Six years ago, Deerhurst Resort had an accommodation problem. Flocks of geese were taking over the resort and staff needed a humane solution to make the area safe for guests.
“We had a terrible goose problem,” said Amanda Irving, goose and wildlife control program facilitator with Deerhurst. “Guests couldn’t walk from the resort to the beach. It looked gross and smelled badly. Geese mate together for life and they will come back to their nest site every year, and if they have hatchlings those hatchlings will return the following year as well, so it’s like a snowball effect.”
Staff reached out to dog trainer Sherri Hall of Bye Bye Birdie Goose Control.
“She came here and surveyed our property and gave us a layout of what we need to do,” said Irving.
They got their first trained dog, Len, from Hall and they’ve used him to train the other dogs used in the program. The resort now has four dogs trained to herd geese.
“It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of repetitiveness,” said Irving. “Our dogs are trained to herd, not kill or harm. The most important thing is to have your dog go when you want them to and come when you want them to. Any dog can chase but it’s the ability to stop chasing when you need them to. That’s where the training comes in. We never want to injure a bird, we just want them not to be here. It’s a humane way to keep our property beautiful and people safe.”
Iriving loves working with the dogs, which she’s been doing for six of her 10 years at Deerhurst. “It’s kind of a dream job,” she said.
Irving was taught how to train the dogs to herd geese by Hall and working with Len, the resort’s oldest dog.
“It’s just knowing a lot about dog body language,” said Irving. “Len trained me. I’ve learned a lot from watching him. He’s the heart of our program.”
Len is 12, and the other dogs are 11, 3 and 2. Two are border collies, one is an Australian koolie and the other is an Australian shepherd.
The dogs are trained to only chase geese, which they identify by their shape, size and sound.
“It’s not harmful to the animals and what we do is cruelty-free. We don’t harm anything. The dogs don’t chase ducks or herons,” said Irving. “It’s a humane way to keep your property looking beautiful and keep people safe because Canadian geese can be aggressive.”
Len helps Irving train the other dogs. It takes about four to five years for a dog to be fully trained in chasing geese.
“It’s a process. Lennie has this crouching, sneak walk and he’s our only dog that can do it on command. The other three are still learning,” she said. (See one of the dogs, Marlowe, in action in the video below. Footage courtesy of Amanda Irving.)
The resort is now almost geese-free.
“There’s been a huge improvement here on our golf course and walkways. Some areas will take time to get to zero,” said Irving, noting that the geese that were coming before the program started will be the most stubborn to leave.
The resort uses other techniques to control the geese as well, including remote control boats and decoys, but Irving said they don’t work as well as the dogs. “We have lots of techniques to keep the geese away, and we only keep them away from areas that are inhabited by us [staff], our guests or golfers. Any natural habitat that is there for them they are more than welcome to use,” she said.
When it comes to chasing the geese, Irving said it’s important not to have a schedule.
“Timing is important,” she said. “It’s really important not to be on schedule, to be as inconsistent as possible. The geese are very smart, they can identify the dogs in the [golf]cart, and they’ll leave before the dogs even get there. I used to have to change the colour of my golf cart, too, because they would identify the colour of the cart. Doing that made it better. If I used a white golf cart that day and then a golfer had a white cart, the geese would leave thinking it could be us. The more opportunity we have to scare them away at different times the better. It makes them think it’s unsafe all the time.”
The dogs aren’t allowed to play on the golf course as that’s where they work.
“They love tennis balls and treats,” said Irving, noting that staff have treats hidden all over the resort for them. “They’re a huge boost for everyone that works here. They’ve also opened eyes to other areas of the resort. People now know the resort is pet-friendly and it’s entertaining for guests to see.”
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