One more test to go

Big test: The team with people from left, Scott Theobald, Leona Plaisier  and Liam Plaisier. Dogs, from left, Julz, Scott's trainee pig dog; Chase, Leona's rat/mice dog; Whero, Scott's right hand pig dog, Blue, Scott's left-hand pig dog; Crete, Scott's fully certified stoat dog; and Rova, Liam's rat dog.
Big test: The team with people from left, Scott Theobald, Leona Plaisier and Liam Plaisier. Dogs, from left, Julz, Scott's trainee pig dog; Chase, Leona's rat/mice dog; Whero, Scott's right hand pig dog, Blue, Scott's left-hand pig dog; Crete, Scott's fully certified stoat dog; and Rova, Liam's rat dog.

It had been six months since Scott Theobald had last come to see the progress of our predator dogs-in-training.

And now he was back to test them for their interim certificate.

Chase and I were first in line.

Scott had the test sheets in front of him, and I had Chase next to me, who was looking horribly distracted.

I had been training Chase many months for this obedience exam, but things were different now.

I sat her down on the field and was meant to wait out of sight for 30 seconds.

I knew she was pretty good at this, but I also knew how much she likes chaffinches when they fly around.

As I waited, I watched one of the little birds hopping around on the field between Scott and Chase.

As it flew right in front of the young dog I could imagine things going rather wrong, but luckily the training had paid off.

She passed the test beautifully.

A nice reward for all the practising and training we had done, although Chase herself had no idea about it.

Liam was next with Rova.

I didn't see their test, but was told it went smoothly.

Now we have two interim certified dogs on Tui Nature Reserve.

It will be six more months before their next and last test when they become full conservation dogs.

Liam and I now have to focus on the next part of the training, which involves more challenges and higher concentration. The dogs need experience in travelling, people and places, aversion of native birds, other non-target pests, and learning to work in different environments.

Now that we have obedience sorted, we are going to get started with scent trails and aversion.

It is all about learning and errors which counts for the handler.

Reading the dog's indications is most important, since for each scent they have a different reaction.

Chase likes to wag her tail furiously and run through the bush like a mad dog. With mice she tends to listen rather then smell if she is close enough.

Aversion is important with dogs. Birds are especially important, but so are other animals like live stock, possums, pigs and so on, since you don't want any distractions while looking for rodents.

It's going to be fun – a challenge for both dog and human.

Leona Plaisier is a 15-year-old who lives on the Tui Nature Reserve in Pelorus Sound.

The Marlborough Express