Following many months of planning and preparation, we are very pleased to introduce, Ella. She is a three-year old Doberman cross Bloodhound, and she has been selected as the most promising candidate to be at the fore-front of an exciting initiative.
This project represents a partnership between the Wilderness Foundation Africa and the Chipembere Rhino Foundation in support of rhino protection as part of the Forever Wild Rhino Protection Initiative. This project is supported by Medivet and the Medivet Rhino campaign.
This particluar breed of dog has been selected as they seem especially suited to ‘cold scent tracking. Whilst other dogs are often trained as track and attack dogs, who can only follow scents which are fresh and up to 2-4 hours old, Ella is able to track scents that are significantly older due to her superior sense of smell and work drive. Unfortunately, in many situations reserves are alerted to the security breach or threat many hours or days after the event. In these cases a cold scent dog, like Ella, would be able to help track the whereabouts of suspects where track and attack dogs cannot.
Although older than most dogs who are considered for training, Ella and her brother were selected for potential training courses due to their fantastic drive and enthusiasm. Trainers from a specialist center visit many dogs a year including rescue dogs and have to choose those most suitable for the job. To choose a dog they look for those that are particularly affectionate and eager to please in order for them to form strong bonds with their handlers. However, the most important trait is for the dog to have a strong work and play drive and willingness to learn. Although both excellent candidates for the job, before training could commence Ella’s brother was sadly bitten and killed by a venomous snake. Left on her own Ella was taken into the care of the specialist training facility where she could receive the care and attention she needed and begin her basic training.
Throughout training so far Ella has ‘crept into the hearts’ of all her trainers and has proved that she will do anything for her favourite ball. Ella is trained by one main handler and two trainee handlers, for 3-4 hours a day split into short 20 minute sessions. Each day Ella is trained in three areas, firstly her obstacle course training develops her fitness and confidence over different terrain. It is important that Ella can navigate all natural and man-made landscapes to be able to follow her handler anywhere. Secondly, Ella enjoys her ‘drive’ exercises which include playing with a ball with her handler, where positive reinforcement is used to help her learn new skills. Lastly, Ella works with her handler to enhance and hone her natural tracking abilities. In addition, to her everyday training, Ella sometimes accompanies her trainer home where she can become desensitised to the home environment and enjoy some ‘down time’.
Unlike, training for some other service dogs, basic obedience training is often considered less important than developing the basic drive instinct needed to track scents. Ella’s obedience will be developed at a later date.
There is no set length of training for an anti-poaching dog, they are deployed only when they have acquired the necessary skill set to be safe and effective. Once deployed into the field, regular testing and refresher training will be done every month for the first 3 months, then every 3 months for the remainder of the year. After this refresher training and testing is done every 6 months to ensure the dog is still working to the required level.