Wildlife Sniffer Dogs

In a previous article, Rico, the Wildlife Sniffer Dog was introduced to the public. Rico is a Belgian Malinois and is trained to detect wildlife products, particularly rhino horn. His implementation at OR Tambo International airport has already proved worthwhile.

Recently three more dogs were imported to add to the team: 2 Malinois and one German Shepherd. I was fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to visit these dogs at the training facility in Kempton Park in December 2012. Pictured here are the female Malinois and the German Shepherd dog. They are shown with their handlers, and have settled into their new environment very well.

These dogs are also funded through The Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, managed by Nedbank Private Wealth, along with sponsorship from Bidvest. Like Rico, they will be deployed as part of a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and Bidvest Magnum, which operates a dedicated cargo screening division that uses sniffer dogs to detect explosives in cargo. These dogs have been chosen for their high work ethic – they have both the physical and mental ability to work with intense focus and drive. In order to do their job, these dogs need to be supremely confident and sociable. This combined with their phenomenal sense of smell makes them ideal for this type of work.
Here the dogs with their handlers are have a discussion with Warwick Wragg of the ACTS K9 Unit and Yolan Friedman of the EWT.

This photo shows one of the new recruits, Heddi (Belgian Malinois female) getting put through a training exercise. Whilst the dog is out of sight, a small amount of shaved rhino horn is hidden underneath one of the tyres. Heddi has successfully identified its placement and is indicating by sitting next to the tyre containing the horn. Her handler, George, is about to reward her with her ball.

Why do dogs eat grass?

People often ask me why dogs eat grass. Some dogs even dig the grass up and eat the roots and dirt as well. I believe that dogs were meant to have a varied diet, and that it is not really natural for them to eat just one type of food every day of their lives. And all animals generally enjoy fresh food. Having said this, dogs that consistently graze might be looking for extra minerals or other nutrients, such as fresh antioxidants that are found in grass and other raw vegetable material.

Sometimes our pets are cleverer than we realise. For example, some years ago I went hiking up a hill with a bunch of friends. Of course our dogs went with us. The breeds included Malinois, Jack Russells, a German Shorthaired Pointer and Border Collies. The dogs ran free whilst we puffed and panted our way up the mountain. About half way up we had a sit-down to recover our breath and enjoy the view. After a few moments, I noticed the dogs were disappearing around the side of an outcrop of rocks. Curious, I followed them. There within the protection of these rocks, was abundant if somewhat tatty-looking grass, which all the dogs were busy devouring. I found this most odd, as there was much more luxuriant looking grass growing nearby, which they all ignored. Surely such a motley crew of dogs from such diverse backgrounds couldn’t all need nutrients on the same kind on the same day. I pulled up some of the grass and put it in my pocket.

The next day at work, I presented this grass to the biology department at the University I was working for at the time, and asked why all these dogs wanted to eat it. The next day I got my answer. The grass was indigenous and contained small hair-like protrusions along its outer edge. The academics believed that on passing through the gut of the animal the coarse edges of the grass helped scour it out, thereby assisting in ridding the dog of internal parasites.

Whatever the reason for your dogs grazing habits, it is certainly not unusual for them to want to eat grasses, roots, etc.

Ways of supporting your child when you lose a pet

  • Make sure that the child doesn’t hear about the pet’s death from someone else
  • Always be honest about death. Don’t pretend the pet has gone missing if it has died
  • It is a good idea to encourage the child to express their emotions. If they are old enough, ask them to draw a picture or write a story about their pet.
  • Sometimes children don’t express their feelings because they don’t know how to. Don’t underestimate the feelings that they might be experiencing.
  • Never minimize a child’s grief. Try to understand the impact the loss of the pet has on the child
  • Use language that the child will understand. Use everyday words such as “dead” or “died” rather than phrases such as “gone to heaven” or “put to sleep” which might cause confusion or anxiety for younger children
  • If asked, discuss how the animal died – obviously leaving out any distressing details
  • If your child is very upset, discretely tell their teacher
  • Let your child know your own feelings of sadness and loss

Woman And Home

A while ago I was approached by Woman & Home, who asked if they could interview me for an article in the November 2012 edition of their magazine. Of course I agreed! It was a lot of fun, especially the photo shoot during which I was given three outfits to wear. Photos were taken in each of these outfits. Here are a couple of “action shots” in the outfit that was eventually chosen and used in the publication, as well as one of the others. Note the high heels. I couldn’t walk in them, so walked barefoot onto the set, and then put them on. What super people to work with – the jokes flowed constantly which helped to keep the atmosphere relaxed and fun.

Apart from getting to wear some lovely clothes, my make-up was put on for me, and my hair ironed. I hope that the other folk that appear in Woman&Home enjoyed their experience as much as I did.

Attendance at Mondioring World Championships 2012

The 2012 Mondioring World Championships were held from the 3rd – 7th October in Grande Synthe, which is a suburb of Dunkirk in France. This sport requires a dog that is fast and agile, and is therefore ideal for Malinois. Having Malinois myself, the draw of attending this event was great, and earlier this year I made the commitment to travel to France to see it firsthand.

My friend Toni and I arrived in France on the 4th October and drove up to Grande Synthe in our hired car. (such fun driving on the “wrong” side of the road!) There are three levels in Mondioring – Categories 1, 2 and 3, with Category 3 being the highest level and therefore the World Championship class. Unfortunately we arrived too late to see the first two categories compete. The weather was not pleasant for anyone. There was a persistent rain and the cold seemed to seep into your bones. Every couple of hours it was necessary to sit in the car on in the (over)heated administration room in order to thaw out.

There were 16 dogs from 16 different countries competing for the Category 1 level. It was won by the Russian entrant – Miss Svetlana Vasilieva with her Dutch Shepherd dog Nestor v. Treekzicht. Coming second to her was Mr Kaspar Spuhler from Switzerland with his Malinois bitch Amy vom Lothar Sturn. This proves that anyone can compete in this sport, as Mr Spuhler is wheelchair bound.

The Category 2 level attracted 13 entrants from 13 different countries and was won by Mrs Claude Cazorla from France with her Malinois bitch Etna des Loups de Saint Benoit. Second was Mr Marcel Buhler from Switzerland with his Terveuren dog Xyro du Chateau Royal.

In a flyer written by the USA Mondioring group, they state “….in order to be happy and healthy, dogs (and people?) must have a job. While it is likely that most types of training have benefits and should be applauded, Moindioring is our training of choice. The rules specifically say that it is forbidden to hit or harm the dog in any manner. Mondioring makes use of everyday occurances and environmental stimulation to discipline and test the character of the dog/handler team. In addition, there is mental stimulation for the handler AND the dog because the exercise patterns and sequences are changed each training/trial. This is a superb foundation for home dwelling pets and service dogs, as well as and especially security, police and military dogs”.

The “chien en blanc” ran on the evening of the 4th October (Thursday) but we didn’t wait to see it, it being so cold and wet. We also needed to find our way back to the hotel. We got lost a lot, even though we had borrowed a friends’ TomTom. Whenever we could, we followed others to and from the venue, as we were fortunate to have several competitors and supporters staying at the same hotel as us.

Ring sport is very demanding of both dog and handler. It is comprised of three main sections – obedience, agility and manwork. There is no tracking element, but nose work is included. The emphasis is on the dog being really well socialised and self-controlled. The dogs were walked amongst the crowds and there was never so much as a snap or a growl. Spectators also brought their dogs and families along to watch, and were made welcome.

The “big guns” began at 7 a.m. on Friday, 5th October to compete for the title of Mondioring World Cup 2012. There were 41 entrants from 14 different countries in Category 3. Apart from one Beauceron all the dogs were Belgian Shepherds. And apart from three Terveuren, all the others were Malinois. Another interesting thing was the predominance of dogs, there being only six bitches participating at this level. I asked several people about this, and because ring sport is meant to be a test of the dogs’ temperament in order to breed better dogs, they have to be entire. Male dogs are therefore easier to train as they don’t come into season twice a year. There was a bitch in season in Category 1 and she had to wait until the completion of the show before competing. i.e. she should have been on the field on Wednesday, but had to stay on the grounds (in the pouring rain) with her dog and only went on to field on Sunday afternoon, after every other dog had finished competing.

All exercises are done with no lead or collar on. The agility is demanding, with a palisade of 2.3 metres, a long jump of 4 metres and a hurdle at 1.2 metres.

The obedience section includes heelwork, send away with recall (no wait), food refusal, out of sight down stay with distraction, distance control, retrieve and scent discrimination. In this particular championship, the distance control was performed underneath a model horse and cart. The handler was seated about 15 metres away and called out the positions to the dog.

Here a dog is looking for the scented article (called a “little wood”), which is hidden on the other side of the bridge on an island of sand in the middle of the water. There are also 3 decoy little woods. The handler is about 30 metres away and out of sight of the dog.

The manwork sections are really intense, with a no-bite recall, lots of guarding for long periods of time, often without the handler in sight. During these times the dog is not permitted to bite the assailant. Biting is only allowed if the object he is giving to guard is challenged, if instructed to do so by the handler, or if his handler or himself are attacked. There are two assailants, wearing full suits as the dog is allowed to bite anywhere. The bites are timed, as the dog has to bite within a minimum amount of time in order to gain points.

The protection section includes attack with stick, face attach with accessories (in this competition the dogs had plastic balls and empty 2litre milk containers thrown at them, and in other instance balloons attached to a stick, which popped loudly when the dog was hit with them), go flee attack (includes gun shots), stopped flee attack (no-bite recall), defence of handler, search and transport and guard an object (a woven basket in this show. The dogs “threat” in this case was a leaf blower, which most of the dogs disregarded, although some did back off when blown in the face with a blast of air).

The World Championship was won by M Thierry le Pellec of France with this Malinois dog Bep. Second was M Patric Corpataux of Switzerland with his Malinois dog Cox de l’Arcane des Loups, and third was M Stefano Cetto of Italy with his Malinois dog Capone.

It was a really wonderful experience, and I’m very glad I was able to attend. The camaraderie was tremendous, as most of these people have competed against each other before. It was also interesting in that every competitor I spoke to makes use of clicker training.

Part of my visit to France and the attendance at this event was to meet Mr Frans Jansen, who is the President of the FCI Utility Dogs Commission. On Sunday, Mr Jansen drove down to France from his home in Holland, and we met at the show. Needless to say, I questioned him endlessly about rules and training. What a pleasant man! We are hoping he and his wife (who is a Malinois expert) will visit us here in South Africa next year.

MOVING HOUSE? Some tips to moving home with your dog.

  • Make sure that before you move, you adhere as closely as possible to your normal routine.
  • Reassure your dog with extra attention when you start packing.
  • Is your dog microchipped? If not, get it done before you move.
  • If your dog wears a collar, make sure that the identification tag carries your name, cell number and destination address.
  • If you are moving to a new area, you will probably need a new veterinarian. Ask neighbours in your new area who they recommend. Go and visit the practise to ensure that you are happy with their facilities, etc.
  • Before you move, find out where you can walk your dog in your new neighbourhood. It is a good idea to take your dog there a few times before you move.
  • It is often best to put your dog in kennels on the day of your move, to ensure his safety. Alternatively, leave him shut in a room or leave him with a friend whilst the furniture is being taken out of the house.
  • Ensure that the boundaries of your new property are secure before releasing your dog at your new home.
  • Take a look around the garden to see if your dog will be able to create an escape route e.g. running up a sloping branch and jumping over the wall. If insecure and left alone whilst you go out, your pet may well try to get out of the property to either get back to his original home or to find you.
  • Ensure that your dogs’ bedding carries a familiar scent for the first few days in his new home. Once he’s settled down, you can wash it.

Animal Assisted Therapy in Namibia

Kirsten Drews, one of the attendees at the recent clicker workshops held in Windhoek, Namibia, pictured here with her “gang”. Apart from taking time to learn about dog training techniques, Kirsten also runs a boarding facility for dogs. These pictures were taken with her and some of her “lodgers” during and after having gone for a long walk around Avis Dam. Kirsten has no kennels – all the dogs are kept together in a pack or group. She can take up to 13 dogs i.e. 10 guest dogs plus her three own dogs.

Kirsten is also a qualified animal assisted therapist, a qualification that she attained in Germany. (Please note that the following therapy images are copyrighted to Kirsten Drews).

In her own words: “Because Munich is so far I had a special agreement with the dog school in Munich to teach my dog all practical things for AAT by clicker training in Namibia; and I did learn the theoretical stuff here, too. So I went to Germany for three weeks, to be tested by my teacher during therapy lessons, school visits and therapies and visits in old age homes. Later I had to write an exam, attend a practical exam as therapy team and Monty was tested separately. Tough but wonderful”.

Kirsten lives in Windhoek, Namibia and can be contacted either by her cell phone (+264 81 377 3324) or by e-mail (drewsh@iway.na).

Workshops in Namibia

In August 2012 I was invited to give a series of workshops by the Windhoek Dog Club in Namibia. Having given several workshops there in the past, I knew I was in for a weekend of enjoyable interaction and socialisation. Here are some pictures of the attendees hard at work during the practical sessions. In winter they have to work on sand, as the grass dies down competely. On top of this, the sand is full of mica, which makes everything sparkle with silver. Quite attractive unless you have a black dog, which turns into a dirty brown dog with silver glitter within minutes!

As always, there was a wide variety of breeds present, some of which are already competing in various dog events, whereas others are much loved pets which lead a pampered and fun-filled life. All the dogs present were well-socialised and interactive.

The Welcome

The following is a wonderful little story that I came across many years ago. No-one seems to know who the original author was, which is a pity as it is such a wonderful piece, and so typical of our wonderful doggy friends. I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do.

I hear it! I hear the car! HER car! And she’s coming this way! Oh, oh, I must run in and grab a gift! I must greet her with a gift! Oh, ‘BONK’ missed the step. No matter, I must hurry. Move over, doggy door! She’s coming, she’s coming! Gift, gift, where, what, oh, oh, oh, ah! A plastic bottle she drinks from, right here on top of the container they call trash! Oh, perfect. She’s coming, she’s coming! Oh, oh, oh… The door! I hear the door sound that sounds right before she comes in!


Oh, oh, ‘wiggle, wiggle, wiggle’ I cannot be still! You’re home! And look, look, I have this nice bottle! Oh, oh, you’re home! YOU’RE HOME! I have missed you so much, you’ve been gone hours, weeks, days, years! And so much has happened! A dog ran by and I chewed a tree and Pluto slept under the house and it rained a little! Oh, oh, oh! You’re home, you’re home! And you’re touching me! I can’t stand it, it’s so marvellous! Oh, and you’re speaking! “Murble, murble, good boy, murble, murble.” YES! Your happy voice. Oh, I’m about to burst! I’m so happy, happy, happy! Yes! I want to jump! I’m not supposed to jump, but oh, oh, just a little jump!


Oh, I cannot be still. I’ll roll over and wiggle on my back! Oh, yes! She’s rubbing me – my tummy, my head, my sides! Oh, oh, oh. Now what? Now where’s she going? Oh, oh, yes! Back to the room where we sleep at night! Great! It has the big pad we sleep on and ‘L-E-A-P’ I can get up here close to her. And here she comes! Oh, oh, oh! I can stand on my legs and put my paws around her neck and-uh oh. Can’t lick with this bottle in my mouth. But it’s my present to her! Oh, oh, what to do? And she’s rubbing me! But I want to lick her, oh, oh, I think I’m about to burst!

Oh, darn.

Drop the bottle. Oh, YES! She’s coming back! She took off the pieces she puts on her eyes, and I can stand and ‘lick, lick’ I love you, I love you, I love you, I love ‘lick, lick, lick’ you taste so good, salty, sweet, I love that stuff you smear on your face every day, I love to lick it off, oh, oh, and you’re rubbing me again! My back, my head, my ears, oh, oh ‘lick, lick, lick’. “Murble, murble, Mac, good boy, murble, murble.”


I will lay here and watch her. Watch her peel her fur – it’s not very warm fur, I don’t think. How does she do that? And I will get that look on my face that always makes her come and rub me. The look where I roll my eyes up, and keep my head flat here and she will come…and she’s putting on her play skin! YES! We will play-sometime. My tail cannot be still. I am SO happy, happy, happy.

Now she’s going in the room with the wonderful water bowl! I LOVE that water bowl – always cool, clean water! She’ll be out in just a minute, just a minute, just a…..yes, she’s coming! She’s here again. Oh, oh, oh…. Now back to the room with the box that has pictures and sounds. Ah, I know what happens now. Yep, she’s lying down on the big pad there. Now she’ll sleep. But that’s okay. She’s HOME! SHE’S home. She’s home. And she smells tired. So I will lay beside her here and guard her and wait while she sleeps. And when she wakes up she won’t smell so tired. And we’ll play and play.
S-i-g-h. I’ll just rest with her now, and smell her while she sleeps. And wait again.

For, the next thing that happens, HE’LL be home.
And then, oh, oh, zzzzzzzzzzz

In The Beginning…

When I was a child, my parents allowed me to keep all sorts of animals as pets. My dad used to make me special cages in which to keep the caterpillars I found. I would feed these caterpillars on carefully collected leaves from the shrub or tree on which I’d found them on, and wait anxiously to see what sort of butterfly or moth would emerge. I had guinea pigs and rabbits, gerbils and lizards. I had a very long-suffering snow white cat named Pinkle, who had to endure damaged animals wandering around “her” house until they were fit enough to be released. My mother had a rule which I never transgressed. She said that I could keep any pet within reason, but the first time she found it in an unclean environment and without fresh food and water, it would have to go. I cleaned and fed religiously – none of my pets was going anywhere!!

One of my favourite creatures was a young fruit bat that a friend found and gave to me. This bat was too young to feed itself and was a long way from being able to fly. I named him Sir Lancelot Gudge (children have such funny imaginations, don’t they?). It was fascinating feeding this young animal, and to feel him scurrying around my shoulders. Teaching him to fly was quite a mission – I would throw him off my shoulder and he would zoom in a tight circle and clamp himself back on to my shoulder again. A boomerang couldn’t have done better. However sometimes he’d get a bit confused and land up in the wrong spot, and I’d have to inveigle one of my brothers to drag a ladder out so that I could reclaim him. Eventually Sir Lancelot got the message and one night flew off into the darkness and never returned. I hope he had a happy life.

I had many aviaries full of birds, both purchased and rescued. Cockatiels, red rumps, bourkes, finches, and singing quail, etc. gave me endless hours of pleasure. They reproduced at an amazing rate, and dad used to drive me to the pet shop so that I could swap the extra birds for food to feed the remaining ones. People constantly brought in birds that had fallen out of nests and needed hand rearing, or that they’d found with a broken leg or damaged wing. I’d fix them up as best I could and then off they’d go back into the wild. A lot of them chose to use our garden as nesting areas, and so the same semi-tame birds could be seen year after year. Some of the doves (not the brightest of creatures) would even fly down when I was feeding Pinkle and peck at her food whilst she was trying to eat it. Poor cat – what she had to endure. She never did kill one of the tame birds, which will always surprise me.

As I grew up I became bolder in my choice of pets. Living in Durban we had our fair share of snakes, and these I used to catch and try and identify. Mom soon cottoned on to this and asked to be included in the catching expeditions. I initially believed that I’d swung her around to share my interest in all things animal, and only as I grew older did I realise it was in an attempt to try and prevent me from getting bitten. She always insisted that we take my slithery captures to the local snake park and hand them in. It was then I discovered that some snakes eat eggs!! Well I had lots of eggs from all the aviary birds. Soon I was supplying the snake park with eggs for their egg eaters, and became a regular sight there on a Saturday morning. I became besotted with a pair of girdle tailed lizards, or sungazers. Eventually I managed to persuade the snake park manager to swap me these lizards for a constant supply of eggs.

I kept my lizards at the bottom one of the aviaries. It took quite some preparation as lizards dig, so first I had to bury some chicken mesh beneath the aviary to prevent my treasures from burrowing out. They became very tame, and would soon come when I called to take meal worms and other bugs from off my palm.

Possibly the strangest of all the pets I had as a young child (I was about 10 years old then) was my Whip Scorpion. These are not really scorpions, but spiders. They are very flat and can scurry through the thinnest of apertures. Their two foremost legs have been modified into long whip-like antennae, which the insect uses to test the ground before it, as well as a form of defence. When agitated, whip scorpions will flail the air in front of them with their whips, which can look very menacing indeed. Wilhelmina (for so she was named) lived in a forty-gallon drum on a bed of rotting vegetation, and had the most beautiful whips of about 5 cms long. She became so tame that if I tapped the side of the drum, she would scurry up to the rim and delicately accept a small slug or some other tasty morsel from my hand. She stayed in that drum until it rusted away. There was no lid, and she could have left at any time, but being a canny spider, she knew which side her bread was buttered on. I was enormously proud of Wilhelmina and remember time and time again taking my little school friends to meet her. I was constantly disappointed when my friends would run screaming as I lifted my precious pet carefully out of her drum to show them.

It took me many years to learn that not all people like the variety that life has to offer us, and feel that the world would be a better place without the creepy crawlies that I so enjoyed. I will be forever grateful for my family’s forbearance at letting me keep such a variety of strange and wonderful creatures. My mother for helping me catch the various snakes and creepy-crawlies, my father for making the cages and helping build the aviaries to contain them. And to my brothers for not minding too much when one of my birds flew into the engine they were trying to fix. What an incredibly interesting childhood I was privileged to have.