There is a misconception that you can't learn the skills to be a conservation detection dog handler online.

Of course, field safety skills and dog training require on-the-ground practice and mentorship. But it's totally untrue that you can't start learning many of the necessary skills to be a conservation detection dog handler online.

There's a LOT to learn. Your head is spinning with dog behavior, olfaction, field safety, GPS, and sampling techniques. Maybe you're worried that you don't have the right dog, that you don't have time to quit your job to pursue this full-time, or that dogs can't effectively help your research. We are here to help. The K9 Conservationists Handler Course is based on a college course model, with preassigned literature from a variety of experts, video homework for hands-on dog training and fieldwork, invigorating discussion, and an optional final exam.

About the Course

There are 18 weeks of course material, which comes out to 138 lessons and 24+hours of video content. This includes recorded lectures for 10 guest instructors, reading material, bonus learning suggestions, quizzes and homework. 

Every Sunday 7pm EST, we will host a live discussion for current students covering the week's topic. This will be recorded and available for anyone who cannot attend live. Students get lifetime access to the course and recordings. Students also gain access to our student & alumni WhatsApp and Facebook groups.

Guest Instructors:

Qualifies for CEUs:

  • 25 IAABC (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants)
  • 30 CCPDT (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers) 
  • 25 KPA (Karen-Pryor Academy)

What You'll Learn

With lifetime access to the course, you will enjoy curated pre-work including scientific papers, podcast episodes, videos, and articles from a variety of subject matter experts. Practice your skills with homework that includes preference tests, mock search setups, canine conditioning exercises, seeking games, ORTs and more. Test your learning with an optional Final Exam earning you a Certificate of Completion.

  • How learning theory, cognition, and dog behavior relates to detection dog success

  • How to train your detection dog, including selection, troubleshooting, and operational searches

  • Why sample storage and collection is so important and how to do it well

  • How to assess terrain, vegetation, and odor movement for search success

  • How to conduct field searches safely, assess risk, and advocate for your K9 partner on-site

  • Why welfare, ethics, and husbandry are SO important to detection dog program success

  • How to find jobs and assist in study design

Course Preview

Click to Learn More

Student Reviews

“This course was way more comprehensive than I expected! I learned not only about how to train my dog for conservation specific scent work and how to collect and store scent samples, but also how to design a study and find work in this field. I enjoyed learning about how to choose a dog for this line of work, and how to keep them fit and healthy throughout their career as a working dog. The real bonus was learning to navigate unfamiliar terrain while keeping my dog and I safe, and in-depth discussions of odor dynamics, the role of terrain and weather in those dynamics. This course was rewarding and engaging on a lot of levels, and I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in environmental detection work.”

Windy A McKinney

“The Conservationists Handler Course is a fantastic way to meet and learn directly from some of the best names in this field! From homework training challenges to in-depth discussions with experts, I can't recommend this course enough for people who want to take their conservation detection skills to the next level. Kayla, Rachel and Heather have created a course so packed with information that I find myself going back to the study materials again and again! ”

Caitlin Winters

“The K9 Conservationist Handler Course was an excellent way to learn new things about the field while expanding the base knowledge I already had. This course also allowed me to learn from my fellow students through the networking in the Facebook group and the class discussions. ”

Tayllor Pittman

“This class was an awesome experience and I highly recommend it to anyone potentially interested in making a career out of conservation detection work. This class was super informational, and it built an awesome community, ranging from beginners to those currently working as professional handlers. As a beginner it was really interesting to hear about experiences and issues professionals in the field are facing with training their own working dogs. Kayla, Rachel, and Heather are all super positive, passionate, and knowledgeable and made this class very interesting and fun to learn about. I absolutely LOVE that we will have access to all of the recorded lectures and readings for future use as well. I am excited to continue building my own dog's search skills with what I have learned in this class.”


“A wonderful overview of the human and dog skills needed to get started in canine conservation work. ”

Kat Camplin

“Big shout out to the K9 Conservationists team, Kayla, Heather, and Rachel, and all the fabulous guest lecturers, who so generously shared their knowledge and experiences. This thorough course is science-based and yet full of practical advice. It helped me expand my knowledge purposefully and further develop my practical skills. It answered questions I didn't even know I had. My dogs hugely enjoyed the course, too, as they got some extra training sessions as part of the homework. So for us this course was totally worth our while.”

Carolin Butler Manning

“The K9 Conservationists Handler Course was an unbelievable experience. It was an honour to meet Kayla, Rachel, and Heather, they have so much knowledge to give and was not scared to learn from the other students and guest lecturers. The lectures were well-planned and informative, and I enjoyed every single one. The guest lecturers threw a little bit of spice in the mix, and it was refreshing learning from so many people. This is a very comprehensive course and I strongly recommend it to anyone pursuing conservation detection. ”

Chani Brits

Your Instructors

K9 Conservationists Team

Kayla Fratt, CDBC & Rachel Hamre, CPDT & Heather Nootbaar, CPDT

Course Curriculum


1: Dog and Handler Selection

2: General Training and Learning Theory

3: Introduction to Ecology

Bonus: Scientific Literature Literacy

Quiz 1

4: Sample Acquisition and Storage

5: Introduction to Scentwork Training

6: Alerts, Trained Final Response, and Troubleshooting

7: Training Aids & Technology

Quiz 2

8: Odor Movement: Terrain and Vegetation

9: Odor Movement: Weather

10: Odor Recognition, Discrimination, and Generalization

Quiz 3

11: Hide Placement

12: Human Field Safety

13: Dog Field Safety

14: Dog Field Skills

Quiz 4

15: Working Dog Welfare, Fitness, and Nutrition

16: Study Planning

17: The Business Side of Conservation Dogs

Study Hall and Farewell

Final Exam and Course Survey


  • What do I get as part of the live course?

    There are 18 weeks of material, which comes out to 138 lessons and 24+ hours of video content. Check out the full syllabus here. This includes recorded lectures from 10 guest speakers, reading material, bonus listening suggestions, quizzes, and homework. Every Sunday 7pm EST, we will host a live discussion for current students. This will be recorded and available for anyone who cannot attend live. Students get lifetime access to the course and recordings. Students also gain access to the student and alumni WhatsApp and Facebook groups.

  • What topics are covered in the course?

    Check out the full syllabus above, but topics include: dog selection, job expectations, field safety, odor dynamics, search strategies, marketing and networking, sample acquisition and storage, odor imprinting, training an alert, hide placement, working dog welfare, training techniques, study planning, and more.

  • How much does this cost? Is there financial aid available?

    The full price is $950. Yes, we have twelve scholarships available (4 each for $850 in aid, $600 in aid, and $300 in aid), so be sure to apply using the scholarship form on our website (under "Learn to Be a K9 Conservationist" menu bar). Patreon members who have been active for at least 3 months receive a 30% discount. Scholarship applications are due January 25 and decisions will be announced January 28. Scholarship preference is given to historically marginalized groups, such as BIPOC students, queer students, and students from the Global South.

  • How long will the course take?

    Live classes start February 4 and will meet every Sunday at 7pm EST until June 9, 2024.

  • Do I need my own dog? Does my dog need to be a working dog?

    NO! We have designed this course so that you can work through it with any dog, or no dog at all. You have lifetime access to this course, so you can take it now and revisit exercises and homework with your dog down the line.

  • Are CEUs available?

    The course is approved for the following CEUs: 25 IAABC, 30 CCPDT, and 25 KPA.

  • I am busy/travelling or have spotty WiFi. Can I still take the course?

    Yes! The course is mostly downloadable. You have unlimited lifetime access, so our students around the world have been able to complete even with busy schedules or unreliable WiFi.

  • I am already an experienced field biologist and/or dog trainer. Will I still benefit from the course?

    YES! We have designed this course to help novices, veteran SAR handlers, and experienced ecologists understand the nuances of working with conservation dogs.

  • Can you offer me a job or guarantee employment?

    Unfortunately, the answer here is no. We are not hiring at this time, although when we do hire we always post within our student groups first. We share job postings and help with applications, but there are no guarantees in such a tiny, competitive field.