Wild dogs are a serious problem to the pastoral and farming industries across Australia.
They have appeared to have increased in numbers and distribution across much of the country in the past 15 or so years. Much of this is a result of changes to stock (sheep versus cattle), reduced government budgets, the (reduced) number of people on the land, changes to baiting strategies (and baits), increased urbanisation and changes to land use.
We have an average of 2 issues per year recorded relating to wild dog attacks on people and it is common for us to deal with issues relating to safety of people and the impacts of wild dogs on your production.
The primary means of wild dog control are baiting (with 1080 baits), trapping and shooting. Baiting has the advantage of removing most young, inexperienced wild dogs and many of the older dogs succumb to a well presented bait and it is the most efficient of all the control methods. The added advantage of baiting is that it removes foxes, making trapping more target specific to the dogs you need to catch. Trapping wild dogs is a skill. While many young and inexperienced dogs can be trapped by the novice trapper, caution should be used when trying to trap older wiser dogs, which is where the professional trapper comes into their own. In almost all cases, it is better to use baits to remove foxes and (all or most) dogs, and then get the professional in to remove the bait shy, smarter dogs.
Even after 30 years of giving the same message, I still come across people who will not bait for wild dogs. “They don’t take baits” comes the cry, or “I know I got him if he is in a trap” says the dogger. Well, in most cases, that doesn’t cut the mustard. The “cricket score” mentality of “you are a better wild dog specialist if you have a higher trap score than the other bloke”, is absolute rubbish. The best dogger is the one who doesn’t have any dogs left, with the goal being that no stock losses are occurring. If you have caught 700 dogs and are still having sheep losses, you haven’t achieved your objective. The dogger who is chasing one dog in sheep country and takes him/her 6 months to get it has achieved a better objective than a dogger who has caught 700 dogs in country where they are causing little, if any commercial or environmental harm or he has not reduced dog numbers or damage. A published dogger in Queensland is called the best in the business, because he catches 600-700 dogs per year, twice as many as his contemporaries. Yet if he is catching 600-700 dogs year on year, then he is not making any progress to reduce wild dog numbers or their damage. Cricket score wild dog trapping. And a total waste of money. If he was reducing the dog numbers every year, then he is “achieving” a goal, but getting the same number every year smacks of simply catching wild dogs without reducing the numbers.
If baiting takes out the bulk of dogs, leaving you to chase down the difficult dogs with traps, then that is more effective use of your time. Why trap young (stupid) dogs when a few baits would have done the job in 1/10th the time. How many runs you get doesn’t win the game, its what on the scoreboard for the other team (stock losses) that matters. Lets face it, if Smith scores 200+ in an innings but Australia loses the match, his success is seen as a personal success but the reality is that the team failed – how many you score is not a measure of success for the side (your client), it is whether they achieved the teams goals that matters.
There is much discussion about bounties for wild dogs. Often a dogger will be allocated an area. Some may well be in sheep country (dogger A), with an absolute “no tolerance’ to dogs. But within the same contract area, dogger B is allocated an area with no sheep, all cattle and lots more dogs. (I can give examples if you need). There are so many dogs in dogger B’s area that he can catch a dog per day without trying. But in cattle country, they certainly don’t cause anywhere near the issues a single dog would cause in sheep country. But dogger B is being rewarded $100 for every dog he catches (and he could catch 365 per year without trying, hard) whist poor old dogger A in sheep country, trying to rid this area of dogs, with far less dogs causing far more damage, is at a financial disadvantage. I have personally been caught in the same issue. A classic case comes to mind with one of the largest mining companies in the world. They complained that it cost X for me to catch few feral cats, compared to what it cost per cat when there were lots of them. So the view (from their “knowledgeable” scientifically trained minds) was that if I was still catching lots of cats, then the program was effective. But if I reduced feral cat numbers by the order of 99.92% then Rio Tinto where unhappy because the cost per feral cat had increased. The “cricket score mentality” was alive even amongst those with university educations in environmental science. Similarly, we achieved a 400% increase in Bilby numbers and distribution adjacent to BHP Billiton rail, but because the numbers of feral cats was reduced (shown by our reports) then the “cricket score” mentality was more important than the objective (increasing Bilby numbers). Bilby numbers and distribution has since declined in this area back to pre-control numbers. its a shame to see Bilbies that once increased to marginal habitat never seen before in the past 15 years again be decreased to very localised areas and subjected to intense predation by feral cats and wild dogs along 50m of dry creeklines. Even with their vast resources of scientific knowledge and finances, if the largest mining companies in the world cannot understand the concept of Strategic Management of vertebrate pests then we can understand that focussing on these issues can be daunting. But this is our bread and butter!
When baiting for wild dogs, there are really only two considerations – the location of the bait and the quality of the bait. If the bait is in the right location, and the bait is tempting as a food, then the dog will take the bait. Bait location can be by using lots of baits (a bit like using the “spray and pray” method of shooting) or they can be targeted locations. I prefer targeted locations as fewer baits are used (a cost saving), fewer native animals are at risk, and the baiting is likely to be more sustainable in future (less risk of old baits causing under-dosing and bait shyness). Use the best bait you can obtain, which will not break down too quick, losing 1080 and risking bait shyness through 1080 loss.
As far as shooting goes, it really is opportunistic. Shooting wild dogs is so much more time consuming than baiting and trapping. That’s not to say I would not have my rifle ready when out baiting and setting traps! But if you are relying on shooting for wild dog control, than that means your baiting and/or trapping has been done poorly. That set of dog tracks on the road or farm track that you saw the next morning would be a dog caught in your trap, rather than it must have travelled their before, during or after you were driving down there with a rifle. A trap or bait works 24 hours per day at that spot. A good trap or bait will get every dog that travelled that route – if not, then you need to learn more or get a professional on to it!
We conduct training sessions and workshops on wild dog control Australia-wide. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.