogs to stand still in stock with their eyes and to enjoy that kind of staring behavior. And I think, you know, one of the things that is super cool about having all of these episodes coming out together is that or at least available together, because I don’t think they’re coming out at the same time is underlining how different it is like you have sighthounds that are bred to really Chase. And you have found that it’s super helpful to ensure that they get to move as part of avoiding chasing, and I, you know, when I was talking about Niffler, with this Jackrabbit the other day, he actually would rather stand there and stare at the rabbit as it retreated and then engage with the reinforcers I had. And then it was kind of my job to get his head back on his shoulders after he was done. And we did some pattern games for that.

So we did kind of some left to right, treat games, where it’s just kind of a treat on the left a treat on the right, a treat on the left a treat on the right, until he was at the point where he was eating normally for him on kind of getting that arousal back down. And then I was able to confidently cue him to search again. And, yeah, I think the bottom line here is that we can get creative and it’s never going to be a one size fits all, and maybe figuring out what part you know, what matters to your dog? And how can we offer that to them in a context that is safe for them, say for wildlife ethical for wildlife? You know, I think we’ve given people a lot of really good ideas in these episodes. But you know, we have not given a training plan for a reason, because it’s just not possible.

Alisa Healy 

Yeah, I think we’ve come full circle with the very first thing we talked about about just different breeds and functions of different breeds. And yeah, about that we go about training and training plans. So

Kayla Fratt 

yeah, yeah, it’s super and even knowing your individual dog because I honestly would have really expected Niffler to want to chase a Frisbee as a consolation prize for not chasing a rabbit. And was very surprised that that was his response the other day. So, you know, be able to think on your feet, I guess, is one of our last thoughts. So at least where can people find you online if they’re interested in learning more? And following you and your beautiful dogs online?

Alisa Healy 

Yeah, I am on Instagram. My handle is Alisa.digs.dogs. And my business has a website dog for training.com. And then there’s a corresponding Facebook page for my business as well.

Kayla Fratt 

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming on. And yeah, I hope this is really helpful for people especially people who, whose dogs do struggle with being off leash around wildlife and they’re really trying to figure out how to make this work better. You know, whether you’re a practitioner or just a pet owner, sport and Susie asked. And yeah, for everyone who’s listening I hope that this episode inspired you to go outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits, your passions and your skill set. As always, you can find show notes, transcripts, merch, stickers, join our Patreon book club and all of that great stuff over at K9Conservationists.org. We’ll be back next week. Bye!