In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla speaks with Kristine Hoffman and Julia Sirois from St Lawrence University about their work with wood turtles, building on our conversation with Scott Buchanan.
Thanks to the following partners for making this work possible:
- St. Lawrence University
- Noah Goldthwait and Nancy Karraker from the University of Rhode Island
- Scott Buchanan and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management
- Lou Perrotti and the Roger Williams Park Zoo
- K9 College
- North Country Canine
- Henry & Theresa Godzala Research Fund of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
Where to find Kristine: Website
By Maddie L.
The episode features an experiment examining how varying odor concentrations impact dogs’ detection abilities. The research aims to understand how changes in odor concentration affect a dog’s scent detection accuracy, with practical implications for training conservation detection dogs. This highlights the ongoing efforts to optimize dogs’ remarkable sensory abilities in wildlife monitoring and conservation work.
Fieldwork Safety for Turtles:
Julia and Kristine talk about the considerations and planning for the safety of turtles when working with a live target. They mention that their dog, Newt, was obsessed with tennis balls and not interested in harming the turtles. Safety was not a significant concern with Newt when working with turtles.
Introducing the Dog to Toads:
When working with toads, they introduced Newt to toads using a non-living scent (birch oil) to help him understand the scent he needed to detect. The process involved muzzling Newt and placing the toads in Mason jars with holes in a box. They also shared an experience where Newt had trouble distinguishing toads from other objects when he was not familiar with the specific species.
They discussed their search strategy for turtles, which involved covering specific areas along streams and rivers, typically one-kilometer transects. Julia would zigzag from the stream edge up to about 50 meters from the stream, and Newt would search more intensively. They had some freedom to adapt their strategy based on what worked best for the dog and the project’s success.
Julia and Kristine shared engaging field stories, including moments where Newt’s enthusiasm for playing fetch conflicted with his work.
They discussed the challenges of maintaining a balance between dogs’ playfulness and their working responsibilities, as well as the occasional surprising discoveries during fieldwork.
Kristine and Julia mentioned their upcoming projects. They discussed plans to work on the Spotted Turtle project in upstate New York and to continue Newt’s work in Rhode Island and Long Island, New York. They also talked about training Julia’s dog, Obi Wan Kenobi, for future projects, including wind turbine work.
Spadefoot Toad Project:
The Spadefoot Toad project was introduced, where they used Newt to locate underground toads. However, they found that Newt struggled with the challenges of underground detection, unfamiliar scents, and headlamp interference. They ultimately decided to focus on other projects where the dog could be more effective.
Challenges with Salamanders:
Working with salamanders presented difficulties, including potential habitat destruction during verification of their presence.
Social Media and Contact Information:
Julia shared her social media account “Lives for Wildlife” on Instagram and Facebook, where she documents her work with detector dogs and nature-inspired dog collars. Kristine mentioned her affiliation with St. Lawrence University and encouraged people to explore the university’s biology department for more information.
Kayla Fratt 00:09
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, one of the cofounders of K9Conservationists, where we train dogs to detect data for land managers, researchers, agencies and NGOs. Today I have the joy of talking to Dr. Kristine Hoffman and Julia Sirois, from St. Lawrence University about their work with wood turtles, building on our conversation with Scott Buchanan. I’m super excited to get to this interview, we had a lot of fun talking about all of the work that they did, getting their dog Newt up and running for this project about Julia’s experience kind of coming in as an undergraduate who learned how to handle Newt and some really cool field finds. But before we get into it, we’re going to dive into our science highlight. This week, we read the article “Training with varying odor concentrations, implications for odor detection threshold in canines.” This was published in animal cognition by Mallory T. DeChant and Nathan Hall in March of 2021. This science highlight was put together for us by our lovely volunteer Heidi Benson. Thanks so much to Heidi. And here we go. So, detection dogs are expected to generalize into a wide spectrum of target odor concentrations, including concentrations that may differ from what they have been trained on. While human studies have shown that perceived quality changes can occur with odor concentrations of 100 fold or greater studies involving dogs are lacking. The author’s were interested in determining whether odor concentration of trading aids influenced the lower threshold at which the dogs detect odors. So to quote 11 adoptable mixed breed dogs with unknown histories were used for the study. All dogs were initially trained to detect a 0.1 milliliter per milliliter dilution of ISO Amyl acetate, which has banana flavor in mineral oil. Training was conducted using PVC odor ports, positive reinforcement and marker training. Once the dogs reached 86% accuracy or greater during double blind trials, they moved on to a three phase training experiment. Each phase involves 80 training trials with a specific odor concentration over a period of two days, followed by threshold testing, six dogs were placed in an experimental group. And we’re trained using increasingly diluted concentrations for each phase. So going from point O one to point o three, and then down down to point O. O oh, so three zeros, one milliliter per milliliter, and then five dogs were placed in a control group, where they were trained on the point O one milliliter per milliliter concentration for all phases. During threshold testing. If a dog correctly detected an odor concentration twice consecutively, the concentration was diluted for the next trial. If the dog made one incorrect response, the concentration was increased for the next trial. Threshold testing continued until concentration direction was reversed six times or until 440 trials were completed. No significant threshold difference between the two groups of dogs was found during phase one when both dogs were trained to the point O one milliliter per milliliter delusion. However, during phase two, when experimental dogs were trained, down to point o three milliliters per milliliter, they showed a non significant lower mean threshold detection for Phase Three when experimental dogs were trained with the lowest concentration of point oh, one milliliter per milliliter experimental dogs significantly outperformed control docs. In addition, the control group did not show improvement between any two individual phases, whereas the experimental group showed improvement be between the two phases, which included a 900 fold improvement from phase one to phase three. This study highlights how the concentration of training materials may limit the detection ability of the dog, quote, cost and time constraints only allowed for three phases of testing. More research is needed to determine if an increase in training would allow for even further odor threshold improvements. And quote, the author’s noted the air dilution is generally preferable to liquid dilution method that was used, but that this likely did not have significant impacts on the overall study. Notably, the study only looked at the effects of decreasing odor concentrations on detection thresholds. We would love to see a similar study repeated but using increasing odor concentrations as well. It also it’d be interesting to see what this looks like when the dogs are actually searching an area rather than kind of in a laboratory setup where the dogs are just detecting or not detecting something. The dogs we’re not trying to have a final response to odor a final alert, which could potentially introduce error via handler interpretation of behavior, although for this specific study likely was not an issue. And Heidi notes that it was a really cool study overall and that she really enjoyed it. So, without further ado, let’s get on to our interview with Kris and Julia. All right, well, welcome to the podcast. Julia and Kris, it’s so lovely to have you here.
Kristine Hoffman 04:51
Thanks for having us.
Kayla Fratt 04:54
So why don’t we start out with Julia, tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up getting into All day in this project, it sounds like a really cool opportunity to have had so early in your career.
Julia Sirois 05:05
Yes. So I came into college not really knowing what I wanted to do and what I wanted to study. But I did know that a class called biology of dogs would be right up my alley. So that was kind of my first introduction to Dr. Hoffman and dogs. On a more biological level. I’ve worked at doggy daycares, and I’ve always loved dogs. So this was like the next step. And then she kind of told me a lot about Newt, who was I think, right around nine months at the time that I was meeting him. And he was just starting to learn spadefoot toads. And then, so he had a handler at that point, Hannah Duffy, who is graduated already from SLU. And then I kind of volunteered my time to helping train Newt on days, Hannah couldn’t be there. Or on weekends, we would go to Canine College in Watertown, where we would do more formal training. And then coming into my junior year, so fall of 2022, I think no 2021. Fall 2021. Yes, I kind of got to step in as Newt’s primary handler. And I decided that I was really interested in what turtles and focusing more on of like a freshwater turtle species. So we started working with that sent with him. And then we had a bit of a rough start in the fall, because as we were getting him ready to go into the field and actually be ready to search in the fields. The Turtles were already hibernating, so we didn’t find any. And we’re kind of bummed out, but we kind of just kept working through the winter. And then in the spring, we kept bringing him out to this one site that had a pretty dense population. And pretty much Dr. Hoffman and I were the ones that were seeing the turtles before the dog. So he was still finding them and alerting to them eventually, but we’re kind of seeing them before him. And then one day, it was like, everything changed, and it clicked for him. And so it was like really, really exciting to kind of get to that point. And it was like a week before we left for Rhode Island. So it was like cutting it close with the field proofing.
Kristine Hoffman 07:31
He seemed to know he was looking for wood turtles, but he thought he was looking for the wood turtles that we hid. Yes. Sense.
Julia Sirois 07:41
Yes, I think it was definitely that transition from human scent association with like, captive turtles. Like we were also using swabs from captive wood turtles, which I think he had trouble like making that transition to because you also have to consider you know, the algae on their shells and any like substrate from their tanks that might also be contributing to like their overall I think, like scent profile for that. So yeah, it was like once he found that first turtle, he ended up finding aid during the rest of that one survey. So, I mean, it was like a huge 180 for him behavior wise and yeah, that at that point, I was like, okay, like, I’m completely invested in this. Like, I’m so much more excited now. And we went into Rhode Island, which I’m sure we’ll get into more but yeah,
Kristine Hoffman 08:40
I’m going to add that we didn’t know that we were going to be working with you at Island when Julia started training him on wood toodles it was just okay, you’re going to work with the dog. Let’s not do toads again. Because they they discovered that it’s if you move the headlamp from your forehead to between your eyes, the toads eyes reflect. And then you can see the toad 50 meters away, but the dog has a detection radius of like one meter. So this tool, and you guys couldn’t figure this out before we spent a year training the dog to illustrate your dog. Yeah, so why did you toads again, Julia happened to pick with turtles. And then we just online one day and I saw a news article out of Rhode Island that they were looking for wood turtles down there, that’s the most endangered turtle in Rhode Island, and that they weren’t having much luck with human sources and just like oh, okay, so I emailed them. I’m like, you guys want a dog and a student? And they were like, yes, we would love a dog and a student
Kayla Fratt 09:43
That’s amazing. I love that you had the opportunity to do that and that was you know going to be my next question is how did you you all get connected and you know, we’ve already heard this from from Scott side during last week’s episode, but I love that so Julia What was you know, what did you know? Oh anything about what turtles ahead of time? What kind of led you to start thinking about what turtles before even being connected with a project?
Julia Sirois 10:08
Yeah, so following my freshman fall semester taking biology of dogs, Kris kinda let me skip ahead a little bit on the biology, I guess, ladder of of classes and I got to go into her herpetology class. And I’ve always loved like catching frogs and flipping logs for salamanders and looking for snakes as a kid. And primarily in Maine, the only turtles that I would see were paint turtles, and those are ones that you know, you can’t really get near there, they’re gone the second year like are approaching them. So I was like, really, really curious about doing a reptilian species and especially turtles around here. So just like the prospect of a terrestrial turtle that we can actually find with the dog. And that’s pretty cryptic. And then, you know, getting to handle them and not necessarily have to swim for them sounded very appealing.
Kayla Fratt 11:10
Yeah, certainly I grew up chasing, chasing painted turtles down as well. And yet, they’re, they’re fast. They’re tough. I have a lot of good memories of being in a paddle boat on the lake in Wisconsin that my grandparents lived on trying to like, paddle after these four, these four painted turtles. So yeah, that’s really, really neat. And Chris, why don’t we? How did how did Newt come into your life? Did you already know that you wanted to be training a conservation dog? Was that a happy accident? Tell us about Newt’s origin story.
Kristine Hoffman 11:41
So I started doing citizen science when I was in junior high school, Massachusetts had this spotted turtle projects that they were trying to figure out where the spotted turtles were. And we had some of my neighbor’s land my dad and I would go out and just look for turtles when we had spare time and I’d always be out there frustrated like a dog could do this so much better. So since then, I’ve had in the back of my mind that I wanted to train a total dog and then when I was getting my degrees I have my match my master’s degree from University of Florida but that’s not actually relevant now that I said that anyways, I while I was getting my master’s degree, it was reading about dog training for my stress relief. And then when I graduated, I got my other dog and sees your traditional like pet lineage Labrador, who will find the box turtles, if it’s right in front of her, and then bark at them. But by then I already know the turtles in front of her. She has no like patience for it. But she taught me a lot about dog training. So then, once I got my job here as a visiting assistant professor, I was able to, to like make that a priority to make partners with some of the local dog trainers. We’ve got canine college out in Watertown, which does a lot of bite work. And they do a lot of narcotics detection, bedbug detection, they did some search and rescue and human remains detection. So really nice training facility. They do a lot of pet dogs too. And then they hired on another trainer who also does bedbugs and aquatics. And I was able to work with both of them. And they helped me pick out a Buddha and we went over different breeds didn’t want to just like stay with labs because I knew the labs but we wound up like for the same reason why the back at labs that I’m a reptile and amphibian biologists and I tend to do wet with a lot ticks, and labs will work really wellin ponds. So then we got new and started with some projects and we didn’t speak with toes we had done a little study this semester before with some of the faculties different dogs training them to find toads and in the laboratory and just identifying on the toads. So I already knew that I wanted to do the turtles when I got knew that I wanted to do conservation work of amphibians and reptiles because that’s my specialty is in phibian in reptiles, and we had his first project picked out before we got him I didn’t want to get the dog until I had a partner. So we went straight into this spadefoot toad project, knowing that was going to be his first project. A lot more fun.
Kayla Fratt 14:36
Yeah, I do think at the end, I want to circle back to the spade foot project if we’ve still got time and hear a little bit more about that because I love digging into some of these projects where it does turn out that dogs aren’t the best tool, you know, first starting to highlight all the great stuff that you and I have all have all done together. But I also it’s so fascinating in these places where the dogs don’t do really well. And particularly I think that’s not uncommon with some of our amphibians. So I think I’ve got some selfish interest in some of our amphibian troubles as well, because we’ve had a couple couple folks come to us about them. And there’s always some really interesting discussions about feasibility there. So what did newts kind of really early training look like? Did you have the other students kind of on onboard right away with his really early training? Or did you do most of it on your own? Did you send him off?
Kristine Hoffman 15:26
We did a combination of me and other students. We got him like the day after final exam. So because everyone was leaving campus, and we brought him home, and like his 50 at the day, so right after seven weeks, when we were able to get him, we started doing virtual work with him in tins. And there was some interns that were working over the summer on some nature outreach programs, we have a program called Nature up north at St. Lawrence University. And they do a lot of education. They do like a fishing week, and some farmers markets and some citizen science and presentations. And there was three girls working for them that summer. So I would like walk into the room and be like, have this puppy, I’m gonna go do this, I have a meeting, I’m dropping this with you. So right off the bat, he was used to having different people like responsible for him. And then once the semester starts, and my once the students got back, they started handling him more. So he learned, he had the very beginning of the summer with me and with the trainers in Watertown. And then I kind of handed it off to the students and they would train him during the day, then at night, I would take him home and do some training later, too. And what’s been nice about that is that he will listen to anyone because part of his training has been okay, now this person is handling me and Kris might be standing there, but she’s never going to give me the ball while this person is handling me.
Kayla Fratt 16:56
Yeah, that’s such an important lesson to learn for, for dogs that are going to be going through different handlers. And yeah, it’s amazing that you guys were able to be so proactive with that. Yeah, really, really, it’s, it’s lovely when we’re able to plan out things this well. This podcast is brought to you by our Patreon group. For as little as $3 a month, you get to ask questions for upcoming episodes, and you also get access to our Online Student Alumni Facebook group. At $10 a month, you can join monthly coaching calls and book club calls. At $25 a month, you can submit video of you and your dog for kind, thoughtful discussion and feedback during each of those calls. And finally, at $50 a month, you get private coaching calls with me at each month. We also have exclusive merch for loyal patrons and occasional workshops, webinars and other secret goodies for the group. We appreciate your support. So Julia, I’d love to hear a little bit more about what your early training process was like when you got paired with Newt. How much did you know about dog training? Did you start off shadowing set work sessions did you start off not doing set work at all? What did that early process look like for you to get up and running as a handler.
Julia Sirois 18:05
So being in the biology of dogs class, I learned a lot about dog body language and how you read dogs how you like understand how they’re feeling just based on you know, ears tail like everything. So I entered in working with new pretty much shadowing for a bit I would go and like hide the target odor for for Newt before training sessions, and then kind of like sit back and watch. And then Newt was also hitting his his rebellious teenager phase when when I kind of was actually entering the picture. So the weekends were sometimes spent not doing any scent work at all, but we’d be at the training facilities that we mentioned previously, and be working on a hill with new and getting him to sit and down in place with distractions around and sometimes it was very frustrating, because he, he would be like, yeah, we’re not doing that today. And you know, I would rather go play fetch, or I would rather do this and very independent during that small phase. But I think that almost made me like, want to do this more where I’m like, oh, like, I want to be your partner. I want to get you to like, listen and want to work again. So it was a lot of just like slowly building that back. And then, of course, as we were starting to get him to really take in some of these lessons, we had COVID hit so I got sent home and the next semester we were on campus, but it was very strict. And so we could meet outside and do a little bit of training, but it’s like social distancing. And I kind of got to handle him a bit more during that like, Kris would be like, Hey, I Kids some targets, grabbed Newt from this classroom and go out and do it or like, another professor would go and throw them off the trail in any direction and plant a flag near the trail edge. And then you know, it’d be a lot of like independent stuff. So that was a really good learning curve as well of like, having plenty of readings to do and building on the skills that I had been learning just by watching and then being kind of like, tossed straight into it, because there was really no other option. Oh, yeah, Hudson to during the time at the other training facilities, he was such a great dog because he was a young Chocolate Lab, and he was being trained to do bedbug detection. So sometimes new would be in boot camp somewhere else. And I would get to kind of walk around with Hudson who really knew what he was doing and learn more about like those behavioral changes when they start to get onto the sun. And that was really important too. Because while dogs do exhibit a lot of like similar trends when they’re switching up their body language. It’s really interesting for me to like, be able to pick up on the specific cues. Because currently, I have a 10 month old yellow lab puppy named Obi, who’s being taught to do turtle detection as well and watching him versus watching Newt when they start to pick up on those centuries is hilarious, like Newt’s tail will go faster, Obi’s tail will stick up straight and he starts to like really slow down. It Yeah, it’s it’s so much fun to see that.
Kayla Fratt 21:44
Yeah, it is, especially once you’re able to kind of start naming and identifying those things. I know that was a huge jump up for me where I’d I’d been handling dogs for a couple years before I think it was Steve White’s webinar 1000 10,000 Our eyes that talks about like the eight signs of a dog in odor. And it was a lot of those things where I kind of like, picked up by observing but then once I was like, Oh, now I understand the difference definition wise between crabbing and bracketing. Now that I can see those things, because I have a name for them, I can really help that out. And it’s been fun of in teaching. We’ve got an El Salvadoran intern here, that has been learning how to do stuff. And once I was able to start pointing out some of those things and even like trying to translate things, which has been really interesting and challenging, as soon as he was like, Oh, you mean when he moves like a crab, you know, he’s kind of calling on the wing. That means this and like, it’s amazing how much that helps. And it’s so fascinating to see how different dogs are even of the same breed, I’ve got the same thing going on in my household. barleys tail does a very characteristic, like lopsided helicopter, when he first is starting to like source odor, and niffler niffler his nose just drops. And he’s he’s very still and really doesn’t exhibit much at all of a change of behavior before he just drops into a down. He’s really, really challenging to read.
Julia Sirois 23:11
Yeah, I think kind of seeing those behaviors definitely helps your success as a team to like, there were multiple times in Rhode Island that I’d see those behavior changes. And that would make me kind of focus more on on where we were what was around me. So if Newt was like, having trouble, like really identifying the odor source, like, sometimes I would spot the turtle and and then I would kind of back off and like, let him find it, because he’s the one that you know, led me there. And there was another time that he was searching really, really close to the water and like kind of went into the water came out like was really, really targeting this area. And Dr. Hoffman was actually out in the field with us that day, and so is another Rhode Island D. Intern. And she had actually gone into the water and found a turtle that was kind of tucked under a log. And so it was like new, like really put us in that position where, you know, we could get in those areas that he couldn’t necessarily reach and, like pull the turtle, which was awesome.
Kayla Fratt 24:20
Ya know, I think that’s such a lovely example. And something you know, we talk about with our students all the time, the the alert can’t be the end all be all of what you’re doing as a handler. Because if you’re not able to recognize those changes of behavior, and not able to support the dog, you’re gonna miss a lot of alerts. And yeah, as you just illustrated beautifully there going to be times when the dog can’t, for whatever reason, but if you can read it appropriately, you might still be able to find the target. And that’s really what matters at the end of the day.
Julia Sirois 24:47
Yes, so my field partner, same as Noah. There were a couple of sites that we got sent to that were just not at all like prime wood turtle habitat. So We’d be like trekking through the bogs. And it would have been good for, you know, snapping turtles or maybe the occasional spotted turtle, but it just wasn’t going to be good habitat for this. And we were kind of like told to go to this transect. So we were like, Okay, we’ll get through it. And we entered the water. I was like, oh, no, it’s gonna be way easier to just cut through the water than to, you know, try to keep smashing through the edge of this, like boggy area. And so he was like, All right, so he jumped in right in front of me and instantly, like sank. He was like, his waders were instantly filled with water, and the dogs just like swimming around next us. And he like turned around. He was like chulia. I was like, Oh, yes. Sorry about that. Really, really funny. And my other favorite story was, we were also curious about Eastern Box turtles and kind of introducing new to that target as well. And we had gotten a call No, it was out in the field with another. Chris, other Chris was contracted right? By Yeah, by Rhode Island to do these box rental surveys. So they had found a small one. And Noah called me he’s like, Hey, like, we have one of you. Newt want to show up and do some training with it. So I was like, Oh, awesome. So Newt and I instantly got in the car, like it was our day off. But we were like, you know, this is, this is a great training experience. So we got out there and we hit the box turtle for new and he like started to understand like, Okay, this is what I’m finding. So then we started to hide it around a bit more. And then there was this one, like, really cut area on a hill. And I was like, oh, no, like, why don’t you go hide it up on that? Because I’m like, that’s like a great new like, topographic layout for new to kind of investigate like a lot of logs. And that hill, which would be an extra challenge for him. And so we send new news going, going, going and searching for a bit and then he lays down and alerts. And I’m like, Oh, cool. You got it. So no, and I are both approaching to where he alerted and then I’m looking and at the same time no one I looked at each other and we like realize like it hit us that this was a new box turtle like Newt had gone and found a box turtle like right away. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, it we were like jumping up and down. Like we were so excited. We’re instantly on the phone with with Scott with Kris, like telling everyone that Ben had found his first box turtle and yeah, like that was that was by far one of one of my favorite memories in the field.
Kayla Fratt 27:54
Oh my gosh, yeah. Well, of course, that’s amazing. And what what a lovely, yeah, what a lovely experience. I had a similar niffler his very first day of work when he was like nine months old. And I was very much so like, are we ready? Do we know what we’re doing? You know, a lot of first day jitters, the very first wind turbine we went out to, as we were walking to where we were supposed to start our search to start at kind of the upwind side of where they had placed two bats in out there for us as part of like our our pre work exam. And he alerted to actually two targets in that field that had not been the ones that were placed out one of which being before I had actually been told him to search and it was still just like one of my favorite memories of having worked with him because I had so many first day jitters with happiness. Yeah, that’s really exciting. Super, super huge congrats on that. So I’ve got I’ve got a couple more questions. And then we can kind of round out with storytime and then circle back to the spadefoot. And they’re a little bit all over the place. So I wanted to backtrack Chris and ask you why Giulia because I’m sure you have lots of amazing interested, you know, really keen students come through your classroom and you know, what, what was it that made you kind of go forward with with Julia and, you know, as much as you’re willing and able to share? I don’t want I don’t want a comfortable question for any of your other students who didn’t get this opportunity.
Kristine Hoffman 29:26
Mostly it’s that Julia asked. So I had a at a class of maybe 2016, one year then 16, the following year for biology of dogs and I had some students in herpetology and some other classes and Julio was just like film the beginning. Like, this is awesome. I want to do this. How can I get involved? And I’m like, oh, okay, good. Yes. And then for the previous student, Hannah, that was really before had gotten anything going and I was just kinda like, oh you you have in this non majors class but your tween vet, okay, you like dogs, you, you’d like to ittelson Totes. So that’s how she came around to doing it. The students that I had this past year starting to you to work with him, I actually had an email out to one of my classes being like, hey, so who wants to work with the dog next, and I had two students respond. So they had an independent study where they were coming in, and we were working with him and hiding things and trying to look for some turtles nearby. And so pretty much I look for students who don’t look the students really usually I just get students who are interested. And they say they want to do it. And I’m like, Okay, what’s your? What’s your work ethic? Like, how much do you like dogs? Can you put up with this? Emotionally insecure, loud, bouncy, 60 pound weight? That’s going to qualify you?
Kayla Fratt 31:01
Yeah, that sounds right. And I can imagine that you must get quite a bit of interested, it’s more about seeing who’s going to be the right fit. That yeah, that sounds about right. For this field, we get a lot of internship inquiries. And it’s a lot of, you know, kinda kind of trying to figure out who actually is going to be able to stick with it and who we actually have the capacity for. That’s a really big problem for us. But that’s neither here nor there. So the next thing that I wanted to ask about a little bit before we again, just kind of got it. I’ve got so many questions about the fieldwork itself, but what were some of your considerations and planning for safety for the turtles when you’re working with, you know, a live target? Was this something that Newt was naturally very gentle with was? Or was this something that you had to do quite a bit of work on to ensure that he wasn’t going to be mouthing them or harassing them or anything like that? New to gentle?
Julia Sirois 31:49
Yeah, they’re not really synonymous terms. However, he’s so obsessed with tennis balls that you know, he’s not like, trying to get the turtle at all like It’s like shaking in his like shake quaking in his boots. However phrases like, just like please please see that I found this and give me my ball like I need it. I want it so yeah, that was never really a problem with it with the the toads he would get frustrated,
Kristine Hoffman 32:21
like so we started. Like one of the first things that I did when we were getting started with the toads was email pomp, Paul bunker for advice. And he had mentioned like using a non living scent to get the game into the dog, before starting to stress out the toads. So we went with with that we used birch oil. If I could do it over again, I’d use calm, but I didn’t know that at the time. So we got him to figure it out. Like when you find this, you will love it. And then we moved to having the totes and Mason jars and we have a box with holes in it that we put the mason jars and so made a little lineup for him. And then we started hiding the mason jars around outside and we muzzled him and introduced him to the toads. And he didn’t try to like sniff it’s been a few times and he tried to retrieve the toad once and in general, he’s clumsy and it is too busy smelling to see what his feet all and every now and then he would step on the toad, which is not great for total welfare. So luckily, that was like when we were outside and the ground was soft. The toad never complained, but I felt really bad about that. So when we moved to turtles, and they have this lovely shelf that they can pull into, it’s a bit of a relief. We have some turtles that we borrow from another campus, SUNY Potsdam, State University of New York at Potsdam is about 20 minutes from here, and Glen Johnson has a live animal collection that he uses for teaching. He has two captive wood turtles. So we routinely boggle them for as long as he lets us and one of them is very gentle, the other one is more scaled and just pulls into his shell. So neither than we really had to worry about them biting the dog or the dog like knocking them around. And those sizable turtle wood turtle was about eight inches across its cave appears at the top of the show. So not quite hockey puck size. Yeah. And yeah,
Kayla Fratt 34:24
they’re a lot bigger. Yeah.
Julia Sirois 34:26
In the fields, specifically with making sure that turtles were safe, like he would alert and my job was to record Noah’s measurements of the turtle while throwing the ball for Newt. And then if this was a new turtle, and we needed to pit tag it, I would then tie new up a good distance away from us and he would be barking and frustrated that we were done playing fetch, but we did not need him to like come and bump into us or do anything else. Because he was notorious As for knocking backpacks into the mud, or water or you know, a backpack could possibly be trampled by muddy feet, it would be. So we didn’t need that for the turtle, especially with handling needles and stuff. So he was kind of removed from the equation when it would come to doing something like that.
Kayla Fratt 35:19
Yeah, oh, he very much. So sounds like our quintessential lab. Yeah, we’ve had similar experiences as well. Barley has a habit of, if you pause, throwing the ball at all, even as someone is like actively trying to collect whatever it is that he has found, he will go back and try to get his nose on it again. And if you’re trying to do say, DNA, meta barcoding, or something like that, and you’ve got like a really dry sample, the last thing you need is extra dog slobber on top of it. So we luckily like when we were in Guatemala, we had an entire team with us. So I could just literally, like take barley and be rewarding him several couple dozen meters down the trail. But in situations where you’ve got a much smaller team, go, that’s a great point, sometimes you just need to tie the dog up. They might be a little bit upset about it. But you know, we’ve got to put the data first, at least in that situation, generally dogs over data, but sometimes the dog might be a little bit upset as we’re processing data. That’s okay. Yeah, well, I’m thank you for that. I think it’s always really important to make sure that we’re, you know, we talk about safety and everything, especially for these live targets. And so now, I’d love to just kind of dive into a little bit more about what your search strategy was like. So Julia, you mentioned, it sounds like you kind of weren’t given search areas. Were you walking transects? Or within an area? Did you have the liberty of deciding how you were going to search? What did that actually look like for you all in the field?
Julia Sirois 36:42
Yeah, so we were given a one kilometer transects, along streams and rivers that were pretty much the size that are what turtle would prefer. And my role would be to kind of like zigzag from the stream edge to say, like 50 meters from the stream. Although a lot of the time we did vary from that quite a bit. And would go further. Because, yeah, I’d be zigzagging and for every zigzag, I do newts doing 20. So we’re covering a lot of ground that way. And definitely making sure that we could be as effective as possible, especially like, we found that they really enjoyed certain habitat, or microhabitats over others. So we would kind of choose to spend maybe a little more time in those areas if we came across them. And usually, we were pretty successful. I think our average was one to two turtles per survey. And we did fifth 15, I think total. So we only had a couple of days where we didn’t find anything at all. And then we had days where we’d find eight turtles. So it was pretty, pretty great. And we did have a lot of freedom with how you were conducting the surveys, because everyone involved all of our collaborators like Rhode Island, D, and Uri, Roger Williams, Park Zoo, they were all just interested in having data. And so we had like, the very baseline protocol of you know, this is the length that you’re going. But we did have a lot of freedom to kind of do what would benefit the dog best and make us most successful.
Kristine Hoffman 38:31
And that was one kilometer up one side of the stream. Yeah, one kilometer back on the other side. Okay,
Kayla Fratt 38:36
so two kilometers total, but up and down each way. Yeah. Thank you. That’s really great. So yeah. Do you have any other stories from the field that you wanted to try to share with us? Julie, I know you’ve already shared a couple. But if there’s anything else that came to mind, or Chris, as well, anything that you’ve been particularly excited about this one turtle project that you wanted to be sure to get across
Julia Sirois 38:59
there, like, my field partner, again, was so excited to be on the dog team instead of just doing the visual encounter surveys with the people teams. So he was like, super, super interested in how to understand when Nick was starting to source something. And there were multiple times where you’d be like, Oh, nudes onto something. It’s onto something. I’m like, Nope, it’s about to pee on a tree. He’s not onto anything and then be going further. He’s like, Oh, you just you just turned directions really quick. I’m like, nope, gonna be on another tree. Like he’s, he’s actively working, but it was always really, really funny to kind of be like, No, not quite. Yeah, that that was always fun. I love that. There was one day that we were kind of coming out of the woods or near the end of a transect. And oftentimes, we’d like be parking up on I top road and then tracking down to the stream. So we’re kind of trying to shift back up. And Newt really, really started searching in an area and was like, so locked in so convincing that he was like, really on to something. And so we ended up spending 1010 to 15 minutes straight, like, trying to be like, alright, new, like, come around, let’s search over here and then direct him in another area like trying to help him out based on you know, where the wind was moving and what might be the best vantage point for him. And finally, I see this little itty bitty turtle, like, it’s not really what he’s looking for. So I kind of call him over and I say in here, and he searches around that area and lays down. And I’m like, he really just found this little tiny turtle and we pick it up. And only then did we realize that it was a spotted turtle. Because again, anytime I noticed something, I try to stay back. So I’m not on top of it, and you can still find it himself. But again, he’s not trying to find spotted turtles or he’s working on it now. But at that point in time, he had never been introduced. So it was definitely one of those instances where he was generalizing the smell of the care EPIs and was like, Oh, I haven’t found anything for a while. And this is vaguely something that I know. So I will I will find it. And he was so like, enthusiastic and really committed to finding it. So we wouldn’t have typically spent that much longer. But I was super proud that he found that one was really interesting.
Kristine Hoffman 41:39
This was like a week after you taught him to find the box turtles. Yeah.
Julia Sirois 41:45
New turtle and then he’s like, Oh, turtles in Gen turtles, turtles. Yeah. Yeah. Another one of my favorite little instances was, every time that we would get to the start of a transect, we would start recording like the general data, like water depth and temperature, wind direction. So we’re recording all of this. And the whole time it was getting to play fetch. And it’s to get him all amped up and ready to rock. And so I finally get his ball from him. And I think he needed he required a couple of extra throws that morning, before he was willing to start working. And I finally get his ball. And I look at my phone. I go okay, 829 start, nope, go search. And he went straight into a bush and laid down immediately. And I was like, No, I told you search. Like I wasn’t convinced. I walk over and there’s a word turtle right there. And I’m like, you, punk. You totally knew it was here this whole time. But you were getting free fetch. And why would you do work if you’re getting free fetch. So it was like hilarious and super nice. But then, on the other hand, there was once where we were entering the woods, and we haven’t gotten to our starting point. And he just drops his ball and takes off and lays down and finds a turtle. So yeah, like, it can go either way with him. And that also makes it really, really fun and exciting, because you’re like, oh, he has his ball. And it’s choosing to drop it and work or he has his ball and he knows something’s there. But the game is more fun. So
Kayla Fratt 43:25
yeah, yeah. Oh, I love that. Yeah, it’s always funny when we do have those moments where we doubt our dogs and then they, they prove us right, they prove us wrong. And I think one of the things that I love most about this, this job as frustrating as it can be sometimes with them with the dogs, it’s you know, they do really keep us on our toes. Well, I think it’s that’s if that’s it for field stories. I’d love to ask a little bit more about what’s next for the both of you. It sounds like Julia, you’ve got your own pup now. What’s next for you? And I’m so sorry, I forgot his name already.
Julia Sirois 43:59
Obi Wan Kenobi. And
Kayla Fratt 44:01
then yeah, what’s next for for Obi Wan. And then what’s next for nude and and Chris?
Kristine Hoffman 44:10
Oh, we owe the tuning to an island before that, like this coming this spring in a few weeks when it started with total project in upstate New York. And we’ll be doing that Julia’s working on that if OB is ready during that project, he’s going to join us. And that is it’s going to be like five days a week looking for what turtle is on a site that’s about an hour from campus. And it’s it works out perfectly because I was teaching Gen Bio for the first half of the semester. And now someone else has taken it over. And I don’t have to deal with trying to pretend I know cells and molecules and get to go look for turtles instead of the rest of the semester. And as soon as Newt goes down to an island, we’re trying to get funding for Giulia to go with him but he also has a new student, Evelyn, who’s going to be Helping him in the field. We’re handling him in the field for four weeks in Rhode Island to continue that project. And then he’s gonna go to Long Island, New York and look for Spotted turtles. So he gets more jobs than I do, which is okay.
Kayla Fratt 45:16
Yeah, yeah, hasn’t that that’s the way sometimes. I honestly often wish that I had my dogs job more than my own job. They get out of the house all the grant writing to it’s just not fair. The computer work. Emails. Yeah, yeah, I really I and they don’t even have to drive to the field site. I am still waiting for the day that barleys starts taking his turn behind the wheel.
Kristine Hoffman 45:40
My other dog is 15. So it’ll look.
Kayla Fratt 45:46
Yep, that’s thank you for telling barley. You got you got seven years still. But when that comes around, I do expect you to be driving to the field sites for us. So Oh, that’s so exciting. And Julia, how much longer do you have left in? In school? How much longer? Are you hanging around? And then you Obi Wan are off elsewhere? Or what’s up?
Julia Sirois 46:06
Um, gosh, I don’t want to think about it. Um, I graduated in May. So I’m, I’m nearing the end of my collegiate journey. I do hope to go to grad school and continue working with turtles and detector dogs. And then, I mean, Toby and I are probably going to end up falling new whether or not we actually get some funding for me to be paid or I’m just there because I love New and love turtles. And I will be doing the spotted turtles with new. And then from there, I’m not really sure like, oh, yeah, come the fall, maybe some wind turbine stuff out west. Like there’s there’s some prospects. So unless Obi is like, locked in, ready, like I’m kind of letting him learn at his own pace. He’s incredibly intelligent and loves it. Like if he knows we’re going to do nose work. He’s, like, so excited. And he’s really good at it. But it’s more like making sure he checks all of the boxes first. He’s great off leash until certain like squirrels and you know, anything that could be a distractor for him. So until he’s, he’s concrete with with his recall, I’m not really going to push him too hard to be out in the field. So yeah, he definitely needs to earn that. That privilege first, even though with his nose,
Kristine Hoffman 47:43
he’s getting better with the bunny. We’ve got to listen, we we dogs it OB and he’s learned not to chase the bunny in a way kind of way. But he’ll chase the bunny in a way I want to play with you kind of way which is an improvement.
Kayla Fratt 47:58
Yes. Yeah, gosh, one teenage boys are or teenage boy dogs are a little tough. niffler had a very nasty bird chasing phase for a couple months there, which was very challenging on the wind farm because you can see birds for miles in every direction there. And, you know, as long as there was stuff to be found he did okay. But when we had periods of time where the bat migration was really low, and he was you know, having to search for five, six turbines in a row without finding anything. He really struggled with that. So you know, that’s also where that handy dandy long line can come back. But that’s really exciting. Julian, I apologize for doing the like senior year thing of it’s only march in the morning asking you what you’re doing. I know. That’s very rude. And I apologize. Yeah, that’s so cool. That was so I’d love to as we’re wrapping up here. Last question. Is there anything else that you’d love to share about the spadefoot toad project and kind of the particularities of why that didn’t end up being the right foot? Was it really just the headlamp thing? Or
Kristine Hoffman 48:59
was there anything out the headlamp thing but also he just wasn’t that good at it. So this was in the phase where it’s my first project. It’s my first real detector dog as my students first project on it. So we’re all green to begin with. And then we have a species that’s primarily underground, in sand. And it was a site where they will be introducing the toad. So the the toad had been extirpated from the site. And they had released 1000s of tadpoles froglets that had been raised by schoolchildren so that the kids got the tadpoles they raised them into just past metamorphosis, which is the technical term as a froglet cutest jargon ever. And they released 1000s of froglets at the site over 12 different years and the whole to catch so they won’t show where they all getting eaten, where they all joined up where they surviving and we populating this site and they hadn’t had bleeding at the wetlands that they had. We He created and all that habitat restoration that they had put into it. So it is trying to get a metric on was this working? Was it worth it at all, they had us come in with the dog. And I think that new didn’t understand he was looking for toads that we hadn’t handled before. Because we don’t have spadefoot. Toads this far north in New York, for him to train with before we got to the site. And when we, when we went to other sites, he would find the totes that other people had just put down instead of the other totes. On top of that, like, when the toads did come out, if it was like a human night with lots of bugs, and they all started to emerge, they would tons of them together. And there was one point where he was we found a toad we had him a lot on it. And then we processed the toad and told him to go back and look to it again. And he alluded to a different toad. But then he alluded to a leaf and I’m like, that’s not the toad. That’s a leaf and I pick up the leaf and there’s a half Pam tote underneath it. So it was just inundated with Senate to begin with the totes were everywhere. So between it being underground and small, and all the scent sources, and him not, it being his first job, and maybe he was looking for coats that had people sent, it was a combination of the headlamps are better, and he needed more experience and I needed bull experience. So I’ll just say which, which actually was nail in the coffin there, but it’s just if he’s gonna, if we’re going to put time into working with him. It’s better to use a site in a species where it’s going to make more of a difference. So Taurus is good for that. Turtles, much bigger than toads. smell
Kayla Fratt 51:39
a lot. Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I know it sounds like kind of the classic. Well, there was a couple different things that weren’t working out super well, maybe the perfect dog for this project with a bit more experience. Could have done a little bit better. But yeah, once you figured out that, that headlamp thing does make more sense. So.
Kristine Hoffman 52:00
So with the bobble frog interview you had a few weeks ago, like I had been reading some of the press before. Before we went down into the spadefoot toad things I’m like, oh, yeah, they know the dogs had find underground frogs. Oh, yeah. This this can be done.
Kayla Fratt 52:14
Like, yeah, it certainly can be. I know. Well, and I know, we’ve, we’ve been chatting for a couple years now with some of the folks out of San Diego zoo that are working with I think it’s the yellow legged frog. Down there. There are certainly programs with dogs or with live frogs or toads that have been successful. But I also know, you know, whenever someone reaches out to us about an amphibian, I’ve got, you know, a couple of little flags that go off in my head about like, Alright, we’re gonna see whether or not this actually works super well. And whether or not the dogs actually are the best fit. It’s not as straightforward as you know, when someone comes to us asking about dogs and carnivores scat, I usually am able to kind of pretty confidently be like, Yeah, you know, I think I think we can I feel pretty comfortable saying odds are we’re gonna be able to do this just fine feasibility as far as like detection. It’s not my biggest concern when we’re talking carnivores scattered. But when we’re talking live amphibians, we’ve got more questions.
Kristine Hoffman 53:11
New just started snowing behind us on the floor.
Kayla Fratt 53:15
I wish we could hear it. I unfortunately, I’m not picking it up on my end. Going to sleep do baby
Kristine Hoffman 53:22
turtles. So Oh, yeah. Salamanders and people will ask me all the time. Oh, so you’re going to train new to do salamanders. And I’m like, Well, I was radio tracking them trying to pick them up. And they move fast under the ground when you try to dig them up. So he might look. And you might know that the salamander is within a foot, but by time you get to it, it’s six meters away. So no wonder gram salamander is not going to work.
Kayla Fratt 53:48
Yeah, yeah. Well, and I know one of the challenges with a lot of salamanders, too, is as soon as you’re if you’re trying to confirm that they’re there, then you’re starting to destroy the very habitat. Which, you know, can be a whole other other question. We’ve got someone else in Patreon who’s been trying to figure out how to do some really cool work with salamanders. And we’ve been really struggling with figuring out how to how to make that into something that’s going to make the most sense and still be both successful for the for science, but also really respectful of the salamanders. They’re, they’re tricky.
Kristine Hoffman 54:19
My node part of the brain is like, oh, what’s your challenges? But no, that’s
Kayla Fratt 54:21
that’s another conversation. Yeah, I actually, I think I probably should connect the two of you. So I’ll do that after we get off this call. Well, thank you both so much for coming on this show. And maybe we’ll have to have you both on again in a couple of years to hear about what all of you are up to and I’m really excited to see where everything goes. We will make sure to link and give shout outs to all of your partners and everyone else who helped out with this project because I know there’s a lot that we weren’t able to mention here. But that’ll all be in the show notes so we can make sure that everything spelled and linked correctly. Do either of you or Chris does your lab have social media or anything that you would like to to give a shout out to if anyone is interested in Keeping up with the work that you all are up to in the future,
Kristine Hoffman 55:04
I would say to Google St. Lawrence University and then within the biology department, there will be a faculty link and most of my stuff is underneath that. Yeah. And
Julia Sirois 55:14
then for me, I have an Instagram, Facebook Lives for wildlife, which is where I’m kind of putting all of my work with the dogs, as well as cute nature inspired dog collars, if anyone is interested.
Kayla Fratt 55:32
Oh, that’s good to know, always in the market for more dog collars, unfortunately for my bank account. All right, well, great. We’ll link all of that again in the show notes and for everyone at home. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you learned a lot and you’re feeling inspired to go outside maybe fall in a bog and to be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. You can find those show notes we keep talking about donate the canine conservationist, sign up for online class, and or join Patreon all at k9conservationists.org. Until next time!