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Dogs vital in controlling predators

Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012
Conservation dogs

SPECIAL SKILLS: Bay of Islands conservation dogs and their handlers, L-R: Angela Newport with Teak and Cody, Adriana Rogowski with Fern and Andrew Blanshard with Tike.

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Even in these high tech times, dogs are the best.

Conservation dogs working in the Bay of Islands Department of Conservation are great tools in the campaign to keep our islands predator free.

"Dogs are our first response," dog handler and DOC archaeologist Andrew Blanshard says.

They're much more effective and easier to use than technology but the work requires devotion, commitment, patience, focus and, if you like, doggedness on behalf of the animals and their handlers.

"In fact it's a lifestyle," Andrew says.

The dog learns from the handler but the handler has to be receptive to messages sent out by the dog - sometimes it comes down to reading mannerisms. For example, when it comes to its target, a dog might indicate the species with his body language.

"The dog is doing the smelling. It's up to us to learn from the dog. We have to learn the dog's cues," Andrew says.

His dog Tike, fully certified as a rodent dog, is one of four dogs working out of the Bay of Islands Department of Conservation office.

It's important to keep the dogs interested and stimulated so Andrew and colleagues Angela Newport and Adriana Rogowski often find themselves practising with their dogs, even out of work time.

The dogs are trained to find their target, not kill. Their job is to tell their handlers where the target is so traps can be laid.

The Bay of Islands dogs are among some 100 conservation dogs around the country. Eighteen are working as predator dogs - with 14 handlers, 36 are species dogs and 50 are wild animal control dogs.

There are different levels of certification.

Like Tike, Cody, handled by Angela Newport, is also fully certified and they may be heading to McQuarrie Island next year to contribute their expertise in a pest eradication campaign in Australia.

Angela's pup Teak has an intermediate qualification - that means he has passed go in terms of basic training but still has some learning to do.

Fern, whose handler is Adriana Rogowsky, also has work ahead before achieving full certification.

Teak and Fern, both pups, are trained to identify stoats.

Tike and Cody are rodent dogs.

A recent job for them was an intensive search for a rat after rodent tracks were detected on Motuarohia (Roberton) Island in the Bay. After three months the island was declared pest free again.

National technical support officer Whangarei-based Scott Theobald says dogs are cheaper, simpler and so much easier than other methods of monitoring pests.

RIGHT STUFF

As more of our islands become pest-free – thanks to pest eradication programmes – dogs play a vital part in monitoring and control. The Conservation Dog Programme has dogs trained to find both predators or threatened species such as kiwi, teal and petrel and alert handlers to their whereabouts. A dog in training will undergo two tests. The first is an obedience exam. Within six months of passing this they must sit the second test which combines obedience and target (prey) specific training. The dog has to prove it has the right stuff. The dog handlers also undertake advocacy to help keep our islands pest free. Boaties are reminded to check their bags, boats and camping gear before setting off for the islands this summer.

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