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Common skin problems in dogs


mason 2There are hundreds of different diseases that affect the skin of dogs. Since the skin can only react in a limited number of ways many of these diseases look very similar, which can make skin disease difficult to diagnose accurately. If your dog has a skin problem, it is important to see your veterinarian to help determine the kind of skin problem and the appropriate treatment. Sometimes it will be necessary to see a veterinarian who specialises in skin (a veterinary dermatologist) for problems that are hard to diagnose or treat.

Discussing all skin problems found in dogs would fill many books, so we’re going to concentrate on the problems most commonly seen in this article!

Atopic dermatitis

Also called atopy, this is a very complex and multifactorial disease that involves:

  • An allergic reaction to environmental allergens (such as grass, weed/tree pollens, moulds, dust mites or insects); this is similar to hayfever and atopic eczema in people.
  • Abnormal skin that does not function normally as a barrier and so allows increased penetration of allergens and infections; this leads to stimulation of the immune system.
  • Secondary infections, usually with bacteria and yeast.
 Genetics play important role in atopic dermatitis and some breeds seem predisposed, these include Beagles, German Shepherds, Labrador, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and West Highland White Terriers.

Factors that would indicate that your dog might have atopic dermatitis include:
  • The signs of skin disease started early in your dog’s life (<4 years old).
  • Your dog is itchy, this may be the only sign initially. The itch is likely to be affecting the feet, face, ears, around the eyes, abdomen, groin and/or bottom. The itching often results in your dog causing some trauma to their skin, this results in some or all of the following: hair loss, red inflamed skin, erosions, crusting, thickening, scaling, hyperpigmentation (darkened skin) and malodourous greasy skin.
  • The itch improves if your dog is given corticosteroids.
  • Your dog gets recurrent skin or ear infections; these may be bacterial, fungal or yeast.
  • Your dog is a purebred or a cross of one of the breeds that are commonly affected by atopic dermatitis.
 The diagnosis of atopic dermatitis is based on the presence of some or all of the above signs, the clinical elimination of other diseases that could cause similar signs and response to medication.

As atopic dermatitis has three main components that contribute to the disease, all three must be treated:
  1. The allergic component of the disease is best treated with immunotherapy and desensitisation. This involves intradermal allergy testing to identify the allergens involved and the creation of a special allergy vaccine specific to your dog’s allergies. If immunotherapy is ineffective, not possible or not desired, the allergic component of the disease needs to be controlled with some form of anti -inflammatory medication. There are a number of different medications available, your veterinarian can advise you on the one that is most appropriate for your dog.
  2. Improving the barrier function of the skin can be achieved by using some of the following: essential fatty acid (Omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acid oils) oral supplements, a special veterinary skin support diet and special shampoos and conditioners that help improve the skin’s hydration and provide short-term relief of irritation.
  3. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections need to be controlled. The type of organism causing the infection will need to be identified through cytology and the most appropriate drug used based on those results. This may involve oral drugs such as antibiotics and/or medicated shampoos, residual antiseptic conditioners, anti-fungal creams/lotions and medicated rinses.
 It can be challenging to control atopic dermatitis but it is a disease that significantly impacts the quality of life of your dog. Therefore, it is very important to have the disease properly diagnosed and treated so that your dog can live a happy life without the discomfort and serious side-effects of the disease.

Flea allergic dermatitis

When a flea feeds on your dog’s blood it injects saliva into the skin. In some dogs, repeated exposure to flea saliva can cause them to develop an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva; this results in an inflammatory response, causing severe itching and self-trauma. The areas most commonly affected are around the base of the tail, along the back and the back of the thighs. It is important to note that, once the allergy has developed, the inflammatory response can be triggered by only a tiny amount of flea saliva. Often there are very few or no live fleas present on an animal that has flea allergic dermatitis.

Unfortunately, once the allergy has developed, there is no cure but the allergy can be controlled. Initially the dog is likely to need some anti-inflammatory medication to relieve the symptoms, as well as an effective flea treatment. Control of flea allergic dermatitis involves elimination of fleas from your dog and their environment. Thankfully there are now some very effective products available to achieve flea control. It is best to talk to your veterinarian about the most up to date and effective flea control options.

Otitis externa

masnOtitis is a general term that means inflammation of the ears. In otitis externa the inflammation affects just the outer part of the ear (the ear canal and often the ear flap).  This is a very complex disease potentially involving many different underlying factors and it is important to identify these in order to effectively control the disease.

The most common reason that a dog is presented for treatment of ear disease is because a bacterial or yeast infection has developed. However, infections are hardly ever the primary ear disease process; instead the infection is usually secondary to inflammation of the ear. Examples of primary disease processes that can cause ear inflammation are: allergies (a very common cause), parasites, keratinisation disorders and autoimmune diseases. In addition, there are many conditions that can predispose a dog to develop ear inflammation, for example: ear conformation problems (hairy, narrow or pendulous ears), excessive moisture (often from swimming), obstructions of the ear canal (e.g. a polyp or tumour) and systemic illness.

The clinical signs shown by the affected dog will depend on both the underlying disease that is triggering the inflammation and on any infection that has subsequently developed. The affected ear is often red and swollen, there may be discharge in the ears (this may be yellow or red coloured and/or dark brownish red tinged) and crusting. The dog is normally shaking their head, scratching at the affected ear and may find it painful to have the ear touched.

The diagnostic investigation of otitis externa should involve two separate but important and interconnected components:
  • If an infection is present, it will be preventing resolution of the ear inflammation. Therefore, the organisms (bacteria or yeast) that have proliferated must be identified. To do this your veterinarian will need to collect a sample from the ear and examine it under a microscope. It is also often necessary to collect samples and submit these for culture and sensitivity testing to select the most appropriate therapy for the organism (as the bacteria involved may be resistant to some antibiotics).
  • The primary cause of the inflammation must be investigated and identified. If this is not done then the ear inflammation and secondary infections are likely to continue to recur and long-term resolution is difficult. Your veterinarian will need to perform a thorough examination of the ear and down the ear canal with an instrument called an otoscope. This process allows your veterinarian to check that the ear drum is intact (this is important to establish prior to giving ear drops as some of them are toxic to the inner ear and can cause problems if the ear drum is perforated and allows the ear drops to enter the inner ear) and allows the identification of physical factors in the ear that may be involved in the problem such as foreign bodies (e.g. grass seeds), polyps or tumours. It may be necessary to sedate or aneasthetise the dog to perform this thorough examination of the ear canal, particularly if the dog is in a lot of pain. Other diagnostic tests may also be necessary to investigate possible underlying causes such as allergies.
 In order to successfully resolve otitis externa both the infection (if present) and the underlying disease process must be treated effectively. Effective treatment often involves some or all of the following:
  • If there is a significant amount of debris and discharge in the ear canal this must be removed, as it prevents penetration of any eardrops, can inactivate antibiotics and increases the inflammatory response. Cleaning out the ear canal may necessitate sedation or aneasthesia if the dog is in a lot of pain, there is significant inflammation and/or there is a lot of debris and discharge in the ear canal.
  • Oral and topical medication will then most likely need to be prescribed to reduce inflammation and eliminate the infection. The choice of medication is usually based on examination of the ear sample, and the culture and sensitivity results.
  • If an underlying cause such as an allergy is identified it must also be treated so that the infection does not continue to recur.

Demodectic mange

Demodectic mange is a parasitic infestation caused by demodex mites and is a relatively common skin problem, particularly in young dogs. These mites are found on nearly all dogs and live inside the hair follicles. The mites are a normal part of the skin but in some dogs there is a problem that allows the mites to proliferate abnormally and cause disease. The demodex mites are species specific and so there is no danger of humans becoming infected.

There are three different kinds of disease syndrome caused by demodex mites:

  • Localised disease in which the excessive mite proliferation is restricted to a few small areas (<6 in total). Localised demodectic mange is characterised by patches of hair loss with the skin underneath becoming crusty, itchy, red and/or moist. This form of demodectic mange most commonly occurs around a dog’s front legs, eyes, muzzle and other parts of the head. In most cases, localised demodectic mange will resolve itself and treatment is not required. However, treatment will often speed the resolution of the mange.
  • Generalised disease in which the excessive mite proliferation involves larger numbers of lesions and in various body regions; in severe cases it can spread across a dog’s entire body. This is a much more serious condition than the localised form and immediate and aggressive treatment is needed. Dogs with generalised disease commonly develop a secondary bacterial infection, which can be very serious. There is a lot of variation in the clinical signs seen with generalised disease but these can include: hair loss, pustules (like little pimples), papules (little lumps in the skin), crusts, hyperpigmentation (darker colouration of the skin) and swelling (most commonly of the feet). Generalised demodectic mange is divided into juvenile and adult onset disease; these each have different causes and prognosis:
    • Dogs that have juvenile onset demodectic mange generally have an inherited abnormality of their immune system that means they are unable to control the mites and stop them proliferating abnormally.
    • Dogs that have adult onset demodectic mange generally have a concurrent underlying disease that is suppressing their immune system. This is a more worrying form of the disease as it is often indicative of serious underlying disease that must be identified and treated.
 It is possible that the affected area may develop a bacterial infection with any form of demodectic manage, although it is unusual in the localised form. If an infection is present pustules, papules and crusts may affect the skin. If a dog is suspected to have demodectic mange they should be taken to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Localised demodectic mange may resolve itself without requiring treatment but veterinary attention is still recommended.

Diagnosis of demodectic manage usually straight forward. The veterinarian will need to take a deep skin scraping from the affected area; the sample obtained is examined under a microscope to identify the mites. It is very important that animals with adult onset disease have a thorough investigation to identify the underlying cause of the immunosuppression that is allowing the mites to proliferate.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment will be discussed. This will depend on the individual case but, if necessary, may involve systemic (injections or oral medication) or topical (e.g. an insecticidal dip) medication. Treating generalised demodectic mange can be an involved process and can take some time. Dogs with adult onset generalised demodectic mange will need their underlying disease identified and, if possible, treated.  Dogs that have secondary bacterial or fungal skin infections will also need injectable, oral or topical antibiotics, oral or topical anti-fungal medications and/or special medicated washes as appropriate to the individual.

Regular skin scrapings to look for the mites need to be taken throughout the treatment process. This will normally be performed after 4 weeks and then every 2 weeks. Two negative scrapings in a row will indicate that the mange has been resolved and the treatment can stop.  


Waharoa man failed to treat cow's severe eye injury


CaptureA Waharoa man was sentenced in the Hamilton District Court yesterday due to his failure to treat the obvious injuries afflicting his cow.Billy Tui was found guilty of failing to ensure an animal in his care received treatment and was sentenced to 150 hours community work, ordered to pay $788.20 in reparations and a contribution of $500.00 towards solicitor costs. He was also disqualified from owning all animals for five years.

The cow was examined by SPCA Inspectors and veterinarians at the Waharoa property of Tui’s associate, between 8 and 9 July 2015.Veterinary examination revealed that Tui’s cow had a severe eye injury involving a tumorous growth, consistent with a sun-induced cancer, affecting the lower eyelid, with severe inflammation and infection of the upper and lower eyelids.

The vet concluded that the cow would have been in severe pain for weeks. She added that irritation from pain, discharging fluid, and insects would have caused additional distress, and that the poor body condition of the cow indicated prolonged stress. Euthanasia was recommended, as the cow was not a surgical candidate due to the severe tissue damage and poor prognosis.

SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen says she is pleased that the sentence includes a disqualification of owning all animals.“This is a case of neglect where the offender has abnegated his responsibility for the wellbeing of his animal and has paid the price,” says Ms Midgen.“Animals rely on us to provide them with their needs and that includes veterinary care. It is unacceptable to see an animal in such pain and yet do nothing about it.”

For more information please contact:
Jessie Gilchrist, SPCA Communications Manager
P: +64 22 658 3182, E:

Creating a DIY house for your guinea pig


gGone are the days when guinea pig owners would keep their pets alone in a hutch in the backyard with little interaction with the family or socialisation. Now many owners are choosing to keep their guineas inside as part of the family. All guinea pigs need a palace fit for royalty - read on for our best DIY tips for creating one for your pet.

Indoor living guineas have many advantages. For one, it is easier to control their environment as you don’t need to deal with the elements outdoors. Having your GPs indoors also means they get to be more involved with the action and spend precious time with their favourite humans.

Despite being small animal, guinea pigs need a lot of room to exercise and run around to be happy pigs, and for this reason are suited best to large accommodation. Exercise is very important for healthy guinea pigs; their best way of getting the exercise they need is to run laps around their housing. If their area is too small they will get bored and are at risk of serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

g 3A house fit for a piggie Queen or King

Indoor accommodation for your guinea pig can be fun and easy to create. It is also a great excuse to get creative and to build a perfect haven for your beloved companion.

Most hutches found at pet stores are far too small for your guinea pigs to be able to display natural behaviours and live the life they deserve.

To create a perfect and tailor-made house for your guineas then you may consider building a ‘C&C’ cage. A relatively new concept compared to the standard hutch, a ‘C&C’ cage stands for cubes and coroplast. Cubes refers to the metal grid system that forms the cage structure, and coroplast is the plastic ‘tray’ that forms the base of the cage.

Building your own C&C cage

g 2

The materials to build your cage can be easily sourced online or at hardware stores. To build a C&C cage, you will need a sheet of coroplast big enough to form the base of your cage, and the metal grid ‘cubes’ to form the walls. We recommend the following as preferred minimum sizing to adhere to ensure your guinea has all the space they need (dependant on the number of guinea pigs):

  • 1 guinea pig: Area – 0.7sq m / Grids - 2x3 grids / Size – 76x91cm
  • 2 guinea pigs: Area – 0.7sq m / Grids - 2x4 grids / Size – 76x127cm
  • 3 guinea pigs: Area – 1sq m / Grids - 2x5 grids / Size – 76x157cm
  • 4 guinea pigs: Area – 1.2sq m / Grids - 2x6 grids / Size – 76x193cm
The structure and soft furnishings inside your DIY guinea pig house can be made from easily sourced and inexpensive materials. All that is required is some time, a few basic tools and some imagination. It’s the perfect way to get creative and put your own touch on the space. Whether it is an L-shape or using different levels, building your own creation means you can have it just how you want it. Undoubtedly the best part is seeing your piggies run around squeaking with joy at something you created for them.

The best location for your guinea pig house is a room that isn’t too warm or prone to becoming damp, as GPs don’t cope well in these conditions. Choose somewhere safe away from other pets and loud noises, but close to the family.


The best bedding

g 4

Now you have your guinea pigs’ house built, it’s time to make it a home. When exploring bedding options remember that, above all, it needs to be absorbent as guinea pigs don’t use litter trays like rabbits. Common bedding options include recycled shredded paper, wood-shavings, and layered towels and fleecing. Just be sure to avoid any wood shavings that might have a high content of volatile oils or preservatives as these can be poisonous.

Both wood shaving and shredded paper are single-use and will need to be disposed of and replaced when they are soiled. Using layered towels and fleecing can be more efficient as these can simply be washed and re-used. You can get creative with colours and patterns of fleecing and create a unique piggie palace to suit your guineas’ personalities.

It's all about the detail

Once you’ve created the foundations, you can move onto the furnishings for your guineas’ pad.

Guinea pigs need lots of stimulation and entertainment; the more for them to do, the better. They love running around, darting in and out of tunnels, up and down ramps and snuggling away in hiding-holes.

Tunnels can be made to any length to suit their new house and can be made from plastic or material. These can easily be made from left over fleece blankets wrapped around cardboard.

g 5Create your own ramps that lead to a higher part of the cage. These can be made out of safe-to-use wood or plastic. These materials can also be used to create small platforms or igloo style dens for the guineas to hide in. Take note that your guinea pigs will need an area within their new house to hide away and sleep in. This could be a ‘hutch’ that is placed in a corner of the accommodation or a purpose-built undercover section.

As long as the house and materials you use for your guinea pigs’ accommodation are safe and pose no risks to their health or wellbeing, you can set up their new home however you choose. Section it off or keep it flat with more floor space; it’s up to you. As long as the GPs have plenty of room and stimulation, they will be happy and living a wonderful life.

For more information about creating a guinea pig palace, visit these websites:


Ask a behaviourist - Dr Jess Beer answers your pet behaviour questions



Dr Jess Beer, BVSc, Qualified Veterinary Behaviourist

Guinea PigsQ: I had two guinea pigs, Bill and Bobby, but recently Bill has passed away. Now that Bobby is by himself I have noticed he has stopped eating and isn’t as happy as he used to be. Does this mean I should get him another friend?

I am sorry to hear that Bill has passed away. Guinea pigs are very social animals, and do pine when they are alone. Bobby has probably stopped eating because he is lonely, and is craving the companionship of his own kind. Guinea pigs thrive with one or two companions, so I would definitely recommend getting a friend for Bobby to fill the void Bill left behind.

Many vets can routinely desex guinea pigs, so you don’t have to worry them mating if you were to get a desexed female guinea pig friend for Bobby. Bonding guinea pigs tends to be a lot easier than bonding rabbits – allow them to meet, and if they don’t immediately fight, they are fine as a pair. Ideal pairings are one desexed male and 2 desexed females. Note it is never appropriate to house rabbits and guinea pigs together.

It is also important to make sure Bobby and his new friend have enough space to interact and show natural behaviours. The key to Bobby’s happiness is catering to his social needs by having a friend, enough space to ‘popcorn’, burrows to hide, and levels to climb. In no time Bobby should be eating again, and back to his normal self!

Q: My sister has just adopted a young puppy called Jazz. I really want Jazz and my dog Monty to get along, but Monty doesn’t seem to like her at all. What can I do?

We need to remember that puppies are still learning to behave. They can be excessive and demanding, which some older dogs find disruptive. Firstly, it is important for Jazz to learn good manners, and to respect Monty’s tolerance levels. Your sister can do this by always rewarding Jazz with a treat for calm behaviour, like “sit and wait” and eventually Jazz will learn this is a desirable way to act.

Secondly, both Jazz and Monty need to associate each other’s presence as positive. A good way to do this is if you and your sister take Jazz and Monty for a short walk on lead together. Then during the walk sporadically call the puppy and give them a treat. This way Jazz will learn to focus on your sister, and Monty won’t feel threatened by an over exuberant puppy. Having good verbal control to redirect too much exuberance is essential to teach good manners and protect the older dog from being pestered!

Sensible and stable older dogs will usually be quite competent at interacting with a young puppy. For example, they will initiate play and contact. It is not appropriate if Jazz is the only one initiating play, and if Monty only growls, snarls, and avoids Jazz, then you need to respect his wishes and give him space.

The most important thing when introducing Jazz and Monty is reading their body language. The signs to be aware of are body posture, avoidance, growling or snapping. If a dog is showing signs of stiffness, lip licking or whites of eyes you need to stop the interaction. A low growl is an appropriate reprimand, but you must never let interactions continue to the point of snapping or attempting to bite. Jazz must learn to read other dogs’ body language, and positive and safe meetings of sensible older dogs will be essential for Jazz’s upbringing.

Keep in mind that some older dogs might have health problems, or are just too old. So it is not suitable for them to be around a bouncy puppy.

Q: My cat Hudson won’t stop jumping up on the kitchen bench looking for food. It is making cooking a nightmare, please help!

A behaviour is repeated when it is beneficial for an animal. If Hudson is getting food or similar rewards when he jumps up on the bench, then this is a desirable place for him to be.

To get Hudson to stop, you will need to make your bench undesirable. Firstly, cats like being high, so if your bench is the only high place in your house and easily accessed then Hudson will keep jumping up. Provide other high places around your house as alternative options, such as cat towers or a bed on top of a chair and increase the temptation to these high places by placing beds, toys and food there.

Punishment such as yelling or squirting water bottles is not an appropriate option as it can cause fear in Hudson and will only ever stop Hudson from jumping up on the bench if you are present. It also won’t teach Hudson what you want him to do, it will only deter him temporarily.

If giving Hudson other desirable options to your bench doesn’t work, use double sided sticky tape or tinfoil on the bench consistently for a few weeks. But, it is usually most successful if you provide an alternative. Good luck!

Q: I just moved into a new house and my cat Charlie won’t stop licking his belly. He is starting to go bald and I don’t know what to do!

You will need to rule out medical causes such as allergies, fleas, or abdominal pain first. But if Charlie isn’t licking his belly for any medical reasons, it may be psychological. A cat licking their belly can be a sign of stress or anxiety, similar to how people bite their nails.

Moving house tends to be very stressful for cats, so Charlie might be struggling with both his new environment or outside cats he isn’t familiar with. Simple treatment for Charlie would include Feliway Diffuser in the home, as well as daily positive interactions with you through games, treats and grooming.

It is also important to protect him from sources of stress. For example moving him in to just one room in the new house with familiar furniture and smells to get used will help him settle before slowly exploring the new environment over the following weeks. It is usually advised to keep your cat indoors for 1-2 weeks when moving to a new home to ensure they do not wander off trying to find their old home.

If Charlie tolerates being in a cattery, consider putting him in one for a few days during the house move as this help with the transition. This way he won’t endure the stress of you settling into a new house. In cases that aren’t resolved with the above recommendations, seek advice from your veterinarian who can refer Charlie to a behaviourist who may consider using medication to help him cope.


Dogs with Jobs


dogs with job website articleMost of us associate 'working dogs' with a farm, as guide dogs for blind or partially sighted people, or as police dogs. But dogs are used in far more wide ranging roles than these, particularly in detection roles.

It’s a mid-winter morning, still dank with fog as Zara waits patiently for handler Janet and the supervisor at the factory to finish talking. Finally Janet comes over, slips on Zara’s harness and they’re into the factory to see what they can find.

Zara’s been trained to find drugs in the workplace, since the factory owner suspects some of his workers are using them on the job. Zara will be able to sort through the huge range of smells available to her and identify a range of drugs. It’s also happening during normal working hours so everyone can see this is an impartial search.

Initially she and Janet search the locker area where workers store their belongings and, while Zara identifies some drug smells it’s clear there are no drugs there today. So she progresses to the warehouse and soon sits beside a large spool, looking expectantly at Janet for a treat. Sure enough, a small quantity of marijuana is found within the central spindle itself. Further searches produce two more finds, all of which are confiscated.

She and Janet will be back in a couple of months to repeat the process. “I wish workers would learn they can’t fool a dog’s nose,” sighs the owner.

Sensitive noses

Dogs have between 250 and 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in ours, so a dog’s nose is more than 40 times more sensitive. While some dogs have been bred to enhance specific traits any dog can use their nose unless, like bulldogs or boxers, it has a genetic trait that inhibits it from doing this as successfully as other breeds.

The odour a dog is trained to detect makes no difference to the type of training it receives, be it search and rescue work, drug detection or anything else. “The difference is the environment the dogs have to work in, and how easy it is to detect the odour in the environment they’re required to screen,” says Janet Williams of NZ Detector Dogs, the only private company in NZ doing this role with professional dog handlers. “A dog checking boxes or suitcases at the airport has a much easier environment in which to find their target odour than perhaps a dog seeking drugs on a fishing vessel where hiding places, opposing and distracting odours, and access to and availability of the target odour can be very difficult.”

Nine years ago Zara was a severely malnourished older pup found wandering the streets of Auckland, who had been handed in to the SPCA. Janet remembers her as being just skin and bone, covered in sores and wounds. She’d already had a litter.

“I walked past the cage she was in and slipped her a biscuit,” Janet says. “For the next 30 minutes as we looked at the other rehome dogs, Zara didn't leave the front of the cage and her eyes never left us for a second. Eventually we took her out to assess her abilities and despite never having a scrap of training, she was willing to do anything we asked.”

Zara was adopted by the company, put into training as a working drug dog, and has never looked back. "I am a keen supporter of the SPCA, and wherever possible our company policy is to source and train rescue dogs," explains Janet.

Exceeding Expectations

NZ Detector Dogs is fortunate to have a company of experienced, professional dog handlers. "Most of us were trainers from large government dog programmes such as the New Zealand Police and the Ministry of Primary Industries," Janet adds. 

The company has four full-time handlers and one part-time, covering all of New Zealand. This allows them to adopt dogs that other agencies and dog owners could never consider. The company's aim is to take an individual dog and bring out the best in the animal. "Once you go in with this attitude and training though process, the handlers/trainers are 100% invested in in the wellbeing and development of the dog. So far, every dog has exceeded expectations and they're every bit as good as the purpose-bred dogs, if not better," Janet says.

Dogs are worked for no longer than 30-50 minutes at a time, depending on the size of the site to be checked and the working conditions - for example, the ambient temperature or number of items to be searched. As a general rule, the amount of time a dog is worked in one session means an equal amount of time to rest, ensuring the dog is always working to their peak detection capability.

Giving unwanted dogs a chance 

NZ Detector Dogs' policy is to source their drug dogs from the SPCA, pounds or animal welfare agencies in an effort to give unwanted dogs a chance for a productive and happy future. While it may take a lot more expertise and patience to train such dogs, the company has the experience, knowledge, skills, and facilities to undertake this.

Dogs with jobs website article 2Four of their dogs have come from SPCAs in the North Island, while the remaining five have been rescued from other rehoming organisations. "Because we take 'red light' dogs it usually means they have issues that don't usually come with being calm and trusting," Janet explains. Instead of correcting bad or unwanted behaviour, we give the dog alternative choices, and direct and focus their drive into what we want them to do. Once we have them doing that, a lot of the unwanted behaviour naturally diminishes. The dogs also then look to their handlers for more direction, which results in a dog that is focused on working for their handler." 

NZ Detector Dogs doesn't select the dogs by breed, but by their level of drive for certain items - usually food. They use this drive to motivate the dogs to overcome issues and work for one of their primary needs - which also helps them overcome a lot of the issues they may face. Once they achieve the desired result, food is used to reinforce the required behaviour. 

Success rates

Janet's own background includes 13 years with what is now the Ministry of Primary Industries' detector dog programme, inititally as a handler and ultimately as the senior trainer responsible for the training of all dogs and handlers at airports across New Zealand.

She was trained by an American specialist contracted to help set up the local programme in 1995/6, based on the US 'Beagle Brigade' which had started in 1984. Initially, only about 10-20% of dogs ended up being truly successful working dogs, and Janet's main aim was to increase that success rate. "By the time I left, we'd raised the rate to about 60-80%," she says. "I started a breeding enhancement project and travelled to the UK to source better and more suitable lines, and I understand this has continued to improve the success rate."

Currently, over 50 dog teams work across all major airports as well as Auckland's International Mall Centre, International cargo companies and even cruise ships arriving from overseas. The dogs are trained to find plants and plant products, as well as animals and animal products. Internationally, beagles have become the most common breed of detector dog, although MPI has found labradors are also very good at such work. "At NZ Detector Dogs, we aim to show the wider public and other agencies just what can be achieved with rescue dogs, and give those dogs that would otherwise not be rehomed a meaningful and valuable future," Janet says proudly. "It is our way of giving back to the animals that gave us our careers, and we want to make a difference and change attitudes towards rescue dogs."

Reggies the explosives detector dog

website article 3It has been said that dogs like Reggie only come along once in every 60 dogs. Reggie was surrendered to the SPCA by his owner as they weren't in a position to provide him with the stimulation he needed. He was quite shy and reserved initially and it took the team a while to get to know him. But as soon as Reggie got into the daily enrichment routine, he quickly adjusted to life at the SPCA.

Due to his obsession with tennis balls and ability to learn quickly, SPCA staff thought he may be a good candidate for Aviation Security Servicwes (Avsec), the brance of the Civil Aviation Authority responsible for providing security services at New Zealand's six security-designated airports.

Avsec has a prestigious explosive detector dog (EDD) training programme which as officially recognised by the United States' Transportation Security Administration in 2014 - a world-first acknolwedgement. Reggie started formal training with his Avsec handler, Anke Claessen, in early July. Anke is the other half of Reggie's team - the half who drives, picks up after him, holds onto the lead and interprets his changes of behaviour. "Reggie can be a bit of a clown, but the moment there is work to be done, he switches on and is extremely focused," Anke says. "He is a pleasure to work with." The two of them are looking forward to graduating in September and becoming operational at Wellington Airport. 

Avsec's ten-week EDD training programme consists of an allocation course, where the teams are assessed for suitability, and a nine-week EDD training course at the Police Dog Training Centre in Upper Hutt. The course is delivered and supervised by two instructors - one from Avsec and from the New Zealand police - who train four teams (consisting of one Avsec handler and one dog per team) to search and find explosives in different environments.

At the end of the course the teams are tested and certified by the New Zealand Police. A passing grade means the team graduates at 'operational'. Avsec EDD national manager, Monique Masoe, says that Avsec has a strong relationship with animal rescue organisations because of their common interest in securing positive outcomes for both the dogs and the communities in which they live. Avsec is proud to be able to provide the dogs with a new chance at life, with caring and capable handlers, in the service of New Zealand.

"As an EDD, the dogs enjoy a great life and do an important job - not just for Avsec, but for the travelling public and airport community," Monique says. The SPCA team are delighted that he has done so well. "Dogs like Reggie have amazing potential and are often too energetic for the average family home. We are delighted that Reggie has excelled in his training at airport security," they say. 

More dogs with jobs

Department of Conservation

DoC's Conservation Dogs Programme uses highly trained dogs and their handlers to detect New Zealand's protected species and unwanted pests.

Blind Foundation

The Blind Foundation's Guide Dog centre breeds its own labradors and golden retrievers to become guide dogs for those people who are blind or have low vision.

NZ Police

Police patrol dogs (all german shepherds) are supplied by the police dog programme that is based at the Dog Training Centre near Wellington. The dogs are mainly used to track and search for people, but many of them are also trained for search and rescue work, victim recovery, narcotic detection work, and deployment with the Armed Offender Squad.

NZ USAR Search Dog Association

USAR (urban search and rescue) search dogs are an incredibly valuable resource in the location of people who are trapped by the collapse of structures as a result of earthquakes, tornados, landslides, and other natural and man-made distasers.

Aviation Security Service (Avsec)

Avsec's explosive detector dogs (EDD) sniff for explosives and explosive materials at New Zealand's main airports (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown), protecting travellers, airline crew, airport workers and New Zealand by ensuring that no dangerous materials are present on aircraft or in airports.