New Zealand was the first country to use dogs to benefit conservation as far back as the 1980s.

Now such working dogs are used all over the country to eradicate predators such as ferrets and weasels and protect native birds such as kiwi.

The Conservation Dogs programme supported by Kiwibank has 80 highly-trained canines - 45 are trained to find protected species while 35 sniff out predators.

The first year of the new project has helped to consolidate the conservation dogs' programme and to boost the number of full and part-time handlers to 67, allowing for increased quarantine patrols and surveillance.

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For DOC director General Lou Sanson, working with Kiwibank helps expand the successes that can be achieved.

"It means we can unleash the potential of these incredible dogs and do more conservation and quarantine work on our pest free islands and in mainland sanctuaries," Mr Sanson says.

Four Hawke's Bay puppies are leaving the kennel to aid the Department of Conservation to the country become predator free.

The puppies have been recruited under DOC's partnership with Kiwibank - a collaboration to unleash the potential of dogs such as these to sniff out unwanted predators which are destroying native bird populations.

DOC Threats technical advisor Fin Buchanan says Conservation Dogs have an important role in helping the department reach its Predator Free 2050 goal.

"This programme uses highly-trained dogs and their handlers to detect New Zealand's protected species - such as monitoring kiwi and pateke in Northland or defending the Hauraki Gulf islands from introduced pests," he says.

"Certain dog breeds are more suited for this work - pointers are often used to find protected species, while terriers are usually used to find pests."

However, dogs can pose a serious risk to protected species if they are not trained and handled correctly.

So with this in mind, three of the four female puppies - bred by Napier dog handler Gary Bowcock from his working dog Abby - will travel to Auckland and be placed with puppy walkers to be raised under careful supervision until they are old enough to be trained as pest detection dogs.

The fourth pup is going directly to a newly-appointed handler in Wellington - whose position is being funded by Kiwibank. It will likely end up sniffing out mustelids such as stoats and ferrets.

Gary - a lifetime rabbiter - has worked with DOC over the years to rid the country of pests and predators.

This is the first time he has bred dogs for this purpose.

"Abby - who is a German hunt terrier crossed with a border terrier - is a great working dog. So we decided to cross her with a Parsons' terrier and ended up with seven female puppies.

"While I have been working with DOC for many years I am happy to be able to support them in this capacity," Gary says.