News | 19 April 2023
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Miro: The professional wildlife detector dog

When the high-vis jacket and muzzle are on it’s straight to business for Miro, the working wildlife detector dog.

Dog with muzzle on looking through the trees.

At two-and-a-half-years-old, Miro has been certified by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to find threatened sea bird species as part of the Conservation Dogs Programme

He accompanies his owner Joanna Sim on missions around the North Island to try and locate seabirds for DOC and other providers like Wellington City Council, as seen with the recent pre-construction work for Evans Bay Parade between Weka Bay and Little Karaka Bay.

Miro is fairly new to his role and is learning the ropes from his older brother Rua, who is 10. 

While Rua is more on an introvert, Miro has a whole lot of energy to give, says Jo.

“He’s a fun-loving clown, but he works super hard. We go everywhere around the North Island, from Wellington to Taranaki. He is qualified to find burrowing seabirds such as petrel species and blue penguins. In addition to penguins, he has already found new colonies of grey-faced petrels on Great Barrier Island and Waiheke Island!

Woman and her dog on the beach.
Jo and Miro.

“Rua is still in great nick, but he’s older now and getting a bit bored in his job! He’s done some big miles – he’s been around the Chatham Islands a few times.”

When out on an expedition Miro will sniff around the area, climbing over rocks and diving into bushes. Wherever his nose takes him he goes, says Jo.

“If we find a penguin, we note its location, if it’s in a burrow, roosting, and if possible its status, such as whether it’s breeding or molting."

Person and a dog sitting on the rocks.

Many people wonder if the dogs attempt to grab the birds when they see them – but that’s not this doggy’s style. He’s an absolute professional, says Jo.

“Being a detector dog means he is trained to indicate on a bird, and not to touch. Being a German Short-haired Pointer means he inherently does this but still needs training to always ensure it.

“Once he finds a bird, he sits and then stays.  If I get a bird out, he stays. The biggest challenge is keeping them interested. The best reward for this is seeing the bird, which is often not the case for many jobs. Although I predominantly use rapport-based training, sometimes I do give an occasional treat to keep him motivated if no birds are handled.”

Person and dog looking in the grass.

There’s lots going on for the dogs during work, but Jo is proud of the work Miro does.

“The urban penguin work is challenging because of distractions such as other dogs, people, and traffic, which we don't have in remote sites. He’s special because he’s still a dog, he wants to swim, there’s other dog smells everywhere – but he does his job. It takes great training and an obedient dog. 

“You really build a connection with the dog, and then get them interested in feathers and scents. The training is harder when you’re trying to teach them about other smells that they can ignore. But when the muzzle comes off, Miro knows he’s off duty and can relax. He loves playing with other dogs, and has a bit of a sock fetish, which I don't encourage but find very funny when I have to ask him where my missing sock is!”

Find out more about the Conservation Dogs programme on the DOC website or check out Jo and Miro’s Facebook page