Bath Spa graduate tracks down success with detection dogsFriday, 9 February, 2024
Bath Spa graduate Natasha Underwood is lucky enough to run a successful business with her best friend... who just happens to be a sniffer dog.
Natasha, who graduated from Bath Spa in 2019 with a BSc (Hons) in Biology Conservation, founded her business – NHU Ecology and Detection Dogs – in 2021, which offers a range of services, including wildlife and habitat assessments, research, training and detection. Ecology dogs are trained to find wildlife, carcasses, scats, pathogens and plants, and can be particularly useful for locating signs of species with spread-out populations or covering extensive areas.
Natasha was originally inspired by watching an episode of BBC’s Countryfile featuring Stig the ecology dog, an English springer spaniel and the world’s first sniffer dog trained to track water voles.
“From there I had always been fascinated with integrating conservation dogs into my life,” she said.
While studying at Bath Spa, she used a course module in business to focus on creating a business plan for freelancing as an ecologist and the use of detection dogs. After graduating from Bath Spa, Natasha went on to complete an MSc in Environmental Consultancy at Plymouth University; it was then that she got her first dog – a Dalmatian named River – to learn scentwork and develop her dog training and handling skills.
In addition to starting her business, Natasha took up a PhD at Plymouth University and got her second dog, Wren, in 2021. After two years of training, Wren is just about ready to join River as a fully-fledged sniffer dog. A third dog, Molly, is currently in training.
Talking about her process for training dogs, Natasha said:
“I have a holistic approach to my scentwork training, which incorporates all aspects of a dog’s physical, emotional, and behavioural well-being. It’s not all about obedience or responses to cues, but more about understanding your dog’s individual needs, preferences, and personality. It’s about building up that emotional connection to odour, working out what motivates your dog, building a stronger connection with your dog, and working with your dog’s strengths.”
Natasha also does freelance ecology work and offers workshops, one-on-one dog training, scentwork training and talks. She has come back to Bath Spa several times to give career talks and demonstrations with her dogs, and credits her course with giving her opportunities to gain practical experience that helped her gain the confidence to start her own business.
Talking about her course, she said:
“During my time at Bath Spa I took part in ecology practical experience and surveying such as great crested newt surveying, as well as taking extracurricular courses such as a business module to progress ideas and develop my business plan.”
While running her business, looking after her dogs, doing freelance work and completing her PhD thesis doesn’t leave her with much spare time, Natasha says she loves her work and is inspired by it every day:
“My favourite part about my job is being able to work with my best friend, watch her work her nose, watch her enjoy her work, and excel in this industry. I also enjoy working with other dogs and seeing them utterly enjoying themselves searching and having happy owners learning how to train their pets in scentwork.”
“I’m inspired by the other conservation detection dog teams in the UK and internationally. The work and data they provide is so valuable to the conservation of species, biosecurity, and increasing our knowledge of species-specific ecology.”
Find out more about the work Natasha and her dogs do on her website.