A pet dog, its hunting instincts, and why she’s a threat to kiwi

Department of Conservation —  28/01/2022

By Erin Reilly, guest author from Save the Kiwi.

Peppa is a mid-sized dog with a plus-sized personality. Loosely named after a cartoon pig with the same name, Peppa’s favourite sport is to chase birds.

“Peppa is a cool dog but not the easiest pet,” says dog-dad Nathan Gibson. “She’s an English Pointer which is a breed that was designed to hunt birds. She needs a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, and if we didn’t have a lot of land at home, we wouldn’t have got her.”

Peppa the English Pointer.
📷: Nathan Gibson.

Nathan says that while English Pointers were bred to point at birds, they weren’t bred to catch them.

“Peppa tries to sneak up on a bird then turns really rigid and starts pointing at it when she thinks she’s close enough. But the bird will always see her and fly away, which is when Peppa starts running. So she never catches anything … although if the bird couldn’t fly, she might.”

Nathan understands both his and Peppa’s limitations when it comes to keeping her under control.

“When Peppa is on prey she essentially goes deaf and you can’t stop her,” he says. “The hunting instinct is so strong in English Pointers so we know we have to keep a really close eye on her. She’s safe around most animals, but when it comes to flightless birds like kiwi I would be really careful about where I take her.”

Nathan, Peppa, and their family live in Auckland. Nathan has never seen a kiwi in the wild before; only behind glass. In fact, because he feels so far removed from them, it hadn’t occurred to Nathan where kiwi might live in the wild until recently.

“I never considered pet dogs as potential predators because I assumed that people would never come in contact with them,” he admits. “I’ve always thought that kiwi live ‘somewhere out there’, somewhere that’s far away from people.

“But recently I discovered that in some parts of New Zealand, kiwi do live really close to populated areas, like Whangārei Heads in Northland and the Coromandel. It shocked me that kiwi can live so close to humans and their pets.”

Kiwi sign.
📷: Save the Kiwi.

Nathan also recently learned that kiwi are particularly vulnerable to dog attacks because of their anatomy.

“I had no idea that because the kiwi doesn’t fly, it doesn’t have a breastplate to protect its internal organs. When I learned that, it made total sense to me that any dog could be a risk to kiwi. Because of the anatomy of the kiwi, a dog doesn’t necessarily have to be motived to harm one. It could just be having a play or a sniff, but accidentally fatally injure the bird.”

While Nathan usually books Peppa into a local kennel when he goes on holiday, this summer she’s going along for the ride to visit family in the Hawke’s Bay. Now that Nathan is more aware of the impact of dogs on kiwi, though, he’s already preparing how to manage her while they’re away.

“Peppa can get easily distracted, especially if she smells something interesting. For a good run-around we’ll take her to a fenced dog park that she can’t get out of and keep her in a kennel while we’re staying with family. I wouldn’t go anywhere near a forest – just in case.”

North Island brown kiwi.
📷: Tara Swan.

It’s almost a blessing in disguise that Peppa is so high-energy.

“I know my dog would chase a bird because that’s what she was bred to do, so I’m already very careful about where I take her,” he says. “But now that I know more about the risks dogs pose to kiwi on top of that, I will be way more conscious about what I let her do.”

However, Nathan admits if Peppa was a different breed, he might have a different opinion.

“Some people might assume that other breeds of dogs would never pose a risk to kiwi because they’re chilled-out or come back when they’re called.

“I think it’s important that dog owners look beyond their dog and consider the environment around them. A kiwi can’t escape, and even if a dog is just playing gently, it could still fatally injure the kiwi.

“The bush is home to kiwi, not a home for dogs. Just like dogs were bred to hunt, kiwi were never meant to come face to face with predators. I hope dog owners will think really carefully about taking their dogs into the bush this summer.”

Find out how to make sure your dog never meets a kiwi here.

8 responses to A pet dog, its hunting instincts, and why she’s a threat to kiwi

    Monica Bing 04/02/2022 at 8:09 pm

    Although various other animals have been used to aid the hunter, such as ferrets, the dog has assumed many very important uses to the hunter. The domestication of the dog has led to a symbiotic relationship in which the dog’s independence from humans is deferred. Though dogs can survive independently of humans, and in many cases do ferrally, when raised or adopted by humans the species tends to defer to its control in exchange for habitation, food and support. I found this information on https://www.orlandparktreeservices.com/


    Reported a dog off leash whose owners are living at a DOC campsite with kiwis in the area and nothing happened except at 8 am the owners interrogating everyone as to who reported their sweet dog. If the dog had an exemption that’s great, but it wasn’t a campsite that said it was an option. More and more people just seem to think rules don’t apply to them and unfortunately DOC doesn’t seem to have the funds to keep tabs on all the campgrounds to enforce rules.

      Joylene Steicke 31/01/2022 at 3:32 pm

      Good on you Mary, need more people like you who have the courage to report something that you think may not be right and yes, there are not enough people to police conservation areas which is why, when we lived in NZ, we took the job on. must say though, not an easy one!
      Curious though, was the dog allowed there? I would hope not!


        Joylene, I work in conservation locally and am pretty passionate about it, so speaking up isn’t a problem for me. 😆 My only issue was that someone from DOC clearly spoke to the couple and gave them enough information to scour the campsite looking for the whoever complained. It wasn’t a fight I wanted to get into in front of my kids, as they were looking for drama. It was a strictly no dogs site-you can hear kiwis at night – but I’m guessing it was a contractor who tipped them off and let them and their dog stay.

    Joylene Steicke 28/01/2022 at 2:50 pm

    As an honorary ranger (from Aussie) for 10 years in the South Island of NZ, back in the ’90’s, I can only say that “dogs are death to wildlife”
    The ignorance of some dog owners to this fact is appalling and hard to understand. A dogs heritage goes back 1000’s of years and that instinct to kill is still there. It is an introduced species to NZ, Aussie and many other countries around the world.
    My husband and I live in Tasmania, a wildlife haven. It is not uncommon here to wake up to the devastating news that yet another couple of dozen Little Blue Penguins have been mauled to death by dogs and their little bodies just left scattered over the beaches and rocks. It,s a very sad site to behold.
    Now we are dog lovers, but please, please, do your homework on where to keep your
    dogs under control, and that includes on beaches where we have watched uncontrolled
    dogs chasing seabirds, pulled up the owners and they say, “but my dog can’t catch them” and no, that’s mostly true, but these birds are shore feeders and can’t feed while being
    constantly chased, they need peace to eat. We have actually encountered a dog owner who went surfing, leaving the dog unattended on the beach, it became so exhausted from chasing Hooded Plovers, that it finally just dropped on the sand exhausted. Then of coarse there are the nesting birds with eggs. I could go on, but hopefully, irresponsible dog owners may read this and change their habits. One can only hope!

    Andrew Nichols 28/01/2022 at 10:14 am

    Sadly, there are too many dog owners who dont care or even begin to think.


    I have a small fox terrier who has just completed her 2nd kiwi aversion test with flying colours. We live on a bush block with kiwi so it was important to me that this was done. But being a foxy, if something moves, its fair game, so l honestly don’t know what would happen if she saw one on the move. But being aware of her hunting nature makes us far more aware of where she is at all times. She had been attacked by a chook as a puppy, so had a great respect for chooks, whose body shape is along the same lines as a kiwi. While in the south island last year we came across 2 weka, and she totally ignored them, which was great.


    Bit of a funny typo there in the second to last paragraph. “A kiwi can’t escape, and even if a dog is just playing gently, it could still fatally injure the dog”
    watch out dogs, the kiwi are coming.