Staff Reporter, IOL | May 6, 2021
It’s early to rise and early to bed, with lots of jam-packed activity in between, for 9-month-old pup, Raven, the newest in-training member of the K9 pangolin counter-poaching unit, part of the African Pangolin Working Group.
Raven is well into her socialisation and detection training and should soon be an integral part of the counter-poaching initiative. In the meantime her days are very busy. “We’re up and at it by 6:30 on most days, right on time to meet at the training kennels where we are instructed on the various disciplines we have to accomplish for the day,” said Glen Thompson, counter poaching manager and Raven’s trainer.
Operation days start even earlier. “Raven and I meet up with the South African Police Service and various other units at a scheduled point for an operation briefing. Right now, while myself and Raven are in training, she comes along for exposure to the environment. Then, depending on the operation, she will be used to assist with locating a pangolin or a fleeing suspect.”
It’s all in a day’s work for both Raven and Thompson, as training to stop poachers in their tracks is no easy feat.
Known as the “wise old man” of the African bush, pangolins are said to be a symbol of good luck and the “bringer of rain”. Sadly, this enigmatic creature is currently the most poached mammal on the planet, and it takes a strong skill set, many hours of training and tough determination for the front-line battle.
Raven, born in July 2020, is a Dutch Shepherd. However as Thompson points out, when it comes to dogs with jobs it’s not always the breed that is their most important trait. “The effectiveness of dogs’ detection or tracking skills often comes down to their inherent drive, the training methods we use, and the time and effort we dedicate to their training. Just like with athletes, a great trainer will adjust their methods to suit the trainee’s needs, rather than only working for the trainer.”
“Over the years, I have seen some mixed-breed dogs work much more effectively than a pure-breed dog. In my experience, it’s the time and effort invested into each dog that brings results in the field. As a trainer, I look for specific traits in a dog that I can enhance with a good training programme. Drive is not something that can be taught; the dog either has it or not,” he said.
“After the morning training session, we play together in the afternoon; this is important to keep her drive up and enforce our bond. In her down time, she runs around the camp, spends time with me on the couch while I watch TV and loves to play in water; much like any other 9-month-old pup, really, just with quite a lot more gusto,” said Thompson.
Last year just over R85 000 was raised during Hill’s Pet Nutrition webinar series to help obtain and train Raven as a pangolin dedicated detection dog.
“A food that works with the pet’s biology is vital for dogs training at Raven’s level, as they can expend up to four times as much energy as usual when they’re on the job,” explains Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s veterinary advisor Dr Guy Fyvie.