While border collies are commonly used for goose patrol, English springer spaniels like [from left] Rocket and Tango are natural bird dogs. Goose dogs can be hired or purchased through agencies like Sacramento, Calif.-based Dog & Whistle Goose Control. For a list of agencies, click here. Photo: Tamara Taylor

By: Mary Jo Ola

If you're having trouble with geese constantly leaving unwanted “presents” in your public space, it may be time to call for back up.

Enter the “goose dog.”

Goose droppings aren't just gross; they also kill vegetation and damage parking lots and sidewalks. Worse, they contain potentially harmful bacteria and parasites that can flow into local waterways via stormwater runoff.

A community can hire specially trained dogs to “haze” —harass, scare, and chase away — geese that get too comfortable in any particular park or pathway. In combination with “oiling” —painting goose eggs with mineral oil to avert embryo development — goose dogs are effective and nonlethal. Both are advocated by the Humane Society.

“Chasing geese makes them uncomfortable but doesn't harm them. Instead, it encourages them to leave the area,” explains Tamara Taylor, supervisor of animal services with the City of Brampton, Ontario, and owner of Rocket and Tango.

Taylor's English springer spaniels patrol parkland on a varied schedule to haze geese and keep pairs of them from building a nest, a critical intervention because the pairs will return to their nests year after year. Since she began using the dogs three years ago, the amount of nesting geese in Taylor's service area decreased by more than half.

Before Rocket began his career as goose dog, he was trained in competitive obedience. Tango, on the other hand, learned on the job as a puppy. While dogs instinctively love to chase birds, they must be trained in handling other animals to avoid harming them. They also must learn how to separate work from leisure and to avoid socializing with other humans while working.

In 2007, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Biologist Rocky Spencer introduced the nation's first program using dogs as a nonlethal wildlife control technique for resolving conflicts between humans and black bears.

He chose a Karelian bear dog — Mishka — because the breed, which originates from northern Europe, is known as a natural and fearless hunter. This rare breed was used by big game hunters in Finland, Sweden, and Norway. During World War II the breed was in danger of extinction, but enthusiasts set out to re-establish the courageous canines.

Department Officer Bruce Richards worked with Mishka during the first year of the program, responding to several bear complaints. Today, canines Mishka, Cash, and Colter track, locate, and corner bears that are hanging around human-populated areas. The cornered bear is tranquilized with a dart and either moved to another location or woken up in the spot it was tranquilized. As the bear regains consciousness, officers cause a series of loud noises while the dog barks at the animal. After the bear begins to re-enter the wild, the dog is released and chases it far into the woods. This technique, called a hard release, reinstalls bears' natural fear of humans.

“About 80% don't return to human-populated areas,” says Richards.

All three dogs were provided through the Wind River Bear Institute, a nonprofit agency that breeds, selects, and trains dogs for bear shepherding. The agency places their dogs as bear-conflict dogs, bear-protection dogs, and companion dogs to work alongside bear managers, rangers, campground managers, outfitters, officers, and ranchers.

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UPDATE: Last year we reported that the Maryland State Highway Administration had deployed sheep and goat instead of mowers to avoid harming a threatened species of turtle (June 2009, “Zero-emissions turf control,” page 40). This year, elementary school students helped name the grazing animals. For more information, click here.