Adventures of Blaze and Ade: Flying, bromances and Conservation Dog training camp

Department of Conservation —  26/11/2022

Blaze recently hit another milestone in his journey to become a fully certified Conservation Dog, attending a two-day training and assessment camp in Nelson this August. He also took his very first plane trip and reunited with his brother, Tahi, who is also training to become a rodent detection dog.  

Training Conservation Dog recruits
Training the newest recruits to the Conservation Dog Programme in Nelson

Training and assessment camps are designed for young or new dogs that are either ready or getting ready to sit their Interim Certificate Assessment, and usually occur about three times a year. A professional dog trainer performs group exercises with all the dogs at camp, and another for handlers who feel they need it. Those that sit the assessment must demonstrate that their dog is under good control, is safe around non-targets such as native species, as well as people and other dogs.

For young Blaze and where he’s at in his training journey, his handler Adeline treated this camp as a training exercise and an opportunity to iron out some kinks. Kinks? Blaze?! Perish the thought. Delightfully, his issue is that he’s a bit of a ’Velcro dog’ (read: Mummy’s boy), not surprising considering that working Cocker Spaniels are known for their intelligence, loyalty and willingness to please. Thankfully, by having so many handlers together in one place at camp, Blaze had the opportunity to work with other people to broaden his experiences.

Conservation Dogs Blaze & Tahi with their trainers.
Blaze velcroed to his handler, Adeline, along with handler Julie Hill and a dog that looks very similar…

These camps are an important introduction to the Conservation Dog Programme for new handlers about what it means to be a Conservation Dog handler and the associated responsibilities.

Conservation Dog Programme Manager Helen Neale explains, “All dog handler teams are expected to show high level of professionalism at all times. For example, dogs and handlers must wear a high-vis vest when working, and dogs wear a muzzle as an extra level of protection when working around taonga species. We also expect handlers to attend the Annual Conservation Dog Programme Hui at least once every two years for the opportunity to learn about new processes and work areas. At this camp, the hui took place immediately afterwards so new handlers got a chance to learn about the latest developments.”

Conservation Dogs training participants
Participants at the Nelson training and assessment camp this August.

For more experienced handlers, the camps are an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues and share experiences and knowledge. Adeline explains, “We often work in isolation so it’s good to catch up with people travelling the same road as us. With dog training, it’s not one size fits all and we always learn new things from one another.” To foster this reciprocity there are also workshops to support dog handler teams find solutions to challenges.

Another highlight of the camps are the dog ‘socialisation’ exercises. Any dog owner can attest that when their dog meets another dog, all hell can break loose. Unless these encounters occur in a safe and controlled way, they can cause lasting emotional damage to dogs. The exercises are therefore set up and run in such a way that a young dog gets the opportunity to meet other dogs safely, while the intensity is ramped up at a controlled pace to ensure they don’t ‘freak out’.

Blaze got to have his own very special encounter, reuniting with his brother Tahi who’s basically his identical twin. Tahi lives in Blenheim with his dog handler, Julie Hill from the Conservation Dog Programme, and is also training to become a rodent detection dog. They took one look at each other, had a good sniff, and in Adeline’s words, “it was game on!” Attending training and assessment camp included a lot of firsts for Blaze, including the plane trip which he found a little scary. He has bounced right back however, and has been busy back at home, training at Auckland Wharf. He’ll be taking his assessment at a camp this November and we’ve got all our fingers, toes and paws crossed for him. Stay tuned till next time!

Conservation Dogs, Auckland wharf
Blaze pointing out the goal while back to training at Auckland Wharf

Keep up to date with Blaze and Ade’s adventures via the DOC Auckland Facebook page.

Read more: Adventures of Blaze and Ade: Meet our newest trainee Conservation Dog