A former rescue dog has been trained as New Zealand's only specialist kauri dieback sniffer dog.
Three-year-old golden labrador Paddy was so emaciated when he was rescued from the home of an injured hoarder in Auckland, all his ribs could be counted. The dog was infested with fleas and was aggressive.
Animal behaviourist Mark Vette feared the worst when he was brought to his clinic in Waimauku, northwest Auckland.
But in a few months, the canine underwent a remarkable transformation. He has now been adopted by Auckland Council's biosecurity team and will be used as a secret weapon in the battle against kauri dieback.
"Paddy was in a bad way and his rehab took a while," Vette said. "[But] I realised he had an amazing nose and would make a great sniffer dog."
Vette contacted biosecurity specialists after hearing they were curious to discover if dogs could be trained to identify the dieback fungus at an early stage.
"It was a big job to train him because dogs can be good at identifying things like drugs and fruit, but no one knew if they could detect plant disease like dieback," Vette said.
"Paddy had a knack for sniffing this out. I believe he is the first dog in the world that has been able to do this. We are so proud of him."
Dr Nick Waipara, principal biosecurity adviser at Auckland Council, said Paddy's skills could prove invaluable in combating the spread of kauri dieback.
Paddy has been adopted by Stacey Hill, the council's dieback programme manager, and will join other dogs at the biosecurity team, including some trained to sniff out pests such as rodents.
The unit also has the world's only dog that can identify Argentine Ants and another is being trained to uncover Australian skinks.
Paddy's story will be told in an upcoming episode of Purina Pound Pups to Dog Stars, which begins a second series on TV One on Tuesday.
The Kiwi animal rescue show launched last year and has become an international sensation.
It highlights Vette and his team who rehabilitate maltreated and neglected dogs.
Top training tips
• Get a puppy about 7-8 weeks old as the first four months are critical. Start simple training in non-distractive environments such as the yard or house.
• Socialise the dog by having it around people and other dogs.
• Give the dog experiences it is likely to be living with, eg, being among traffic or in city environments.
• House train by keeping them in an appropriately-sized crate indoors when unsupervised for the first 4-6 weeks. Dogs will not soil their own den and will soon learn to toilet outdoors.
• Use a hand-held clicker and food reward technique to quickly encourage correct responses to commands such as "sit", "stay" and "come".