We place an emphasis on teaching the handler over teaching the dog
— Heath Smith, CK9 Lead Instructor

After 20 years, selecting dogs from shelters and rescues and fielding them on projects, we have become skilled in the art of identifying the best traits needed in a conservation detection dog, teaching them necessary skills to prepare them for the field.  What we've learned through experience on a multitude of studies is that the success of the team is equally dependent on the skills of both dog and handler.

Since our dogs need to practice creative problem solving on-the-job, this requires a degree of independence, so rather than training our dogs to take certain actions only when given a command, we select the dog with a specific suite of traits that makes them eager to work in partnership with us, but has the confidence to strike out on their own as well. These traits are not breed-specific, but found in individual dogs.

As a result, the dogs selected for our program are incredibly diverse, vary in strengths, interests, drives, work style and temperament. Our handlers become skillfully adept in reading a wide range of canine behaviors and know when to adjust their communication style, both how much and in which areas, to fit the individual dog they are working with.

The success of our teams in the field requires a handler fluent in a diverse range of canine behaviors.

We want our handlers to know dogs inside and out, how to understand the dog's body language as well as their own and how the dog interprets it. When a handler joins our team, they learn how to work with 20 different individual dogs. This is designed to teach them not just how to go through the steps of working with a dog, but how to understand an individual dog and begin working together as a team. Because our program’s focus is not on a specific breed, our dogs are incredibly diverse and, therefore, our handlers become skillfully adept in canine behavior and communication.

For us, becoming a highly skilled handler is just the beginning. We are passionate about promoting the high-level of meticulous detail necessary to practice this method with integrity. Getting it right -- for our dogs and for nature -- is our highest priority.