Posts

Training

Friendly furry bird chasers!

Bird watching–don’t we all love? Bird chasers are not less attractive either. Here we talk about friendly bird chaser Border Collies at King Shaka International Airport, Durban.

Mac chasing birds…

The very first Border Collie dog to start working at the Durban International Airport–South Africa, the first in Africa and in the Southern Hemisphere, was Mac and I was his proud handler. It was way back in 2002 and he was just two years old at the time. This was a new challenge for the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) in Durban as all eyes were on us to see if this would be successful as it were in the USA?

And yes, it was successful! Soon, we had three dogs with three different handlers for both Johannesburg International Airport, now called Oliver R Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) and the Durban International Airport. Currently, Mac is working at King Shaka International Airport (KSIA), Durban where these dogs help to chase birds away. They are driven on an ATV (all terrain vehicles) or quad bike to chase birds.

Under commands…

Verbal commands, hand signals and most importantly sheep dog whistles are used to control them. Care is taken not to tire the dogs. Whenever they are tired and need a rest, fresh water is given to them, besides time to recover. It’s really interesting to note that these dogs never just jump off and chase as they are very disciplined. Discipline, obedience and control are of utmost importance before a Border Collie can be put on work on an airfield. It is a safety hazard if you cannot control your dog to come or obey your commands, etc. Luckily we have never had that scenario at KSIA.

Bond of understanding…

Being a handler for these dogs is great, because they keep you on your feet and they are very alert and are hard workers. It takes around 15 to 18 months before the dog is ready to be deployed to an airport, but in those months, the handler meets and bonds with the dog and learns more about the character of the dog as well, because, like us, each dog has his own character. Trust is also very important between the dog and the handler. They have to learn to trust each other; they need to know their dog 100 percent at all times.

When the dog arrives at the airport and is ready to be handed over, it takes the new handler at least another 4 to 6 months to really bond with the new dog. No one is allowed to take the dog on the airfield, but the selected handler. In those months at the airport, the dog starts getting used to the environment, handler, etc which is very critical. The dog and handler are assessed after a few months and again after one year.

Special care…

Great care must be taken for these dogs. They work very hard every day, but they have their off days and play days as well. Good care is taken for their grooming and health needs. We play every day with them, even after their duties; play time is a good bonding time with not only the handler but other dogs as well, and remember your own dog will always be focused on you.

Act of compassion…

They are not trained to catch or harm any birds, but they are intelligent enough not to do so. By the time they get to 10 or 20 meters from the bird, the bird sees them and flies off. Once Mac was chasing birds, he stumbled upon an injured bird that was in the group of birds. Once he realised this bird was not flying away, he just stopped, looked back towards me, as if trying to say, “Why is this bird not flying away?” He then sat next to the bird and waited for me to arrive with the ATV, load him on the back and took the bird to C.R.O.W. (a rehabilitation place for animals). Indeed a commendable act of compassion!

Legacy continues…

Mac is 12 years old now and might retire soon. But the legacy would continue… we are training a 22 months old dog to replace him and we are sure pooches would continue to serve us unconditionally. They are really a Man’s Best Friend, for life.