Two dogs now fully-qualified to sniff out kauri dieback

There's a new tool in the fight to stop the spread of kauri dieback disease - and it has four legs and a tail. 

Auckland Council Biosecurity dogs Pip, 4, and Mawhai, 5, can sniff out the presence of kauri dieback - the first detection dogs of their kind. 

Pip's handler, Kerryn Johnson, says she is an English springer spaniel and is "a huge fan of the ball and food", while Mawhai's handler, Brian Shields, says he's "sort of like a Jack Russell on steroids". 

For the past year, the two conservation dogs have been getting stuck into their training and learning to sniff out the pathogen that's responsible for kauri dieback in a series of drills.

"We put the odour that we want the dog to find in there, but we also put a whole lot of other things in like different bits of soil, different phytophthora," Shields says.

Now that the pups can hone in on their target with ease, their skills can be put to the test in the real world. 

These dogs have noses that are 40-times more sensitive than humans, meaning they can instantly sniff out kauri dieback. It means soil sample tests that can take up to six weeks to come back don't need to be relied on. 

"Waiheke doesn't have kauri dieback disease and we'd like to keep it that way, so any gear or materials that might have been used on the mainland in a high-risk area, we'd use the dogs to check that before it goes to the island," Johnson says.

The dogs are needed more than ever because unfortunately, the fight against kauri dieback is an ongoing one.  

"We're definitely in what we'd call a sustained management scenario rather than being in a scenario where we can stamp it out," Auckland Council Kauri Dieback manager Lisa Tolich says. 

Pip and Mawhai are now fully certified for their kauri dieback work under the Department of Conservation's national Conservation Dog Programme - and their report cards are pretty good.

"They passed with flying colours," Conservation Dog Programme certifier Fin Buchanan says.

All that's left now is to put those highly-qualified noses to work.