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Kiwi Aversion Training for Dogs—14 September, 2014

September 15, 2014

Kiwi are New Zealand’s national bird and being flightless, are seriously endangered by introduced predators.  Only five percent of kiwi chicks born in the wild survive because of predators and ninety-five percent of those killed are killed by either dogs or cats.

In 2013 and 2014, our neighbours, Gill & Kevin Adshead released nearly forty Northland Brown kiwi on their property – Mataia.  These kiwi releases mean that there are kiwi by the Kaipara Harbour for the first time in over fifty years.  There is an extensive predator control program at Mataia and also a no dogs policy.

Gill and Kevin are keen conservationists and want to see kiwi flourish in our local area. They therefore took the initiative to organise a kiwi aversion training program for the dogs in our neighbourhood.  Because dogs are not permitted at Mataia, we gladly agreed to host the training at CUE Haven.

Aversion training involves making dogs want to avoid any kiwi that they encounter.  Today’s program was sponsored by the Department of Conservation and run by kiwi ranger, Pete Graham.

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Gill and Kevin had contacted a number of neighbours with dogs and invited them to the training and Pete also invited some people who had contacted the Department of Conservation requesting aversion training for their dogs.

Today seventeen dogs came along for training.

Trouble–Labradoodle

Jack and Sky—Huntaway/Eyedog X

Rex, Mika — German Shepherd Pointer

Blue–Hungarian Vizsla

Murphy, Maddie, Meg and Lucy–Border Collies

Gabby, Rosie –German Shepherd Rue–Border Collie/Labrador X

Biscuit–Terrier X

Jet–American Bulldog/Greyhound X

B.A.–Whippet/Bulldog X

Star–Australian Cattle Dog X

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Aversion training is widespread throughout New Zealand.  In order to get a hunting license to hunt deer, pigs or goats in certain locations, the hunter must be able to demonstrate that his dogs are trained.  Further, many land and forest owners require kiwi aversion training before a dog is allowed onto their property when hiking or exercising.

The training is highly effective but depends on the owner and how well the dog is trained.  Pete stressed that the training was not a replacement for good animal control.  The ideal approach is to subject a dog to initial training and then give the dog a follow up test in six months.  Thereafter, the dog should be retested on an annual basis to ensure continuing effectiveness.

Most of the dogs were being trained for the first time but three of the dogs were having follow up tests.

There are different methods of aversion training and today Pete was using the electric collar method. On arriving, Pete selected a spot on the property where the dogs could be released into a contained area to ensure that their movements could be controlled.  From the chilly bin, Pete took out two dead kiwi carcasses and placed them at each end of the run.

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The training was carried out by putting a collar on the dog.  Pete had a remote control with which he could give the dog a harmless, mild electric shock.

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Before Pete puts the collar on, the dog is allowed to sniff it and become comfortable with it.

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The collar is then attached.

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The dog is released or led through the run and allowed to explore.

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When the dog encounters the kiwi carcass and shows interest in it, the dog gets a mild shock.  The result is that the dog associates the sight and smell of kiwi with the unpleasant experience.

The results are amazing.  Most of the dogs that were being tested were still highly kiwi averse.  In fact one dog even recognised Pete’s distinctive vehicle and refused to go near it.  Those dogs gave the dead kiwis a wide berth as they went through the run and there was no need to give them a shock.

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Dogs who were being trained for the first time weren’t so lucky.  As soon as they showed any interest they got a mild shock.  For most of them, that was sufficient and they avoided the second kiwi.

Sky went right up to the first kiwi.

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And after getting a shock didn’t want to come back into the run.

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Maddie approached the first kiwi:

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And got an unpleasant shock.

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And wasn’t sure if she wanted to get any closer to the second kiwi.

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And it was the same for Blue and Star who didn’t want to have anything to do with the second kiwi.

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A couple of dogs had to go through the run a second time but eventually each dog was able to ignore both the kiwi, showing that the training had been effective.

But it wasn’t all work for the dogs.  Rex got a chance to make friends with the neighbour’s cow:

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And Maddie and Meg because of their heavy coats got to play in the water trough to get them wet so the collar would be more effective.

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Pete kept detailed records on each dog.

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Several of the dogs had been microchipped for identification and Pete had a scanner to capture their details.

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As each dog finished the training, Pete presented the owner with a certificate which can be used as evidence of successful training.

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It was a wonderful day and was a great opportunity for us to meet a lot of wonderful people we hadn’t met before.

Andrea, Andy, Barry, Ben, Bob, Colin, Matt, Mike, Nikki, Shane, Tamara and Terry – thank you all for bringing your dogs along for training today. It was great meeting all of you and we also enjoyed meeting your nice dogs whose behaviour is a positive reflection on the efforts you have made to train them.

Gill and Kevin – our many thanks for taking the initiative and arranging for the training today. Your passion for conservation is a real inspiration to us.

And a very big thank you to Pete Graham for giving up a Sunday and coming out to conduct the training.  Pete, it was a pleasure to watch you interact with the dogs and their owners and we also appreciate you sharing with us some of your wealth of knowledge about kiwis and how to protect them.

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Thanks again everyone for your participation – we looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

And we look forward to the day when kiwi will be roaming freely at CUE Haven too!

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