Originally created 09/22/99

Dogs receive individualized training



Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field is looking to hire its most diligent worker.

On Tuesday, airport officials got to see firsthand how diligent that worker would be.

The city's wetlands projects has led to unwanted birds around the airport and on runways, prompting airport officials to approve spending $15,000 on a trained border collie to chase away the birds. The cost includes the dog and its training.

"They work so well they work themselves out of a job," said Nick Carter, executive director of Border Collie Rescue Inc., of Melrose, Fla., where Augusta's dog will be trained.

With the help of his 4-year-old border collies, Shadow and Monty, Dr. Carter showed how effectively the dogs herd during a demonstration Tuesday at the airport.

Shadow, a "free-thinking" herder, was unleashed in the wetlands and paraded through the marshy swamps, nose to the air, searching for anything that would fly. With a series of whistle blows, Dr. Carter kept her under control although she constantly was looking for birds.

"She's on autopilot but I have complete control of her at all times," he said.

In the wetlands area, he said, birds soon will figure out that a predator -- the dog -- is around and will know it's not safe to live there and will move. But if the dog leaves the area, the birds will come back. So the dog needs to stay, he said.

Monty, on the other hand, is a precision herder, good mostly for herding one particular animal as opposed to a flock of birds spread out.

"Monty won't move unless I tell him to," Dr. Carter said. "Whereas a dog like Shadow, although she'll sit when told to, will get up a few moments later and start looking for birds."

Dr. Carter said that for the bird situation in Augusta, a dog like Shadow would work best because the birds are spread out.

Airport Manager Al McDill said the board likely will consider buying more than one dog in the future, one to work the runways and the other to work the wetland areas.

In addition to herding the birds out of the area, Mr. McDill said, the airport also plans to shoot birds, but Dr. Carter said the dog likely would eliminate the bird problems altogether and no shooting would be necessary.

It takes about eight to 10 months to train a border collie to herd well, and Augusta's dog would spend most of that time training at the Melrose facility before getting the last leg of training at Bush Field.

"We're out here now to see what the conditions are like and what to expect," Dr. Carter said. "Each dog is custom-trained to a particular airport."

The dog probably will be under the control of the airport's fire department, and several firefighters will be trained to handle it, Mr. McDill said. A handler would be out with the dog at all times on the runway.

The Border Collie Rescue is a nonprofit organization that takes in unwanted border collies and tries to place them in homes. Only about 5 percent to 10 percent are trained for the herding program and placed at golf courses and airports.

A dog that is trained at about 2 or 3 years old will work for about 10 years, Dr. Carter said. And they work all day, hour after hour, rarely needing a break.

The payoff for the border collie isn't getting a treat or a rubber ball. These dogs don't need to be rewarded, he said; the work is the reward.

Reach Meghan Gourley (706) 823-3227.