Last year I got a call asking if I would consider a dog of absolutely no known heritage for anti-poaching. My first reaction was reluctance as, while we would much prefer to use shelter dogs for ALL the work we do, it is often not so straightforward. When dealing with an unknown quantity, the chances of having the extremely high levels of drive and focus seem very low, and the thought of "rejecting" a dog as a working prospect once you have got to know them seems to much to bear. The person on the other end of the phone was quite adamant that this dog just "had it", and so Rhino came from CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare) to join the Green Dogs team.
First off, he was named Rhino as this was the project he was destined for, and it just stuck. It actually suits him as he approaches life like a Rhino in a flat out charge. No beating about the bush, Rhino was (and still is) a total hooligan. He adores everyone and likes to show this in as physical a way as is possible. With the working dogs, we neither expect nor encourage "pet manners" as they tend to look too much to the handler for guidance in what to do, and we prefer quite the opposite in the bush. If we knew where the poachers had gone, we would not need the dog in the first place. Self-reliance (and an assumption that their handler is a lovable idiot) is essential in dogs working in the bush.
After a short period of wavering about whether or not Rhino would in fact make the grade, I came to the resounding conclusion that he would. After one breakthrough training session, he just suddenly "got" the game of finding whoever was hiding from him. He is a super little dog with a heart of gold and dewclaws like meat hooks.
The training is, quite literally, all fun and games, but the goal remains serious. Rhinos are being poached at an alarming rate and it is time for Rhino to go to work. He has been called out in training to work real problems with poaching incidents, and soon will be moving on to a permanent post working daily in anti-poaching. We will miss having Rhino The Relentless causing havoc, but will be following up on him regularly and have every faith in him that he will every game of hide and seek he plays with poachers. They might be able to run, but there will be no hiding.