One of the core values of Conservation Dogs Collective is to connect with and build community between people who love dogs and conservation. Since our inception in 2017, we've built an incredible network of individuals from all over the world. In our new blog series, "Connecting with Community," we're highlighting some of the coolest people we've met along the way who are doing fascinating things! We hope you enjoy this series and reach out to us if someone you know (even YOU!) is doing awesome things in their community.
To kick start our series, we are thrilled to introduce you to Caroline Howlett, the owner/operator of Petnanny in the United Kingdom!
Caroline's furry and feathered companions have some of the best names on the planet, and you won't want to miss her talking about the "sound work" she's doing with her dog, Teo (and the videos are incredible)!
Hi, I'm Caroline Howlett!
I have been nurturing my business, Petnanny, since 1998 and was fortunate enough to have been the pathfinder for professional pet care services in the northeast of England, learning my own way through curiosity, need and, of course, mistakes.
My aim has always been a cooperative way of including both the dog's and customer's needs and wants—from health care training to sustainable safe walking practices—to improve their dogs' behaviour away from Petnanny.
All of my own guys and gals benefit from what I have learnt, too!
I am very lucky to share my life with two Ibizan hounds (Flute (Snowlief Cut to the Chase) and Alateo (Zizu de la Sierra de Avila)), a Lurcher named Valentino, three Spanish spotted saddle horse sisters (Aztecs Zafira, Acuarela and Adriana), three feral cats (Button, Bathtub and Zippidydoodah), two miniature Rex rabbits (Tyra and Nosa), and finally five bantams.
The Grazing Field and Power of Choice
Petnanny is predominantly about walking dogs, both out and about in public and at my own grazing field. Having walked for so many years has afforded me real insight into the changes our environment is facing, including in my own field. In particular, I've noticed the effects of the dog’s urine on the plants and land. Yes, that's right, I've noticed differences in the environment as a direct effect of the dogs' output!
As I'm out and about I try to document our grass and plant species, especially now we have introduced bees and sprinkling wildflowers seeds (still appropriate for grazing) on every mole hill that pops up. We are currently trying to manage our field to encourage the grey partridge, hedgehogs, and snipe that frequent the field, while still being able to walk there on the days we go.
One of my favourite games is pulling Himalayan balsam (an invasive here); both the dogs and I like to crunch it under our feet!
One of the wonderful things about having the private field is being able to provide the dogs some freedom and allow them choice. Whilst many want to spend time with me—exploring, playing games or socialising with their friends—some just want to walk alone, spending time being quiet.
One amazing example was Tom the Dog. He had a very attentive owner who would constantly interact and call his name; "Tom! Tom!! Tom!" From the moment Tom realised he could walk his own path, he took advantage by walking the opposite way round the field, allowing a check-in as he passed us by. Then he would lie down in one particular spot just watching and sniffing the world go by.
Soon he was joined by a little infirm dog who, after a short walk, preferred company to walking. Tom and his new friend both happily laid together just enjoying the quiet company. Conveying this experience to his owner (and sharing with him that sometimes even loving attention can become overbearing and if given a choice the owner enjoyed just hanging out with his loved ones) helped him become even closer to his beloved companion.
Beyond the Field - Exploring Sound Work with Teo
Teo and I have been on an exciting, fun journey of sound work since 2021. As I already had been enjoying our scent work games and sight chase games, I wanted to explore Teo's phenomenal hearing.
Ibizan hounds look like sighthounds; however they use scent, sight, and sound to hunt. One of their most amazing skills is to locate and pounce on voles in the grass. By providing sound games I was hoping to fulfil his nature desire to pounce while leaving the voles unharmed.
I am rather new to training canine scent work, so it has been interesting teaching Teo while I have been learning, too. I have had some great support from Keeper Jo and my friend Aleksandra from Synchro Dogs to adapt scent work training for sound work. I started the journey with Flute and Tipsy (his brother) and reveled in their skill albeit with a typical low-key energy that they had towards artificial hunting!
Learning about the auditory sense, Teo's utter joy in the process, and working out the challenges has been an amazing journey so far. Even at this very early stage, Teo can readily discriminate his trained sound (note A from a clarinet, on intermittent play; so one note is played, then a pause, then the note again, then pause) from all the natural and unnatural sounds around him. The limitations of the technology have been challenging and something I definitely need help with.
As I continue to do sound work with Teo, I would love to discover if dogs can use their auditory skills to find wood boring insects or invasive mammals (for example mice) in the real world. However, I am not looking to make a career in conservation dog work. My passions, time commitments, and dog breed preferences (ones who often have other things to do with their time) all limit my expectations. It would be amazing to learn what dogs are capable of with sound work and explore if it could be of benefit for the conservation dog industry. Regardless of where it leads, what a journey it has been learning and spending time with my funny boy!
Videos of Teo and Caroline doing sound work
Teo's doing sound work outdoors. Check out that pounce!
Teo's doing sound work at a local pet retailer.
Teo's doing sound work outdoors after spotting a deer.
Be Inspired with Your Dog!
I would love to see more dog-human partnerships that protect the land they walk on, document what they see and hear. I truly believe we can learn from our dogs' passion for the outdoors whilst also taking more care about the impact both the human and dog have. Learn from your local wildlife groups which plants would be beneficial to pull, when to keep our dogs on lead for the ground nesting birds, and birthing times for wildlife.
And a personal challenge to each of you; Find out how you can help conservation dog teams to continue in their work by promoting and financially supporting them. I know this allows me to feel involved and invested in the good work they are doing to advance conservation efforts.
Follow along with Caroline and Petnanny!
If you're interested in learning more or helping Caroline and Teo (especially with acoustic knowledge and experiences), please reaching out to Caroline!
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Photography and videos contained in this article were used with written permission from Caroline Howlett.