Conservation dogs are all over the globe, working hard to help protect the planet. In this series of blogs, we are showcasing fellow organizations, and bringing their hard work into the spotlight.
Mussel Dogs work mainly in the Western United States with...you guessed it - MUSSELS! More specifically zebra and quagga mussels, which are incredibly destructive aquatic invasive species. Although they are commonly heard of in the Great Lakes Region, many of the locations Debi and her team visits have no mussel populations, and their hard working canine/handler teams intend to keep it that way.
Their efforts focus on aquatic vehicle inspection, public education and outreach related to AIS, and inspection training services.
Want to hear more about Debi and her crew of adorably nautically named doggos? Keep reading!
Tell us a bit about the working dogs you work with. I mostly work with Mussel detection dogs. I do the initial training on the dogs, from selecting the dogs to training and pairing them with their handler(s). Whenever possible, I prefer to get rescue dogs so pedigree is not nearly as important as personality. There are currently 9 dogs on my team: 5 Labradors, a Malinois/Shepherd, a Cattle Dog, a Dutch Shepherd mix and a Spaniel mix.
What is your professional background, and how did you get into working with dogs? I actually started out training dogs for movies and television, then moved into training and working contraband dogs at schools for 22 years during which time I started up Mussel Dogs. I originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but my grades weren't good enough to get into vet school. I went to Exotic Animal Training and Management school at Moorpark college after UC Davis trying to get my grades up and fell in love with training.
What is one wow-factor thing you like to share with people about your organization? In 2016, we were honored to receive the Reduced Risk Invasive Species Coalition award in innovation and were presented the award in the Congressional building in Washington DC.
How often are you in the field? I am still in the field most weekends during the summer months working a dog or supervising.
What does your typical work day look like? Getting the dogs and supplies to the work area and setting up for the day. We then wait for the boats to start flowing in. When a boat comes we are sniffing the boat while a screener is talking to the boater. My job is to keep sniffing boats fun for my dog partner and to keep the dog safe (we are working in an area where vehicles are moving) and I need to make sure that the dog doesn’t get too hot on the asphalt. The dog is an ambassador too, so we talk with the public while the dog gets loved on. At the end of the day we take down the station, load up and go home.
What are the top three pieces of equipment you never go to work without? The dog’s toy, booties if it is hot, and water!
What advice do you have for people interested in entering the conservation dog field? Find a mentor, learn all that you can from many people, take what works for you and leave the rest. You need to be passionate about whatever you are looking for. Attitude runs down leash and if you aren't having fun....neither is your dog.
What is one fun story from the field (or with your working dog) you laugh about every time? Before California made recreational marijauna legal, people could get a medical marijuana card. We had a boater pull up with his Mom in the car and insist on showing us his medical marijuana card because the dog was going to sniff his boat. We could not convince the guy that we were not looking for marijuana and that we did not need to see his card. He was shaking so bad, we actually felt bad for him.
Learn more about Mussel Dogs and follow them along on their sniffing adventures: