And then there were two!
K9s 4 Conservation just acquired a second dog for the sea turtle nest detection program!
Our first dog, Saul, is a 4 year old German Shepherd Dog (GSD) that was initially adopted from the Idaho Domestic Animal Welfare Group (IDAWG) where they were searching for a good "working home" for him. He was given to a trainer (Positive Puppy Dog Training, LLC) after a young family realized his high drive and energy were going to be too much for him. The trainer kept him for a few months until a health issue caused her to have to find him a long term home, so she turned to her friend at IDAWG. IDAWG kept Saul (Turk at the time) for about a month and they quickly realized that he was much more than your average "pet" German Shepherd and needed to go to a home that would give him a job. I picked up Saul when he was about 5 months old. Thanks to his stay at Positive Puppy Dog Training and IDAWG, I received a VERY well mannered, VERY high drive working prospect! He has been with me ever since!
Now Saul is not like your typical German Shepherd. Most GSDs pick "their person" that they bond very closely with and treat strangers as non-entities or even threats. Saul LOVES people. He loves boy and girls, kids and adults, Big and small. He just loves ANYONE that might rub his belly and play fetch with him. Because of his outgoing nature, I decided to train him for air-scent search and rescue. Saul is a wonderful search dog, but in 3 years, he has never been on a search. The reality is that search dog teams like my former team, Utah Search Dogs (UtahSearchDogs.org), rarely get called out to look for live victims. The searchers are so focused on their tasks, that they seem to forget (or maybe they never knew) that assets like non-profit search dog teams are available. So search dog teams primarily get called out for human remains. So my human remains dog has about 12 searches, while poor Saul has been training for 3 years, and never had an actual search.
I felt bad that Saul wasn't being used to his full potential. He is such a good dog! So for the past year I've been thinking about other jobs I could train him to do. Therapy dog, drug dog, agility dog, something to make better use of his talents. And then I got the idea for K9s 4 Conservation and KNEW he would make an amazing sea turtle nest detection! At this point, he has been introduced to the scent, he realizes that it equals treats and play, and he is starting to actively search for it! All with only 3 days of training! He's going to be GREAT!
Yesterday, I drove out to College Station to meet with a search and rescue teammate, Tiffany, to practice human remains detection with my other search dog. Luckily for me, Tiffany has a ton of experience training a variety of animals, including conservation dogs. I had previously spoken to her about my idea for K9s 4 Conservation and she really loved the idea. So when we met up in College Station, she brought her Belgian Malinois, Dasha.
Tiffany explained that Dasha was a drug-school drop out. While she has a LOT of drive and a very even temperament, she is what is called a "soft" dog. There is nothing wrong with a soft dog, they just don't take corrections very well. Saul is actually a really soft dog too. But when you are a company, trying to produce drug dogs as fast as possible for as cheap as possible, dealing with a soft dog will cost more money and slow down the process, so Dasha was dropped from the program. Tiffany adopted Dasha, recognizing her potential outside of the industrial dog training world, with the plan to use her on a conservation project. Unfortunately, that project never materialized and Tiffany started looking for a program that needed a great dog and that she KNEW would take care of Dasha, so when I told her about my plan, she immediately offered Dasha up for the program!
Dasha, like Saul, is not the standard example of the breed. Belgian Malinois have gained much fame recently for working with the Navy SEALs and other military special operations units. They are prized for their work ethic, focus, and love of biting things. In fact, they have many nicknames such as "Maul-inios" and "Maligator!" Dasha, on the other hand, is an absolute sweetheart. Like Saul, she really likes people and loves to be petted. She still has that typical malinois drive and focus, but is also happy to lay down, relax, and be petted by ANYONE! In short, a perfect dog for this kind of work.
So back in College Station, Tiffany watched me train Saul for a few minutes on my sea turtle nest scent source and offered a few pointers (she really is an AMAZING trainer). Then she brought Dasha out and we officially started her on her new path as a conservation dog! Dasha took quickly to the work and in a short period of time began seeking out the source again and again. The past 20 or so hours have been full of good bonding time for Dasha and I. We had some In-N-Out burgers together, and she sat on the ground next to me outside of our local Starbucks while I worked on the overwhelming amount of administrative tasks organizing this project entails! I drained a few iced teas while Dasha enjoyed her very first pupaccino (a free whipped cream treat Starbucks will give your dog).
This morning, we are about to head out for Round 2 of training for Dasha, and Round 4 for Saul. Wish us luck!