By Jana Beer, Auckland Partnerships Ranger.
If you follow the Department of Conservation Auckland Facebook page, chances are you’ve met Blaze, one of the newest trainees in DOC’s Conservation Dog Programme. Blaze is a 6-month-old Cocker Spaniel, but his handler Adeline is pretty sure he’s part monkey as he has some serious skills!
Blaze is on his way to becoming a rodent detection dog, meaning that once certified, he will have an important job sniffing out rats and mice in a wide variety of situations. One day he could be undertaking biosecurity checks on pest-free islands in the Hauraki Gulf / Tīkapa Moana, checking bags and vehicles departing for one of the islands, and the next day he could be hopping in a plane to help out somewhere else in the country.
He’ll be joining a long line of prestigious dog-handler teams that have been working hard for conservation for more than 40 years. In fact, New Zealand was the first country to use dogs to benefit conservation as far back as the 1890s!
As you can imagine, training to be a dog handler team isn’t a walk in the park. Adeline uses the analogy of not only trying out for an elite sports team but keeping your place in it too. It takes around 18 months of daily training to become certified, and once achieved you need to train several times a week for the duration of the dog’s working life (which can be up to 10 years). You need to be at the top of your game, always.
Luckily, Blaze has the right temperament and personality for the job. Adeline shares that he has an incredible zest for life and can go from fast asleep to ready to work in two seconds flat. He is brave, intelligent, curious and eager to please, but with a chilled out, happy-go-lucky attitude. Crucially, he has an amazing nose which he loves to use.
Adeline sits in two teams at DOC; working with the Auckland Inner Islands Team doing all things biosecurity in the Hauraki Gulf, and as a part of the Conservation Dog Programme providing support where needed. With a passion for dogs and a background in Animal Psychology and pest control, her job is the perfect fit.
This isn’t a job you leave at work, however. Blaze is Adeline’s third Conservation Dog, joining her human whānau and gaining a brother in Welsh Springer Spaniel, Vito (Argentine Ant detection dog) & a sister in Jack Russell, Pru (rodent detection dog). With their brown and white markings, they often get mistaken for actual siblings to which Adeline often jokes, “I didn’t realise that dogs came in other colours!
To begin with, Blaze’s training involved exposing him to as many experiences and items as possible. Why? The first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life are a critical socialisation period, determining who they become as an adult dog. It’s particularly important for Blaze as when he’s fully certified, he will be sniffing out rats and mice in a wide variety of situations, so it’s essential he feels comfortable around people and native species, as well as equipment, cars, boats and all sorts of terrain.
He’s already achieved some big milestones including graduating from puppy school at 18 weeks (full marks, of course) and taking the first of many boat trips to come. Now that he’s vaccinated, he has officially started training with other dogs to become a certified Conservation Dog. All training occurs on the mainland, as he can’t touch paw on pest-free islands until he is at least interim certified.
When asked what Adeline loves about her job, the list is long. On a day-to-day basis, she loves working with her dogs and being out in nature, seeing the difference everyone’s efforts are making. Her highlights include seeing the dogs succeed and the delight on kid’s faces when the dog sniffs their bag. And Blaze? “He’s a joy to have around and provides my whānau with lots of laughter in his daily determination to search for his ball!”
We can’t wait until Blaze can put those skills towards protecting our pest-free islands and their threatened taonga species from rats and mice. If you want to follow Blaze’s journey to become a certified Conservation Dog, follow us on the DOC Auckland Facebook page.