Interview with RFA Detection Dog Handler, Izzy

In the early part of 2020, labrador brothers Mick and Mack joined the Environet fold and subsequently revolutionised the Japanese knotweed identification industry. From BBC South to The Times, K9 Magazine to Your Dog, the dynamic detection dog duo have firmly marked their territory in the media as key players in an unrivalled knotweed identification service. Having helped facilitate the sale of countless properties and repeatedly revealed otherwise hidden truths, in August 2020 we decided it was time to expand our four-legged team, and acquired Buddy the cocker spaniel.

While there is no denying Mick, Mack and Buddy’s talents, RFA Security Services Ltd are the training powerhouse behind our canine team’s success.

We caught up with RFA dog handler, Izzy, to find out more about what keeps the beloved trio’s tails wagging, and just how they’re so good at what they do!

How long have you been a dog handler for the RFA and what is your favourite part about the job?

I have been handling dogs at RFA for two years now. My favourite part of the job is watching how much the dogs enjoy what they’re doing and being able to reward them with a play stage. This is when, upon indication, we excitably play with the dogs, which reinforces their training by creating a positive association with identifying the scent of knotweed.

What happens during a detection dog survey – how does it all work?

Before the dogs are brought in, I will go in and assess the area and decide the best way to do the search. The dogs will then search each section of the garden in a systematic pattern ensuring all areas are covered. 

How do the dogs signal that they’ve detected kntoweed rhizome?

Each dog’s indications are different. Mack has a freeze indication, so he will point his nose at the source until he gets his reward. Mick will dig to help release the scent and then his tail will speed up due to his excitement in anticipation of a play stage. Buddy will lay down next to the knotweed/Rhizome and keep putting his nose on it until he is rewarded.

Can you tell us a bit about the training process?

Its all a game of hide & seek. We train the dogs to use the abilities they already have by fine tuning them to detect just one odour amongst thousands, and when they find that one odour they get a reward. The key to successful training is to get the dog thinking it’s fun! If they enjoy the process, they will repeat it.

How do the dogs personalities differ and how does that translate to their working styles?

All three dogs are different so they all have different ways of searching. Mack is very slow and methodical and will use the wind at times to help him locate the source. Mick and Buddy are much more active and can cover large areas of ground quickly

How to the dogs get rewarded for their hard work?

The dogs will all be rewarded with a tennis ball and a play stage when they find Japanese knotweed. The more exciting the play stage, the more they love their work.

What do the dogs do on their days off?

On their days off the boys will have a couple of hours of training, and a good run around in the field chasing the ball. They also enjoy the occasional treat or outing to the Thames for a swim and a long nap afterwards.

Have you ever seen the dogs reveal a surprising amount of knotweed or make a discovery in an unexpected place?

On a search, Mack indicated on a patch of grass in the middle of an undisturbed area. The area was then investigated and a small piece of rhizome was found in the ground that wouldn’t have been noticeable without the dogs.

You travel all over the country with Mick, Mack and Buddy – you must have had some scenic pit stops and days out?

I try to stop with the dogs wherever I can. I usually find parks and footpaths to go for a walk so they can relax after their work. Their favourite place so far has been a day out on Brighton beach in the summer. This was their first time on the beach and they spent the day chasing each other in the sea and relaxing in the sun, a well earned treat after working so hard.

Our detection dog service is available in most regions of England and Wales. More information about the service can be found here.

 

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