Dogs may take their job as man's best friend very seriously, but for one group of dogs in Australia, they take their official role as protector of the 'fairy' penguins to the next level.
Warrnambool, on the coast of southern Australia is a small town, but it’s become the centre of one of the world’s most interesting – and adorable – conservation efforts, which has now been turned into a film, Oddball & the Penguins.
A little colony little or 'fairy' penguins, the smallest of penguin species, came close to being wiped out from the Island in the mid 2000s, when local foxes began swimming out from the mainland to hunt them.
That's when a pair of unlikely heroes stepped in – a local chicken farmer and his maremma sheepdog, Oddball, who was trained to guard the penguins and ward off unwelcome predators.
Oddball has long since retired now, but the conservation project he inspired still runs as a public-funded charity today with the help of dogs Eudy and Tula.
But Eudy and Tula, who live on Middle Island during the penguins’ breeding season, are now getting older and so the City Council’s Manager of Tourism Services, Peter Abbott, is now working with a new recruit, puppy Amor, who's training has been paid for by the public.
Chickens play an important role in helping train up the young dog before he meets the Island's famous penguins and training takes about 18 months.
“The first week Amor arrived was about allowing him to settle into his new home at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village," says Peter.
“We took him over to Middle Island quite early to allow him to see the island. It was only a day visit but everything for a puppy is interesting. He looked at the waves around the island and stood guard waiting for it to sweep through. Thankfully we picked him up before it hit, as he would have been swept end over end with his little legs not long enough to touch the bottom!
So what's Amor like?
"Amor is a very playful puppy and so we have to be very careful in the way we train him and get him exposed to chickens.
"His first night in his paddock was a bit scary for him as he got to know the sounds of the paddock and his chickens. He sleeps in the same shed as the chickens so he hears them all night.
"It's all part of getting him to know that they are his animals to live with and protect. As he is still very puppy- like. We're supervising his interaction with chickens to start with so he can run around with them whilst we're there but he still wants to run through the chickens scaring them as he finds that very exciting!
"We correct him with growling at him until he stops. Over time he will learn what is acceptable and what is not.
" Eudy and Tula were slowly introduced to Amor to make sure they wouldnt see him as a threat. Thankfully they have bonded well and the old girls are also helping train Amor.
"Amor's a lot more playful than the old girls so he often tries to play fight with them. They quickly give him a growl or a nip to correct him – he stops for a few seconds – then starts playing again. The old girls will also make sure Amor knows the chickens are him friends and will protect them from Amors playful nature.”
And now he has an exciting future in sight.
"We plan to start taking him back to Middle Island in September for day visits. When we count and weigh penguins we place them in a cloth bag, so we will start giving Amor the bags to get the penguin smells into his nose.
"He will then be brought along for a penguin count and asked to sit next to the volunteers as they conduct the count. Slowly Amor will over time learn that the penguins on the island are normal and he won’t want to take any interest in them. That’s the plan anyway!”
And we wish him all the best of luck!