Wild Goose Chase Northeast
Wild Goose Control with Trained Border Collies - Since 2002
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Eric Johnson, owner-handler, has worked with Border Collies for over 20 years. He has managed farm programs in Open Air Museums, and lives on a small farm in eastern New York with his family, gardens, assorted poultry and a few sheep.

In the News

Geese can cause can cause health concerns on public beaches.
Wild Goose Chase NE Border Collies encourage geese to find a different nesting area.
For flocks and hounds, looks really do matter
by Deborah Lans
Article reprinted courtesy of The Columbia Paper, November 16, 2012

THE ATLANTIC FLYWAY is the path followed by many migrating shorebirds, including Canada geese. It passes through New York state. Canada geese once were close to extinction. As a result, they have been protected under federal and state laws to the point that their numbers have swelled and they are now often regarded as pests. This is especially so for the thousands of geese that have left the flyway to become permanent residents of communities along the way -- communities that have large open spaces with tasty, well-groomed lawns, such as golf courses and athletic fields, and homes with open lakes and ponds.

In large numbers, Canada geese are not ideal neighbors. Their droppings accumulate, making careless walking and football practice a hazard. Lakes and ponds can be contaminated; for example, last summer, Lake Onota in Pittsfield was closed to swimming several times because of geese droppings.

So, what to do? It's illegal to hunt or kill Canada geese without a state permit, and most of us wouldn't choose to kill geese anyway to solve the problem.

Two Columbia County businesses offer a solution that's becoming increasingly popular throughout the country: their highly trained border collies herd geese away.

Border collies are beautiful dogs. They're mid-sized, usually have abundant black and white fur, have piercing and intelligent eyes and a strong work ethic. They were bred in England and Scotland to herd sheep, and herding "is in their DNA."

Mary-Ann Fallon says of the dogs, "You could put a six-month old border collie that's never seen a sheep in a field, and the dog would instinctively start to herd the sheep."

Ms. Fallon of Goose Watch and Eric Johnson of Wild Goose Chase NE each provide their services to schools, municipalities, golf course operators and private landowners in Columbia County and surrounding areas. Ms. Fallon operates from Copake, where her husband, Mike, runs Copake Auctions; Mr. Johnson is based in New Lebanon.

Both Ms. Fallon and Mr. Johnson are originally from New Jersey and neither had experience with border collies until moving into the county. Ms. Fallon first saw border collies at work at trials in New Jersey and was so taken by the dogs that, when she moved to Copake, she decided to learn to train them. At first she worked with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which uses border collies to herd geese in Orange County. Some years later, she started her own business.

Mr. Johnson started working with the breed at Hancock Shaker Village, where the dogs, more conventionally, herded cows, pigs and sheep. After leaving Hancock nine years ago, Mr. Johnson started his business in New Lebanon, where he also has ducks (the dogs demonstrate herding with ducks at events) and raises agricultural products.

Mr. Johnson says border collies are "pure herders." Unlike other working dogs, they do not "drive" animals. Their instinct is to circle from a discrete distance and to move low to the ground to keep the geese from bolting. They don't harm the geese but instead direct them with the border collie "eye" -- an intense look distinctive to the breed and unsettling not just for geese and sheep but even for many humans.

At the start of a job, according to Ms. Fallon, she and the dogs will go to the area they want to rid of geese several times a day for one to two weeks to learn the pattern of the geese. After a few weeks of the dogs chasing the geese, the geese will become wary of the site and eventually they will move off to another location.

Ms. Fallon is called back sometimes for maintenance work, especially before special occasions. Recently, the day before a large party, she and the dogs went to a landowner's estate to clear the lawns and pond. For pond work, Ms. Fallon takes her kayak and she herds from the water while the dogs keep the geese from landing on the shore, although sometimes a dog goes along for a kayak ride.

The cost of a single visit ranges from $50-$100, though many corporate jobs are done on a fixed fee basis. After the geese have been "hazed" off, all that's required is an occasional visit if they reappear.

Geese herding does have some critics, who think it's inhumane to "harass" geese to move. But, as a study by a Rockland County task force found about a decade ago, hazing is a non-lethal solution that is far more effective than using the noisemakers, fake coyote heads and other paraphernalia that have been tried.

Indeed, even the Humane Society of the United States acknowledges geese herding as an appropriate control strategy.

Look for Ms. Fallon's and Mr. Johnson's herding demonstrations at the Columbia County Fair and other local events.

Goose Chasers:
Collies prevent fowls from staying too long

By Robin Dropkin
Article reprinted courtesy of The Berkshire Eagle, May 21, 2002

NEW LEBANON, N.Y. -- A flock of Canada geese on the wing is an exhilarating sight. But exhilaration often becomes exasperation when the birds take up residence on parkland, a golf course or a pond, where their droppings can create serious health and safety problems.

With an abundance of short, tender grass for grazing and water for drinking and security, golf courses are particular favorites of the birds, although any open space with water nearby is a potential habitat.

Protected by law

Fifty years ago, the Canada goose was nearing extinction because of loss of habitat and excessive hunting. Today it has made a comeback and become one of those species of wildlife -- along with the raccoon, the opossum and others -- that has learned to survive in close proximity to people.
And, since Canada geese are protected under federal law, harming or endangering them in any way can result in severe penalties.

So what is a landowner to do when Canada geese descend en masse for a visit of indeterminate length? Go to the dogs -- specifically, border collies.

Descended from Roman and Viking dogs, border collies have been bred for centuries for their exceptional herding ability. The highly trainable dogs use a predatory, wolflike gaze to mesmerize and threaten their quarry, but they are also quite gentle.

This unique combination of intelligence and gentleness is what attracted Eric Johnson, proprietor of a newly established goose control service, to border collies.

Based in New Lebanon, N.Y., Wild Goose Chase NE operates in the Berkshires, northwest Connecticut and New York state's Capital Region and is the only service of its kind in the region, its owner said.
"Down in Westchester (N.Y), Dutchess (N.Y.) and Litchfield (Conn.) counties, people know about this kind of goose control service and know it works," Johnson said. "Up here, it's a new concept.

Similar silhouette

Although geese can be aggressive with people, they have an innate fear of predators such as the arctic fox. The border collie, with a similar silhouette to the arctic fox and similar predatory behavior, seems to trigger that fear," Johnson said.

Convincing geese to abandon their nesting or feeding grounds takes anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on how entrenched the flock is.

Under a contractual agreement, with fees dependent on the distance he must travel, Johnson and his dogs make two daily visits of about 20 minutes each to a site to pester the geese.

All the while, Johnson is continually directing his dogs, to come in on the geese faster or slower and from different directions. Persistent, consistent disturbance is what motivates the geese to find other nesting or feeding areas.

"Hiring a goose control service is not something to do lightly because of the time it takes and the expense," said Johnson. "But there are not that many other options out there to rid properties of geese."

Border collies can be trained to chase geese without touching or harming them. The dogs are excellent swimmers and can chase geese on water as well as land. They work silently so they don't disturb humans or other wildlife.

"They also love to work and please. Their satisfaction comes from carrying out their handlers' commands," says Johnson.

Border collies are known for devotion to their handlers. The bond between Johnson and his dogs, Faith and Will, is especially strong because Johnson raised and trained the dogs from 8-week-old puppies. Other operators of goose-control services purchase already-trained dogs, said Johnson, who noted that a well-trained border collie can sell for as much as $5,000.

Training a border collie is a major commitment, requiring daily sessions of up to an hour in length. But the work pays off.

Different personalities

"Working with border collies is a very mental process," Johnson said. "The more you understand how and why your dogs work, the better the results. Dogs, like people, have very different personalities. Will is very energetic. He really wants to work with you. Faith is extremely smart, with lots of spunk for a dog her size.

"She has no qualms about standing up to a 500-pound pig," Johnson continued. "But she's also more sensitive than Will, so I try to be more lavish with my praise for her."

Both Faith and Will worked with Johnson at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, where he was manager of the farm program for 12 years. As a result, they are highly socialized and adaptable.
Besides understanding dog behavior, Johnson must understand prey behavior and come up with a plan that uses both to advantage.

"The maturity of the handler plays a big part in the success of each venture. I've found the best approach is a calm, easy one. After all, the whole idea is not to hurt anything, just to convince the geese to move on.

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