In the war between dogs and cats a Flintshire company has given the dog the upper hand in a field where cats have traditionally ruled the roost – mouse control.
For thousands of years if mice were a problem then you got a cat – but all that could be about to change thanks to detection dog company Wagtail UK.
The company, based near Holywell, have just trained Britain’s first mouse detection dog, Archie, a three-year-old springer spaniel, for the Pest Control section of UK property management giant Mitie.
Wagtail Head of Training Louise Wilson said: “Mice are not that hard to find, the trick is to find out how and where they are getting into a building, whether it’s an office, a warehouse, a supermarket or a cinema.
“That was the challenge for us and it has taken us over a year to train Archie compared to the three months it normally takes to train a dog to detect something.
“It has been really complicated and very intensive and has taken a lot of planning but now Archie is trained and is ready to go out in the field with his handler.”
That handler is Alan Johnson, 33, from Sprotborough, near Doncaster, and he’s looking forward to the new challenge: “I love dogs. I’ve got four at home and I do a bit of shooting and beating at weekends,” he said.
“When the company came up with the idea of training a dog for mice ands they asked me to take it on I leapt at the chance and I’ve really enjoyed it.
“Wagtail have been fantastic and a lot of what they’ve done has been about training me to be able to work the dog.
“What we’re trying to pinpoint is the places where mice are most active, where they are getting into a building or area and where they are nesting then we can concentrate our efforts in those places.
“That means we will be more efficient, both in the time we take to sort out the problem and in using resources and that’s good for us and for the client.”
Alan, who has been with Mitie for seven years, reckons he’s the only person using a mouse detection dog in the UK: “I’m pretty unique in that respect,” he said: “It’s a role that will take me all over the country and Archie will be staying at home with me.
“He’s a lovely dog, very excitable but that’s what you need for this sort of work.
“Luckily my wife, Emma, and my little girl, Heather, both love dogs too and I’m sure he’ll soon be part of the family.”
Louise, who lives near Chester, said they had actually had to use the equivalent of CCTV to study the mice they used to train Archie.
She said: “Mice leave traces of saliva and grease when they nibble through somewhere and those are traces you don’t find when they are just running about but you have to recreate this naturally.
“We used things like plastic pipes as runs but we had to actually get the mice to use them and then have proof that they had which meant setting up the cameras overnight and then checking the footage the next day.
“The fact is that mice are also different in different parts of the country. Birmingham mice leave a different trace to London mice or North Wales mice so we had to take that into account to but we have done the tests and we’re confident that if mice are getting into your warehouse then Archie will find out exactly where they are getting in.”
It’s just the latest in a list of new applications that Wagtail are developing for the incredible sense of smell of man’s best friend.
Wagtail UK was founded by ex-RAF Police dog handler Collin Singer in 2003 and trains dogs for a range of duties including work with the UK Border Agency where they and their Wagtail handlers are on constant duty searching for immigrants at the Channel ports of Northern France.
They also train dogs in drug and explosive detection and have been widely used by police forces in England and Wales but the use of dogs in wildlife protection and also in pest control is seen as a growth area.
Louise has twice been out to South Africa to set up a scheme that trains dogs to track down the world’s fastest land animal, the elusive and endangered cheetah, by finding their scats – their poo.
She also believes dogs can be used in finding evidence of the UK’s own threatened animals such as pine martens and water voles but it was a departure when Mitie came to them looking to use a dog in pest control.
She said: “I studied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Chester University and I see huge potential for the use of dogs in this field because they are able to find animals in a non-invasive way.
“It is easy to find out that mice are in your property but not so easy to find out how they’re getting in – that’s the key to solving your mouse problem and that’s what Archie and Alan can do.
“At Wagtail we also have some amazing ideas and projects running with regard to a conservation dog section here in the UK and we really want to hear from people who are interested in using dogs in that field or indeed in any other area where we can use a dog’s nose to sniff out a solution to a problem.”
Louise, who joined Wagtail UK six years ago, initially as an unpaid volunteer, has worked with detection dogs on places as diverse as Wembley and the QE2 and has five dogs of her own.
The 28-year-old has already been named as the winner of the Women In Business Award at the Flintshire Business Week Awards and has had her work with the Wagtail UK recognised with a North Wales Criminal Justice Board certificate.
For more information regarding Wagtail UK Ltd and the use of conservation dogs within the UK contact Louise Wilson on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or go to www.wagtailuk.com
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