Kiwi lessons for dogs going bush

Nina Mercer —  11/08/2015

For many of us, dogs are an important part of our lives – whether it’s as a pet, for work, or for recreation.

Protected species detection dog at Point Burn, Southland. Photo: Sabine Bernert ©

Protected species detection dog at Point Burn, Southland

Many people like to take their dog bush – either for hunting or as a companion when tramping (into approved areas only of course!).

In response to this, DOC and Kiwis for kiwi have developed a kiwi aversion training programme.

A pig hunting dog ready for training.

A pig hunting dog ready for training

The kiwi aversion training programme teaches dogs to avoid kiwi when they are out in the bush.

Three dogs awaiting aversion training.

Aversion training is important for all dogs that ‘go bush’

My family has taken our Labradors tramping in the past and, even though we have only taken them to areas that are no longer home to kiwi, we have still had them attend the training, just in case. We also plan to have our miniature schnauzer trained, as he is now old enough to join us too.

The model kiwi used for aversion training.

The model kiwi used for aversion training

Kiwi aversion training is available in many parts of the country. One of the most experienced and effective trainers is Willy Marsh, from Woodville.

Willy started training goat hunting dogs for DOC in Whanganui many years ago. He has an innate understanding of dog behaviour and uses the gentlest techniques for training the dogs. Willy also has an easy rapport with the hunters who bring their dogs to him for training. You can see the respect these people have for Willy.

A typical training course is set up in a patch of bush. It focuses first on smell, then sight and movement, then sound.

When a first timer dog approaches one of the model kiwi, it will receive a low level shock from the electric collar it is wearing. This gives the dog a fright and it becomes more tentative. Often, from that point on, the electric collar isn’t needed, as the dog is wary of the strange shapes and sounds of kiwi and skirts around them.

A plastic model kiwi.

A plastic model kiwi – dogs respond to sight as well as smell

A dog that has done the training before will often not require the collar and has an instinctual avoidance of the kiwi.

A fully trained dog that has learnt to avoid kiwi.

A fully trained dog that has learnt to avoid kiwi

Willy uses dead kiwi given to him by DOC for his training (he holds a permit to keep them). The birds have all died of natural causes or predation and Willy freezes the birds after each use.

Horse th dog following his training.

Horse passes the test with flying colours

Watching Willy in action is amazing. He has been dubbed ‘the Dog Whisperer’ by local media and it is a name that suits him well.


Conservation lands are places where New Zealand’s unique plants, animals and heritage are protected. Help us look after our native wildlife by taking your dog only to approved dog areas.

Below is a guide to the types of dog access on public conservation land. Access conditions can change though. Always check with the nearest DOC visitor centre for notices about dog access and track closures before you set out.

Open dog areas

Dogs are allowed either ‘off-leash’ or ‘on-leash’ depending on the site. No permit is required.

Open dog areas exist in some DOC forest parks or conservation parks, conservation areas and some historic or recreation reserves.

DOC may impose conditions, including conditions on access during vulnerable conservation periods such as bird nesting seasons.

Controlled dog areas – entry by permit

Dog access is controlled by permit, subject to approval and/or special conditions from DOC.

Controlled dog areas – no access

Dogs are not allowed in national parks, nature reserves or wildlife sanctuaries except with express written approval.

If you are on a boat with your dog, you cannot take your dog ashore to a controlled dog area, national park or nature reserve, to let it relieve itself. This includes the foreshore of any such island or land (the foreshore includes the entire beach area down to the low tide level).

Unless specified, dogs and other pets are not allowed in DOC campgrounds.

Dogs are not allowed inside any DOC hut or lodge. In some cases there may be a kennel beside the hut. If this is not the case, please find somewhere suitable outside the hut to tie your dog.

Other places

Dogs are allowed in many parks managed by city and regional councils. Contact your local government office or website for details.

Kiwi aversion training

Kiwi aversion training is available in many parts of the country, you can find your nearest training course on the Kiwis for kiwi website.

Nina Mercer


Nina is a Partnerships Ranger based in Palmerston North who has worked in conservation for more than twenty years. She has a passion for our natural environment and loves exploring the outdoors, especially with her family.

6 responses to Kiwi lessons for dogs going bush

    sam alexander 30/08/2015 at 3:08 pm

    Great course, Ive put 3 dogs through, one 6 years ago..still not interested in Kiwis.

    Mate came up from Wgtn this morning to put dog through and was stoked to watch and learn from the Willi.

    To be effective in this type of traning one needs to be in tune with each individual dog…thats Willi.


    Absolutely fantastic. Well done everyone 🙂


    This is a very interesting article. Clearly those involved in the kiwi aversion training are dedicated and put a lot of time and energy into their work and deserve our congratulations.

    I am concerned however that the whole thrust of this article suggests that, provided the dogs have had kiwi aversion training, it is OK to take them into conservation land anywhere because they will not impose any threat to wildlife. This sets a very bad precedent.

    There is a very strong case for DOC encouraging New Zealanders to leave their dogs at home cared for by friends or kennels when they head away into the National Parks, Conservation Parks and Reserves lands that are all looked after for us all by DOC.

    Many of these places actually prohibit dog entry permanently (eg National Parks and Reserves) or during pest control operations in the conservation lands. There are very good reasons for this. Not taking your dog into these areas firstly keeps your dog safe from accidental poisoning. It will also avoid you being prosecuted and fined for ignoring dog prohibitions and placing threatened wildlife at even greater risk of predation than they are already from introduced predators.

    Dogs by nature are curious and will investigate new smells and chase wildlife that they encounter. Kiwis are only one of the native species at risk. Weka, all 3 mainland NZ penguin species, rail, crake, pukeko, ground nesting birds like most waders, waterfowl and breeding shorebirds are all at risk from uncontrolled dogs. Moreover dogs themselves are at risk from the very successful DOC Battle for our Birds programmes where aerial and ground based pest control has occurred in this very important programme to save birds and forests from rats, stoats and possums.

    Kiwi aversion training takes a long time and is not always successful particularly if the programme is incomplete. Training dog aversion to kiwi birds does not equate to aversion training for all other native ground bird species. The other major challenge where dogs are taken onto conservation lands particularly for pig or deer hunting is where the dog becomes lost. Smart hunters will equip their dogs with tracking devices so they can be re-located in a dog lost situation. If they aren’t found, a lost dog can often turn feral to survive and will kill large numbers of birds, including kiwis both in a blood lust (eg worrying sheep) and simply to stay alive.

    There are a significant number of Council Parks, some DOC reserves and many beaches where you can take your dog for exercise and fun. I suggest though that you think hard before you take your dog out into wild Parks and conservation land. The last thing you want is for your kiwi aversion trained dog to arrive back with a dead penguin or baby birds in its mouth.

    For the record: I am a dog owner of 2 border collie sheepdogs.


      Yes, good comment 🙂


      Kia ora Gerry. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. We hope all readers of Nina’s post will continue on to read what you have written, as it provides some excellent ‘food for thought’. Without making too many changes to the original story, we have added some extra information in an attempt to address your concerns. While not perfect, we hope it gives our readers a clearer understanding of current dog access rules. Thanks, once again, for contributing your valuable perspective. We appreciate it.

      sam alexander 01/09/2015 at 2:35 pm

      You state kiwi aversion traing takes a long time and is not always successful especially if the course is incomplete.

      It taks half an hour with Willi Marsh, if you think that’s to long to make your dog kiwi/blue duck safe you should stop writing rubbish so you have some more time available to work on your dogs.

      If the course is incomplete the dog doesn’t get a pass so of course it would be in effevtive….