Border Collies are intelligent dogs developed to herd sheep in the harsh climate of the border country between England and Scotland. The Border Collie energy and willingness to work are legendary, but alas, too few opportunities exist to herd sheep in the US.
Canada geese are symbols of freedom and a welcome addition to area parks, lakes, and wildlife preserves, but they have adapted so well to urban and suburban environments that they have become pests, especially at golf courses, airports, and office parks.
Creative Border Collie rescuers, trainers, breeders, and owners came up with a solution that gives the dogs a job and controls the geese without killing them – they use the dogs to convince the geese to set up housekeeping somewhere else.
Ivy Hills Country Club in Newtown recently acquired Ivy, a Border Collie puppy from a breeder near Chicago, Illinois. Ivy showed herding instinct when she arrived, but needed obedience training. Following the advice of a club member, grounds superintendent Kyle Williams contacted Lou Dragoo, a Border Collie breeder and trainer in Bethel, Ohio to teach Ivy to obey basic commands. The dog learned quickly; now she not only chases the geese, but she returns to her handler when called and obeys commands to sit, lie down, and stay.
Ivy lives at the golf course. She spends her days in the company of the grounds crew, running on the course or riding in a golf cart, and her nights in a kennel area built for her on the club grounds.
Geese are a nuisance at the golf course but a threat to life at airports. Both ducks and geese are large enough to cause crashes when planes are landing or taking off, so control is essential for safety.
In 1981, a loon crashed through the windshield of a plane near Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport, causing a crash that killed the co-pilot, and more than 20 reported bird strikes have occurred at the small field since 1992.
So Lunken got Buddy and Chase, a pair of Border Collies to keep the birds off the runways and adjacent areas. At night, the dogs stay in a kennel in the maintenance area or go home with one of the employees.
Ivy, Buddy, and Chase are local representatives of a national trend to control geese and other large birds with non-lethal means.
Golf courses, planned residential and commercial developments, and airports attract the geese with a combination of wide open spaces for foraging, ponds or marshes for swimming, and protected edge areas for nesting. Obviously, golf courses provide the requisite environment – fairways of succulent grasses, water traps, and roughs of cover. The popularity of green spaces and drainage ponds in corporate and residential developments and the tendency to locate airports near marshy areas also lead to inevitable clashes with geese and other waterfowl.
Droppings from the large birds are a nuisance and a potential health problem for young children, and the birds themselves are a danger to airplanes. During nesting season each spring and during and shortly after the summer molt, adult geese are aggressive and can threaten people – especially children – who wander close to nests or get between the birds and the water.
An occasional fox, coyote, or snapping turtle will kill a young Canada goose, but predators are few in urban and suburban areas. Geese are adaptable; they learn to ignore firecrackers, chemical repellants, recorded bird distress calls, “scarecrow” models of predators, and other efforts to chase them off. Border Collies are more civilized predators; they chase and harass the geese without harming them.
Some Border Collies live at golf courses and other facilities where they work. Some dogs reside with their trainers and make the rounds of airports and other facilities where geese are causing problems. And some live with the employee who is in charge of dog training and care.
Geese are aggressive, but Border Collies are so intent on the job that they hardly notice. A good goose dog will chase the birds into the water and keep them from getting back on land to feed. The dog will harass the birds again and again, preventing courtship and nesting behavior and forcing the birds to move on.
“The dogs must move the geese without touching or harming them, must never go into the water after the geese, and must learn to listen to my whistle and voice commands,” said Mary Ann O’Grady in the Border Collie Online Stud Book. “This is especially vital when the geese take to wing and fly away: the last thing I want is a dog tracking the geese, looking up in the air at the flying geese and perhaps running headlong onto the road.”
A trainer who contracts with companies plagued by geese in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and Westchester County, New York, O’Grady said that Border Collies excel at the work because they have both prey drive and herding ability. She uses rescued dogs as well as purchased dogs in her work, and usually sends them out in pairs to work the birds.
Border Collie Rescue of Melrose, Florida, operates the Bird Strike Control Program that places trained adult dogs at a variety of sites experiencing problems with geese and other birds. Bird Strike lists the advantages of using Border Collies for wildlife control, including:
The dogs are more effective than other methods of non-lethal control. Because they tenaciously harass the birds on command, geese do not learn to ignore them as they do noise controls or scarecrows. They are relatively easy to keep and deploy once basic training and housing are supplied, making them more practical than repeated applications of chemical deterrents and less labor-intensive than searching out nests and destroying eggs.
According to Bird Strike, “Bird harassment programs are generally long-term projects and must be maintained. … Once the dog goes away, the birds will return soon thereafter, sometimes the very same day. You can obviously skip a day or two of harassment from time to time without ill effect, but the idea is generally to stay on top of the problem so you don’t have to fight a major bird problem every other week.”
[More on Border collies]
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