By Cody Thyne, Conservation Dog Handler.
New Zealand is somewhat of a leader in using dogs for conservation purposes so I thought I would share a little of what the Conservation Dogs programme is all about and what we do.
From time to time when exploring the outdoors, members of the public may encounter a DOC ranger or contractor travelling along a track or river bed, with a four-legged companion.
Generally dogs are not permitted in many of our specially protected areas. Dogs can be a problem for many of our native ground-dwelling and nesting species.
The ones you may see out there, sporting hi-vis vests and muzzles, are certified Conservation Dogs.
Conservation dogs in New Zealand
There are three distinct areas of work we use conservation dogs for in New Zealand.
Pest detection dogs are trained to locate animal and plant pests, or evidence of their presence. Pests can include cats, stoats, rats, or invasive insects like argentine ants. We use pest detection dogs for ongoing monitoring, eradication and island biosecurity work which consists of quarantine, surveillance and incursion response.
The second group of dogs are trained to find specific animals such as deer, pigs or goats. The use of dogs allows us to control feral animal populations more efficiently in areas of ecological value.
Finally, protected species detection dogs are trained to locate endangered birds, nests, and lizards. These dogs help us monitor our protected species
Training our Conservation Dogs
So what does it take to train a dog and get it certified to work in protected areas?
The dog and handler must master some specific behaviours and basic commands before they’re allowed anywhere near the target species or area.
Generally a handler will select a pup or a young dog and begin bonding and training for interim certification. The dog’s initial training may take up to a year.
Once the dog has gained maturity and the ability to focus, it can go for its interim certification. If successful, it can then be carefully introduced to the target species and start working in the field.
After another six months, the dog can go for full certification on the target species (and that species only). The dog has to go through the interim and full certification process for each species it’s being trained on.
All dogs and their handlers in the Conservation Dogs programme are reassessed every three years to maintain a high level of safety, professionalism and skill.
Find out more
Conservation dogs are a valuable tool to the department and the various programmes they work on. The dogs love the work and it is hugely rewarding for the staff who work with them. It can be frustrating at times but the effort that goes into training a dog is always worth it in the long run.
Some of our Conservation Dogs have their own social media pages. Check them out below.
Pai and Piri on Facebook – trained to find rodents
Maddi and Rua on Facebook – trained to detect pateke, brown kiwi, petrel, penguin
Ajex on Facebook – trained to detect kea.
Milo on Facebook – trained to detect cats
Rein on Instagram – trained to find rowi, great spotted kiwi
Gadget’s blog – trained to find rodents