Conservation dog at Point Burn
Image: Sabine Bernert ©

Introduction

This programme uses highly trained dogs and their handlers to detect New Zealand’s protected species or unwanted pests.

Well trained dog-handler teams have successfully been used for conservation for more than 40 years. New Zealand was the first country to use dogs to benefit conservation as far back as the 1890s. 

Today, conservation dogs are used all over New Zealand, for example:

  • helping monitor kiwi and pāteke in Northland
  • protecting the Hauraki Gulf islands from introduced pests
  • helping monitor kiwi, blue duck/whio and kea on the West Coast.

The dog-handler teams are trained to sniff out either:

  • protected species (mainly birds) so they can be banded, monitored and/or moved to another place, or
  • pest species (eg rodents, stoats, Argentine ants, weeds) that would destroy our native wildlife in pest-free areas.

Certain dog breeds are more suited for this work – pointers are often used to find protected species, while terriers are usually used to find pests. Dogs can pose a serious risk to protected species if they are not trained and handled correctly. 

Kiwibank Partnership

In September 2016, Kiwibank joined forces with DOC to support the Conservation Dogs Programme. In its first year, this partnership will fund two full-time dog-handlers and build an advocacy programme.

Find out more about the partnership

International leaders

Globally, New Zealand is considered a leader in pest eradication programmes. Conservation dogs are a key tool in these programmes. We have helped Australia use conservation dogs to find feral cats and rodents, and have supplied dogs to Japan to find mongooses.

Dog-handler teams

A dog-handler team is certified to detect either protected species or unwanted pests. It takes around 18 months of daily training to become certified. Once certified they will still need to train several times a week for the duration of the dog’s working life (up to 10 years). To train a safe and successful dog, handlers must have experience of working with the target protected or pest species and dog-handling and training experience.

National standards and protocols exist for all Conservation Dogs and their handlers whether they:

  • work on DOC-administered land
  • work on private land where a DOC permit is required to handle protected species, or
  • are looking for pests in areas where there are protected species. 

Find out more about the programme processes and operating procedures.

Stories about conservation dogs

Other dog training

Avian awareness and avoidance training for dogs and their owners – teaches dogs to avoid ground-dwelling native birds.

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