Highly trained conservation dogs are a pest programme's best friend! They seek out their target like sense-guided missiles and indicate to their handler when they have found something of interest. For the dogs, this is all part of the game, and no one enjoys their work like a well-trained conservation dog. Out in the field, fresh air, out with their handler, finding scents and following them so they can get a reward (playtime with the handler). To these canines, nothing could be better! Handlers would argue that they have the best job in the world. Outside in the field, fresh air, out with their dog, watching their mate do their amazing job and rewarding them once they have zoomed in on a target. Sounds pretty idyllic right?

Photo: Karin and Mabob off on a hedgehog mission. Conservation dogs wear a GPS collar so they can be located and their movements tracked.

We still need to remember; conservation dogs are a serious and essential tool in our pest free mission. We are in the process of training a further four conservation dogs to cover a range of jobs, and they are all species specific. We have been lucky to procure a fully-trained hedgehog dog, somewhat by accident. We had Mabob (real name Nightshade) on loan until our other pooch was trained up, but both the handler and the dog couldn’t be parted and now we have the beginnings of a classic love story. But that’s its own blog for another day.

Photo: Our other dogs in training. Clockwise from bottom left - Bob (hedgehog dog - Mabob's pup), Mac (Possum dog), Fritz (Possum scat dog) and tuckered out Jerry (feral cat dog).

Back to our story. Our conservation dog programme will consist of:

  • Two hedgehog dogs (one already trained and the other in training)
  • A possum dog,
  • A possum scat dog,
  • And a feral cat dog.

We will be using them in a variety of ways. Their sense of smell will be able to tell us where we have hot spots of activity (so where to concentrate our efforts), where we have lone individuals after our intensive pulses with traps and/or toxin control, and if we find none, they are one of the tools we will use to determine if we have reached our goal and to declare an area “pest-free”.

Photo: Mabob is proud of her skills as a tracker. This is what a smiling dog looks like.

We are lucky that we have been able to work with conservation dog trainer extraordinaire Billy Barton. His skill is well renown in this space, and we are confident that these dogs will be some of the best in their field once up and running (figuratively – they are clearly already doing both literally). However, as cute and intelligent these conservation dogs are, there is significant time and money required to train and maintain these important pooches, not to mention the hours of training our handlers go through to make sure they can get the full potential out of their pals.

Photo: Conservation dogs don't "do" days off, even if you try!

You might ask why put money and time into something as intense as conservation dogs then? Are there other tools we could be using that serve a similar function. Short answer is you won’t beat a dog even on a bad day. We are using other monitoring tools like trail cameras using thermal and infra-red, but they will only get things that choose to walk past the line of sight of the camera. To be really sure, you need something that will home in on individuals – and that means using the tenacious olfactory senses of man’s best friend.

We look forward to our conservation dog pack growing and being an integral part of the Pest Free Banks Peninsula team!