Photos courtesy of Goose Masters | (Above) Abby, a 4-year-old border collie, crouches into a typical predator stance used by her breed in their herding duties. (Below) Swimming along behind, Abby, one of several dogs used by Goose Masters, herds a flock of Canada geese.
Canada geese are beautiful birds, and watching them fly over in their V formation or touching down on the water never gets tiring. However, most people would rather see these creatures as short-term visitors rather than long-term residents.
Unfortunately, over the last 20 years the increase in Canada geese making their home in North Carolina has caused headaches for the people who are forced to deal with them.
Kent and Gwen Kuykendall, owners of Goose Masters, a goose control service company based in Franklinville, North Carolina, are well aware of the harm these birds bring with them.
"Canada geese can cause serious problems to our health and safety," Gwen said. "For one thing, a single goose produces more than two pounds of feces each day, and that degrades water quality as rains wash the matter into ponds and streams."
An excess of fecal matter can cause fish kills in lakes and ponds and the bacteria can cause illness in humans. Plus, left on sidewalks, lawns and in parking lots, it's simply unsightly and unsanitary.
In addition, these geese like to feast on all varieties of grass and can wipe out a lawn in no time. Aggressive by nature, geese can also injure humans, especially during the spring nesting season.
The Kuykendalls started Goose Masters in 2004 to help people and businesses humanely rid their property of these pesky waterfowl by employing the skills of border collies to herd the geese and send them on their way.
Kent has trained border collies since he was 12 years old and has a solid reputation as a highly skilled expert with this hard-working breed.
Considered by many to be the most intelligent breed of dogs, border collies have long been used for herding sheep and other livestock. With the proper training, these energetic dogs make excellent geese herders.
"Border collies work with the 'eye' to stalk the geese," he said. "It mimics a predator such as a wolf or coyote."
Rather than relying on barking, a border collie crouches down and moves along quietly until intimidating the geese into taking flight. While other breeds might simply be an annoyance to the birds, the border collie poses more of a threat.
Although definitely scary to the geese, border collies have no intention of capturing or harming the birds.
"They don't have any desire to attack the birds, they just want to control them," said Kent, referring jokingly to the dogs as "control freaks."
When it comes to training, the Kuykendalls start with the basic obedience commands - "sit," "stay," "come" and "heel." Then, they add specific commands for going left or right, stopping, and walking up to allow the handler to work with the dogs to send the geese in the proper direction.
There's no actual training for herding itself.
"Border collies are natural gathering dogs," Kent said. "You don't teach them how to work. They already know how. You just put the commands to their actions."
Because a great deal of work is done on the water, these dogs also have to be good swimmers.
"A predator wouldn't go into the water because it knows it can't catch the geese," Kent said. "A border collie jumps in and continues to herd them."
In addition, the dogs are trained to stop when the geese take flight - if not trained to do otherwise, the dogs would keep going after the geese. This is especially dangerous if there are nearby highways, Kent explained, since the dogs are so focused that they won't check their surroundings.
When he's working a site, Kent likes to work with Abby, a 4-year-old female border collie who has "a lot of spunk, personality, and is very hardworking."
Kent and Abby often spend eight to 10 hours together, with Abby doing what she was created to do - herding.
"You develop a special bond. It's very satisfying," Kent said.
For him, that's the best part of the job - spending time with his dog while providing a service that makes such a difference in people's surroundings.