There was a time when dogs were trained to protect a farmer’s flock from wolves and bears, but now they’re protecting a much smaller species off the coast of southern Victoria in Australia. Little 12 inch penguins, adorably named Fairy Penguins, have reclaimed Middle Island, with the help of local sheepdogs, after having their kind almost entirely wiped off the land by predatory foxes.
The problem first arose in the year 2000 when locals noticed that the sand built up by the ocean current had paved a natural pathway for the foxes to feast on what was once a waddle of over 800 of the world’s smallest penguins. Having access to a constant source of food, the population of the foxes started to grow, and the existence of the Fairy Penguins was rapidly diminishing.
But a local farmer came up with a plan to send out his Maremma sheepdog called Oddball, who came to the rescue and has since restored the penguin’s run of the island by warding off further fox invasion. Traditionally used to protect farmyard fowl or sheep, the Maremmas of south Victoria are guarding Middle Island by barking, marking their territory and leaving their scent behind so any predators stay away.
The success brought from patrolling Oddball around the island has seen six more dogs added to the penguin protection plan within the past ten years and the eighth addition, although still a puppy, is now in training ready to join the team in 2016.
The dogs are sent out onto the island during the penguin’s breeding season which is between October and March, and so far has brought the population of the birds back up to a healthy 200 penguins since it dropped to as low as 4 in a particular incident in 2005 when a devastating 360 were killed in the space of two nights.
It is a Maremma’s natural instinct to guard and to never abandon his master or his master’s flock, which is a trait that has remained with this breed over many years. With above average intelligence and a very active mind, a Maremma needs to be occupied as they have a naturally decisive mind.
Whether you need to train a dog to protect a group of penguins or if you just want them to stop pulling on the lead, CK9 Training, dog behaviourist in Surrey, offer a range of training sessions from obedience to tricks. Feel free to contact us for more information, otherwise you can visit our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates.