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.


Dog Training

Why can’t they greet each other friendly?

Many a time you would have noticed that when you take your dog out for a walk, he is friendly with certain dogs – but with certain dogs he pulls the leash, barks and gets angry. Why? Well, this is more related to the canine psychology, let’s see how.

Ask many dog parents and you will find that your dog is not the only one who lunges and barks at many dogsDog Training he passes on the street. Correcting the problem of barking and lungeing is only to deal with the symptoms and not dealing with what’s really going on and the underlying root of the problem. Understanding normal canine behaviour, your dog’s body language and calming signals, is so critical to understanding what’s going on with your dog and why he may be lungeing and barking.

Watch out your own body language

When we walk along the street with our dog at our side and see another dog coming our way, often we wind the lead in, making the lead tight and getting a good grip on it, in anticipation that our dog may start to lunge and bark. We become worried and sometimes panic a little. Our own behaviour is likely to send the message to our dog that we are afraid of the approaching dog, or perhaps he is dangerous. Either way the dog feels he needs to take action. Our dogs are so clever at picking up on our own body language.

An approaching dog – a threat?

Another reason your dog may be lungeing and barking is that he is afraid of many of the dogs approaching. There may be some dogs he can tolerate due to their body language, the distance between the dogs when passing and the action of either of the pet parents or dogs as they pass, but with many dogs he just cannot pass without a performance.

Many dogs (in my experience most dogs) cannot cope with passing one another on the streets, or even sometimes at some distance, because they are afraid.

Canine behaviour

Whatever the reason, dogs do not naturally approach one another head-on and for us to force one dog to pass another on a narrow pathway is placing the dog in a threatening and often very frightening position. In observing how dogs meet and greet one another, you will see that normal dog behaviour is to approach one another in a curve, curving around each other side-on (displaying many calming signals), a quick sniff and walk away.

Walking down a narrow pathway (especially on restricted equipment), the dogs are unable to take a wide curve around one another as they pass. Instead we force our dogs to be impolite and threatening by passing each other, often with no space or barriers between. The dogs are then placed in a threatening and frightening position with no choice and no way to escape but to pass the approaching dog head-on.

Barking and lungeing promote aggression

Every time the dog is given the opportunity to lunge and bark at other dogs, the behaviour is increased and may lead to aggression some time down the track, especially if other dogs sometimes retaliate when they feel threatened by your dog’s lungeing and barking at him.

Do’s and don’ts

It will be much less threatening for your dog if you avoid these situations. Here’s how you can avoid them:

  • There are always escape routes along streets, such as other streets you can turn down when you see another dog approaching.
  • You could also turn around and go back, cross the road, use barriers between the dogs such as trees, parked cars, other people you may be walking with and many other objects that may be able to help your dog when he is not coping with the situation.
  • Do not tighten the lead but keep it slack. Tightening the lead may send the message to your dog that the other dog approaching may be dangerous and therefore he should take action. Instead keep the lead slack, stay calm and take your dog away from the threat.
  • Walk your dog in a safe place where you are less likely to find other dogs or whatever may be frightening him – it may be in woodlands, a park, a meadow or a quiet street.
  • Keep him and yourself calm and allow him to sniff and explore on a long lead.

Your dog will learn to trust you if he knows you understand how he is feeling, recognise his body language and help him out.

(Nicole Mackie has over 14 years of experience in handling, exhibiting, training, observing, studying and sharing her life with dogs, gaining many qualifications such as canine behaviour, canine psychology, general animal science and experience veterinary nursing. She is a radio speaker and writer for magazines, works with behavioural problems in dogs and runs socialising groups for dogs with social problems.)

“Paw-Tales” l July-Aug 2006

Ginger – a Friend, Partner, a defender…
Pets are wonderful companions and dogs are the best. He is friendly, confident and a faithful comrade. My pet, Ginger, a golden Labrador is a loving, playful dog, true to
his Lab characteristics; he is affectionate and hates to stay alone.
When I come back from school, he greets me with total exuberance. He jumps up and if I am not careful – I can be floored!! His eyes are very expressive and if we don’t give him the desired biscuit, he simply sulks.
The most comical antic of his is when he chases lizards and birds. I only have to say “Lizzi Bizzi” and he goes berserk. He barks and jumps and tries to catch the
lizard, and when he cannot reach it, he reacts comically. His antics always leave us in splits of laughter. He is  a great companion and we all love Ginger.
– Vrinda