Corporal Alan Lamb and German Short Hair Pointer Tex, Corporal Justin Pyburn and Labrador Retriever Korra, Corporal Susan Swem and Labrador Retriever Astro, Corporal Donald Clever and Labrador Retriever Penny, Corporal Caleb Pryor and German Short Hair Pointer Zara  (photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation)

MISSOURI — The Missouri Department of Conservation has increased its efforts in the fight to preserve wildlife and nature with its recent canine unit addition. Cpl. Justin Pyburn, Missouri Department of Conservation Canine Handler, talks about how the process started.


Corporal Pyburn, who’s been a conservation agent for six years, was looking for something to give him a change of pace. Once it was announced that the Missouri Department of Conservation was looking for canine handlers, Plyburn started doing some research.

The conservation agent says he and his canine, Korra, had about two months of bonding before heading off to Indiana for training. The training consisted of 10 weeks of instruction – four weeks on, three weeks off, three weeks on, three weeks off, and another three weeks on.

Corporal Justin Pyburn and Labrador Retriever Korra (photo courtesy of Corporal Pyburn the MDC)

Most everyone is familiar with the canine unit concept and most have seen law enforcement officers at work with their four-legged partners. Whether the dogs behave defensively or offensively is always dependent upon one constant…the handler. Similarly, the conservation department’s canines will work to improve the agent’s performance by following command, but there are a few differences.

Conservation agents serve and protect by upholding and enforcing laws pertaining to wildlife and nature. Agents often deal with poachers during hunting off-seasons. Pyburn explains how having his canine will assist in investigating cases, like those involving poaching, in the future.

Corporal Pyburn also notes how conservation agent canine handlers are able to assist each other with tracking missing persons in other counties in the state.

Because conservation agents have statewide jurisdiction, Pyburn says canine handlers could be called anywhere in the state to help where there aren’t canine units.

Initially, the Missouri Department of Conservation had a budget for canines and canine handlers. Now, Plyburn says, it’s moving to a donation-only funded program. Donations are taking through the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. Anyone interested in donating should make sure to mark that the donation is for the canine program. Donations can also be given over the phone by calling 573-522-4115, ext. 3823 or can be sent via regular mail to the following address.

Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation

P.O. Box 366

Jefferson City, MO 65102-0366