It is always a pleasure to see a maestro at work, in whatever field of endeavour they have mastered. I just visited the dog training centre run by Steve Austin and was able to talk with him while he worked a number of dogs in masterly fashion.
Steve is probably Australia’s best known dog trainer. His work is not limited to Australia either and he is sort by other countries as well for his widely recognised dog training skills. When I entered the property I was met by a large, black German Sheppard, carrying a ball and looking friendly. Steve had warned me of that and assured me not to be concerned.
The dog accompanied me as I went on to meet Steve, and stood close by obviously seeking some interaction, but without intruding. At a command the big dog sat obediently. “Speak,” commanded Steve and the dog gave a loud and menacing bark.
Steve patted the dog and told me that it was trained to attack on command and would viciously pull the nominated target to the ground. He also assured me that the big dog possessed a terrific bite as well, painful even through the body armour used in training. I was happy to take his word on that!
While Steve can train dogs for any role, these days his work is centred on detection dogs. A posse of excited Working Spaniels were prancing about in their pens, hoping for some action. Steve has quite a menagerie; with live birds and animals required for the majority of the training. These other animals are not harmed by the dogs which are trained to only indicate their presence and not interact at all.
Smaller animals, that might be stressed by the mere presence of a dog, are protected from that by being placed within canisters then placed within a length of PVC pipe. It is only the scent of a live animal that is needed by the dogs.
Wildlife smuggling is a major source of funding by organised crime and terrorist groups; surprisingly it is on a similar scale to drug and firearm smuggling. Customs efforts to detect wildlife smuggling not only helps to protect wildlife, but is also vital in cutting off funding to criminal and terrorist groups.
Detection of both rare native animals and exotic ferals is greatly assisted by well trained detection dogs. One of Steve’s current projects is training dogs to find rats that threaten the birdlife on one of our islands. First he brought out an adult spaniel, Sebbi, that is close to graduation and deployment. The dog did a couple of quick zigzags across the lawn and then honed in on the PVC pipe where the live rat was hidden.
The dog sat beside the pipe, indicating it had found fresh rat scent. Another command and the dog placed its nose in pipe outlet, indicating the presence of a live rat. Amazingly, the dog can differentiate whether the rate is actually present as opposed to having left only seconds, or longer, before.
Next a boisterous spaniel pup was brought out, Sebbi’s son Zuma. He was quite excited to be out and working. Steve explained that he had only begun training recently and was still learning his general behavioural training as well as scent detection. Even so, after three weeks, that dog was much better trained than any dog of mine ever achieved in a lifetime.
It took the pup a bit longer, but not much, to find the hidden rat. He got quite excited at that until a command from Steve had him sit, as required, beside the pipe. The reward for that required behaviour was a brief game of chase and retrieve with the ball.
My visit came about through an interest in an interest in using cat detection dogs for finding and disposing of the feral cats that decimate our wildlife. Steve has trained and used quite a few cat detector dogs, so that will not pose any great challenge. I will be exploring that topic in more detail for a story I am writing for the SSAA. More about that as it develops.
I have really only scratched the surface on the range of dog training and many successes achieved by Steve Austin. A visit to his web site is recommended. There are links to related social media sites there as well. http://www.steveaustindogtrainer.com/