Border Terriers in Sport and Conservation

Border Terrier scenting in HarnessBorder Terrier scenting in Harness

The role of Terriers of the Border Region of Britain grew out of necessity. From the 1500's, it was necessary to use terriers which would hunt all types of vermin that interfered with farming livestock and poultry. Today, these terriers still use their amazing scenting abilities in both a dedicated sport, as well as playing a vital role a modern conservation project.

Scenting as a Sport

The sport of scenting consists of a series of detection tests of increasing difficulty where the dog searches for and identifies a particular odour, and communicates his find to his handler.

The dog is trained using cotton buds or swabs scented with an essential oil like birch, aniseed or cloves. In competition, when the designated scent is hidden, the dog is given 3 minutes to locate the required scent and communicate his 'find' to his handler who then tells the judge. Success in various odour recognition tests conducted in a variety of situations with increasing difficulty, means the dog can gain Scent Dog titles.

Border Terrier indicating a Scented Object on a TrailerBorder Terrier indicating a Scented Object on a Trailer

For example, one search exercise requires around a dozen separate cardboard boxes to be set up in a pattern of one or two rows. Just one of the boxes contains the target odour. All other boxes must be relatively new or otherwise uncontaminated with any food, or distracting smells. The dog is taught to indicate to the handler in which box the dog has found the scent by barking, sitting, lying  down or giving some other signal the handler recognizes. Then the handler calls 'alert' so the judge can ascertain that the exercise has been completed.

Other searches with increased difficulty can be conducted in inside or outside areas or hidden on the outside of vehicles like cars, trucks or trailers. As well as being great fun, it is easy to imagine the application of dogs trained to locate particular scents could be! With this training, scent dogs can be very useful in modern society, for example in conservation projects like the one described below.

Scenting assisting with Conservation

Little Penguins on Phillip IslandLittle Penguins on Phillip Island

A wonderful example of scenting dogs being used in a  conservation project is on Victoria's Phillip Island. The world's the largest colony of Little penguins are the stars of this wonderful spectacle. Every evening, visitors can view these quaint little birds from stands and elevated boardwalks. It is magic to see - dozens of little penguins with bellies full of fish returning home at sunset. They waddle from the sea up and over the beach to their burrows nestled in the sand dunes. During the breeding season cute baby penguins can also be seen and heard, awaiting the return of their parents.

Border Terrier 'Marbee' ScentingBorder Terrier 'Marbee' Scenting

Although these Little penguins are somewhat protected by being located on an island, together with several other indigenous species, they are particularly vulnerable to predators. The last physical evidence of foxes on Phillip Island was detected in August 2015, and the island was declared fox-free two years later. But today, feral cats are a huge problem with 150 being captured last year.

Born in the wild, feral cats are highly efficient predators, killing sufficient native wildlife to thrive. Sadly, our Little penguins are particularly vulnerable. But the Phillip Island Nature Parks Pest Programme is presently working to solve the problem.

To this end, they are using pure bred Border Terriers which have already been successfully used for this purpose in other Australian Conservation Programmes. Pictured is the youngster, 'Marbee' who has commenced her training. With her amazing sense of smell and an experienced dog trainer, she is learning to locate feral cats' droppings. She indicates her find by lying down.

Training 'Good Girl'Training 'Good Girl'

Once the area in which a feral cat is living is located, a trap is set up whereby a Ranger from Phillip Island Nature Park can capture it alive. Then the authorities deal with it.

Once free of pest animal species on Phillip Island, hopefully there will be a further increase in some other indigenous birds and animals as well as these amazing Little penguins. Isn't it wonderful to witness one of our pure breed dogs adapting the original job it was bred to do, to the modern role of conservation.

References and Further Reading

Thank you to Sue Mewse for supplying the information and photos on Scenting. Thank you also to the Phillip Island Nature Parks, Cowes Victoria for providing the material including the information and photos for the story on Conservation.