Northland local authority staff and keen members of the public have been taking lessons on how to train dogs to seek out pests.

They have been working with Invercargill-based trainer John Taylor and his 8-year-old border collie Rusty to learn how to train their pet dogs to sniff out unwanted plants and animals.

Northland Regional Council (NRC) said the shift from humble pet pooch to part-time biosecurity hero was not as difficult as it might seem but still takes two to three months. It also requires dogs with the right temperament, including a "busy" work ethic.

Taylor and Rusty spent several days in Whangarei training locals, and also successfully searched for unwanted batwing passionflower in the Whangaroa area.


NRC biosecurity officer Sara Brill said most people were familiar with how dogs use their remarkable sense of smell to assist in law enforcement and search and rescue operations, but their skill at sniffing out unwanted plants was less well-known.

"Northland has nine species of plant and several species of animal and/or freshwater pests which trained dogs could be a great help to accurately locate, saving time and valuable ratepayer money in the process.

"The hope is that these dogs will increase our effectiveness in locating pest plants which pose a very real threat to Northland's environment."

One of the key advantages of biosecurity dogs over human searchers is that they can efficiently track every single unwanted plant – no matter how small – in a large target area.

Twelve NRC staff and some members of the Whangarei Dog Obedience Club had initial training from Taylor.

He said he expected Northland could have several newly-trained resident biosecurity dogs by the end of the year.