Archives For dogs

As Conservation Week approaches, Marine Science Advisor Laura shares tips for managing dogs near wildlife at the beach.

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Today’s photo of the week is of rodent detection dogs Tike and Cody, during a working day in Ipipiri/Eastern Bay of Islands.

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DOC Ranger Caraline Abbott discusses dogs and the impact on conservation in the Rotorua District.

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For the first time in over a decade, a dog is back on Raoul Island—this time to help clear the island of noxious weeds.

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By Kath Inwood, Partnerships Ranger, Nelson

The Motueka sandspit is an internationally significant site for shorebirds, providing roosting and nesting space for variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel, and temporary lodgings for the bar-tailed godwit. Being so close to town, however, it is a popular spot for Motueka dog owners to walk their dogs.

A variable oystercatcher.

A variable oystercatcher

Ranger Ross with some dogs.

Ranger Ross and some of the dogs

To improve awareness of the birds in the area, we got together with Tasman District Council and Birds New Zealand to try out an Australian idea – the Dog’s Breakfast. This event provides dog owners an opportunity to learn about the birds of the foreshore and sandspit over a bacon and egg butty (sandwich).

Around 50 dog walkers turned out to breakfast with their dogs over a two and a half hour period on Saturday 8 March.

With the smell of sizzling bacon in the background, David Melville from Birds New Zealand explained that variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel are key inhabitants of the sandspit area, along with the better-known bar-tailed godwits, who make the 11,000km flight between New Zealand and Alaska.

The crowd at the Dog's breakfast.

The crowd gathers for the dog’s breakfast

The purpose of the breakfast was to raise awareness of dog owners about the significance of this area for shorebirds, and to enable them to be more informed about how they can minimise the disturbance to wildlife, while enjoying the benefits of an area such as this to walk their dogs.

by Kim Dawick

The extremely demanding nature of goat control work means most hunters only last a year or two in the role. The hunters in this story have all moved on to new things, but the dogs have been passed on and are still working for DOC.

Tahi was the result of a purpose-bred combination thought up by Joe Gurnick for use in goat control. Joe had worked with dogs his entire life, and over the years he’d seen both the good and the bad. He had very strict criteria for his hunting dogs, with a desire to breed a litter of intelligent bailing dogs, but of slightly smaller stature to the classic border collie/heading dog used by the majority of goat hunters.

Joe was the Team Leader for the (DOC Hauraki) Peninsula Project goat
control programme. Joe is an exceptional hunter with approximately 15
years goat control experience and a lifetime of pig hunting. Photographed
above working a mob of four goats with two dogs in a large bush clearing.
Note Joe’s casual approach, showing total confidence in his dogs’ ability.
Getting a working-dog to this level takes years of training

The mother to this litter was an easy choice for Joe. He chose his three year old Border Collie bitch Bella, who was shaping up to be an exceptional finder/bailer. However, choosing a sire was not so easy, despite the many tongue in cheek offers to use dogs owned by his team mates.

In the end, Joe found a sire for Bella. A 1st cross Fox Terrier/Whippet that belonged to Don Thompson, a professional rabbiter and a team member of DOC’s high priority Rangitoto/ Motutapu Island pest eradication team. It was love at first sight, and Bella soon began nesting and preparing herself for motherhood.

Goat up a tree

The day came when Bella was due to give birth. The entire goat team was there to witness it and each of us had our eye on Bella ready to choose one of her puppies for ourselves. Finally a puppy appeared, then… well…, then nothing…. To everyone’s surprise that was it! It is very unusual for a bitch to only have one puppy, so Joe claimed his puppy and named her Tahi (means ‘one’ in te reo Māori) and sent the rest of the goat team home very disappointed.

Tahi grew up fast, totally submerged in a hunting lifestyle. She was everything Joe had hoped for; small, fast, intelligent, very trainable, and with lots of tenacity.

In 2010 the Peninsula Project goat team came to an end when the hunters achieved their goal (after six years of hard toil), shooting themselves out of a job; a credit to the hunter/dog teams carrying out the goat control. Joe decided to venture overseas, having hunted his entire life; it was time to do something else. So Tahi (now a very sought after hunting dog) was gifted to Michael Walker (Programme Manager Bio Threats Hauraki, and an ex-goat hunter/team mate and close friend of Joe’s) who let Waikato hunting team member  Thomas Malcolm borrow her on a short term loan.

The Bluffs – typical goat country

It was in November 2011 when everything went horribly wrong for Thomas while hunting on Mount Pirongia (Waikato). His day started out the usual way however, at the end of the day Tahi and another dog, Haka, were missing with no explanation! Having a dog stay out overnight is not an everyday occurrence, but from time to time, as all those who hunt with dogs know, it can happen.

Thomas desperately searched every inch of the mountain looking for his hunting mates with days turning into weeks, and weeks into a month. All hope was fading for the return of his dogs, when on the fifth week we received a call from a local farmer regarding a dog which had just turned up at his house.

We asked for a description of this dog and he replied, ‘”Small, black and white, very skinny, extremely friendly, and it may have a broken leg….”

Everything matched Tahi’s description however, we didn’t want to get our hopes up—after all, five weeks (lost) in the bush is a very long time, and it may not be her.

As you can imagine, we played it cool and headed straight out there trying not to show too much emotion (as us tough hunter types do). Much to our delight, it was indeed Tahi, and the emotions were a little harder to hide this time!

Shae Turo (DOC Hauraki) holding Tahi who is sporting her trendy pirate skull
and cross bone fibreglass arm cast. She is now back in prime condition
after a week on a special high protein/fat diet

Haka was also found four months later—he was being used by a pig hunter all that time!

DOC’s use of dogs

Dogs are an essential tool in the department’s wild animal control programmes because of their ability to find wary animals in dense vegetation.

Dogs are used by DOC to find goats, deer, pigs, stoats, cats, hedgehogs, mice, rats, kiwi, blue duck, wallaby, ants, and many more animals for their handlers, all in the name of conservation.

The use of dogs in areas containing endangered bird life and/or adjoining areas of farmland is of concern to some members of the public and landowners. In order to address these concerns, DOC have strict policies in regards to the use and training of its dogs.

Every hunter/dog combination has its own particular hunting style preference.

Acceptable styles for use in the Waikato region include dogs that find and bail and/or dogs that find and indicate.

  • A bailing dog locates its target species (sometimes up to 300 metres away), and mostly works out of sight of the hunter. The dog will head (run it down, cutting in front of the animal to stop it), and then constantly bark in order to tell the hunter where it is.
  • An indicating dog stalks its target species, tracking the animal (or sometimes a mob of the target species) always within close sight (less than 10 metres) of the hunter. When the quarry is very close to the hunter, the dog will show a positive indication, e.g. it may lock onto a classic ‘point’ with one leg off the ground, a fixed tail, with the head indicating the exact direction of the quarry.

Meet the team (from top, left to right): Dudley, Dylan, James,
Kim, Paul, Ruby

Every Monday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

This week we look at kiwi ranger and rodent dog handler, Miriam Ritchie:

At work:

Miriam Ritchie holding a kiwi

Name:  Miriam Robin Deans Ritchie

Job:  Kiwi ranger and rodent dog handler, Whangarei Area Office

Describe your role

I have two part-time roles: I monitor kiwi in the Whangarei Kiwi Sanctuary to gather data for a long-term study of Northern North Island Brown Kiwi, and do some predator trapping within the sanctuary. I also do surveillance and monitoring of New Zealand’s offshore islands and rodent-free mainland sites with my certified rodent dog, Occi. 

Miriam with rodent dog, Occi

What kind of work /projects are you currently involved in?

I am currently removing transmitters from most of our adult kiwi sample as our project is undergoing a major change from intensive kiwi monitoring to a community relations/kiwi vs. dog advocacy campaign. I am also spending a bit of time with my dogs in the Bay of Islands working on Project Island Song, hunting down a trickle of invading rats that are threatening the potential rat-free status of the islands.

What led you to your current role in DOC?

Hard work, Raoul Island, persistence and taking opportunities.

Taking a helicopter ride to Three Kings Island

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. Bush
  2. Coast 
  3. Freedom

Three pet peeves

  1. Injuries
  2. Being late
  3. People trying to run me over on my bike

Miriam and Occi

Getting personal:

What three things do you always have in your refrigerator?

  1. Some greenery
  2. Cooked rice
  3. A half-eaten avocado

What was your favourite birthday present as a kid?

My first pony—her name was Kindy, and I had her ’til she died at 27 years old.

Tell us about your 15 minutes of fame

Hah, I think that’s yet to come.

Miriam with 'rodent dog'

What is your dream holiday location or activity?

A chunk of swimmable coast, some hills to sweat up and some dogs to chase.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Plant things, garden, ride my bike and explore with my dogs.  

What was the most useful thing that somebody once told you?

I don’t think anyone told me this but with hard work and the will, you can do anything.

Name a book and movie you would recommend: 

Wouldn’t presume to be able to do that, people vary too much in what they like! Although…

Occi staying safe in his high visibility outfit

Book: John Salmon’s Native Trees of New Zealand, despite being a bit out of date now, is a great reference book for anyone who loves the bush. Movie: The Flying Scotsman. 

If there was a competition for best place in New Zealand where would get your vote?

North Cape, Cape Reinga, Cape Maria Van Diemen—the tippy top of Northland.

And if there was one native species that ruled them all, what would be your pick?

Maybe the Kauri, being from Northland and all. They are pretty awesome in every sense!