New Zealanders love their fur babies; dog ownership has skyrocketed over the last few years. And, more than ever before, pooches are accompanying their people to the bach, beach and bush as pet-friendly hotels, motels, campsites and walking tracks gain popularity.
But where does that leave our vulnerable national icon? The truth is dogs and kiwi don’t mix. Dogs are the second biggest threat to the flightless bird, following stoats.
While not a silver bullet, there’s a new movement sweeping the country that’s helping to reduce the threat dogs pose to kiwi. Responsible owners from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of the south are enrolling their dogs in kiwi avoidance training.
Outdoor enthusiast Hollie Beaumont lives close to The Redwoods, regularly frequenting the network of trails in Rotorua’s native bush-clad Whakarewarewa Forest. When Blue Heeler Freddie joined the family in 2020, it was only natural that he’d join in the odd adventure. Hollie felt it was her duty as a responsible pet owner to have Freddie kiwi avoidance trained.
“Most of what I like doing is based outdoors. I love mountain biking and hiking, enjoying the many tracks across the country,” she says. “It was really important for Freddie to complete the training so that he could accompany me in a way that’s safe for kiwi.”
More and more dog owners across New Zealand share the same ethos, with enrolments in avoidance training surging. The nationwide programme is developed by environmental trust Kiwis for kiwi, in partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC), working to bring awareness of the critical and devastating impact dogs have on kiwi populations. Subsequently, many private landowners as well as DOC will only grant access or provide hunting permits to those with certified kiwi avoidance trained dogs.
Blake Cole is one of close to 40 certified trainers across the country who teaches all kinds of canines, including pets like Freddie as well as hunting and farm dogs, to steer clear of kiwi in exchange for a koha, or donation, from their owners.
The training regime is quick – about 15 minutes. Dogs are tempted to get close to visual props containing the bird’s scent – such as a taxidermied kiwi and a kiwi nest doused in poo and feathers – and then given a painless zap from a special collar. It’s an effective way to stop them getting close in future, as proven when the dogs are required to complete the course a second time round, with trainers monitoring their behaviour.
“Dogs learn incredibly quickly; as soon as they get a second whiff of the kiwi scent, you can tell they are not keen. It’s very effective,” says Blake, who facilitates trainings in the central North Island. Testing is repeated in six to 12 months with official certification granted a year later.
Blake talks about the often overlooked proximity of kiwi to highly populated areas, now closer than ever before with the number of conservation projects and environmental missions underway.
“It’s a real eye-opener to learn just how close kiwi are to us,” he says. “I find pet owners want to do the right thing but they don’t quite understand the risks dogs pose. It takes just one dog to get a taste of the bird and an entire population can be wiped out in a matter of days.”
Blake says it’s important that owners understand that their dog is not ‘kiwi proof’ once training is complete; it’s simply a tool that helps reduce the threat and gives owners a better understanding of the potential harm dogs pose in every environment where kiwi may be present, from visiting a friend’s farm to being on DOC land. The best option is to always keep dogs on leads and away from kiwi areas.
Kiwis for kiwi Executive Director Michelle Impey agrees, and while she encourages all owners to enrol their dogs in kiwi avoidance training, she stresses the importance of thoroughly researching a destination before embarking on a day trip or holiday with your pooch.
“Do kiwi live near where you’re headed? If so, perhaps consider leaving your dog at home altogether or booking a dog hotel,” she says. “And just like the All Blacks need to keep training to stay in shape, dogs also need to be trained regularly so they stay on top of their kiwi aversion game.”
Have dog, will travel
Pooch-friendly accommodation, eateries, events, beaches and walking tracks are on the increase. Here’s some pretty pawsome inspiration for your next pup day out.
• QT Hotels & Resorts in Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown has launched Pup Yeah! in which suites accommodate dogs. Indulgent features include designer bedding and bowls, a pooch-approved mini bar and a decadent in-room doggy dinner menu designed by each property’s executive chef.
• On the first Saturday of every month, Two Mile Bay Sailing Club in Taupō holds its Dog and Grog event. Bring your dog, purchase a glass of beer or wine and you’re treated to a free pizza to woof down!
• Lace up your running shoes and clip on their leash; the 4 Paws Marathon in Christchurch’s Bottle Lake Forest takes place September 2021. Complete with compulsory vet checks along the way, the event is a salute to loyal, four-legged exercise allies and brings together a community of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts.
All paws aboard
Dogs can be excellent adventure companions but can be distracting in a small confined area such as a vehicle.
The SPCA advises pre-trip planning to ensure the safety of all on dog-inclusive road trips.
To keep pets safe, either use a contained crate that is well secured in the back of the car, or a harness made by a company who has carried out rigorous safety testing. Online research can help find the best ones; set up the harness following the manufacturers’ instructions.
It’s not uncommon for some dogs to experience motion sickness, particularly if they are not accustomed to travelling. When you first introduce your pet to the vehicle, take them on shorter trips to get them familiar with car journeys, and use treats and positive reinforcement to foster a good relationship with your pet and the car. If you notice signs of motion sickness – excessive panting or drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, smacking or licking lips – then consult your vet before the next trip.
While on the road, plan regular toilet breaks for your dog and keep water on hand to avoid dehydration. Keep them on the lead when taking them to the toilet on stops. If it’s a warm day, leave the window down to keep a breeze flowing through the car. Dogs like to put their heads out the window; be mindful that if they can put their whole head out, they have enough room to jump out.
• Portable water bowls are ideal for dogs on road trips.
• Keep a lead and poo bags stored in your vehicle at all times.
• Create a road trip music playlist with soothing tunes that your animals would like too – music therapy is proven to help decrease stress and anxiety in animals.
• Extra towels are good to have in the boot, especially if the road trip includes beaches.
Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Autumn 2021 issue