12 Apr 2024

Doggone good job - Trainer takes on task of preparing perfect pooches

7:11 pm on 12 April 2024

They are all good boys - and girls - but they need to learn to be great if they want to advance in their careers.

This week, the Defence Force and Police Dog Training Centre flew world-renowned Dutch dog trainer Dick Staal to New Zealand to train working dogs from 14 different organisations.

Alan Inkpen, who is the Military Working Dog capability manager, said New Zealand had some of the best working dogs, but there was always room to learn.

"Dick Staal is one of the world's leading police and working dog trainers, and the opportunity to have him come and give us a glimpse into his training methodologies is invaluable," he said.

"We considered the benefits of sending New Zealand Defence Force personnel to one of his overseas courses, but realised it would be even more valuable to spread that training across multiple people and organisations by bringing Mr Staal here."

Dogs at a NZDF training seminar

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Inkpen said the event was unlike anything that had ever been hosted in New Zealand before.

"Bringing all these organisations together hasn't been done before, so it will be an incredible opportunity to network and will be extremely valuable for all of us.

"If we can all work together, surely our dog programmes can only better."

Dogs trainer Dick Staal at a NZDF training seminar

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Ange Newport, from the Department of Conservation, said getting to meet up with other organisations was not something she often got to do.

"We have worked with the police before, and we have contacts in the Ministry for Primary Industries - we exchange stuff, we have had crossover - but a lot of the time we don't get to be in the same space like this.

"It's so rewarding to just be able to catch up with people and talk about what we do."

And for Aimee Hickman, from Blind Low Vision, she said it was a fantastic opportunity.

"[There are] some pretty awesome names here, and agencies to be collaborating with and learning from," she said.

Dogs trainer Dick Staal and NZDF's Alan Inkpen at a NZDF training seminar

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Staal has been training dogs for nearly 50 years.

"I love to work with dogs.

"And I still like it, I'm now 67-years-old, and I still like to train a new puppy."

What was different about his methodologies was that he trained dogs from a young age.

"Often they said that you have to train your dog when they're one-year-old, and that's, in my opinion, a big mistake.

"You can start training a puppy when it's eight weeks old - in a positive way - and avoid a lot of problems, and [learn] how to deal with unwanted behaviour, and socialising."

Dogs trainer Dick Staal at a NZDF training seminar

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Inspector Todd Southall said police used to start training dogs when they were nine-months-old, but as of six - or seven - years ago, they now train them from about eight weeks.

The training by Staal had been broken down into three separate seminars covering detection, tracking and puppy development sessions.

Southall said police were looking to expand and develop its puppy development.

"We know if we train these puppies at a young age, it will imprint desirable behaviours early."

But Southall said there was not much that police needed to improve on.

"The feedback from Dick is that we're doing really well, and not just New Zealand Police, but all of the working dogs here today."

Dogs at a NZDF training seminar

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Hickman said Staal's way of training dogs from a young age would benefit all of the different organisations.

"Our dogs are trained for people with vision loss in the community, blind and low vision, and to keep them safe out and about in the community, so it's really beneficial for us to train our pups from a young age - and really develop them early on."

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