Going to the Dogs

In August, Joey Franco, the golf course superintendent at Brookstone Golf and Country Club in Acworth, Ga., realized things were a little out of control. “In 2012, we had 50 to 70 geese on the course, but the population grew to 250 to 300 this year,” he says. “It was affecting play, they were eating the grass, they were aggressive with children around the clubhouse, and the deposits created a mess.”

So he did what more and more superintendents are doing: call in the dog patrol. In Brookstone’s case, that meant the Geese Police. The Howell, N.J.-based company with 14 offices in 12 states employs border collies to harass geese, convincing them that they should move along to a new home. “We didn’t want to harm the geese,” Franco says, “Just deter them.”

Just a few weeks later, Franco reports that the goose problem is under control. “Now I see maybe four or five on the course,” he says. “We were overwhelmed by the difference the first week.”

Career in Harassment
The founder and president of the Geese Police is David Marcks, who came up with the idea of using border collies in 1986 when he was a golf course superintendent. “I had tried sprays, pyrotechnics, flags, fences, everything to get rid of the geese on my course,” he says. “Then one day, I was standing in a bookstore and saw a picture of a border collie, which I didn’t even know was a breed. It was the same type of dog that used to run the cows and bulls at a Black Angus farm I had worked on. I figured if a dog could move a 2,000-pound bull, it could move a goose. I bought my first dog, Tac. After six weeks, the geese were off my course, but Tac didn’t have anything to do, which created some problems. So I took her to a neighboring course to chase geese, then another superintendent asked about her. I started waking up early to visit other courses, and the business took off from there.”

According to Marcks, border collies are the best breed for goose control because they were bred to herd. “Their chase behavior is based on gathering,” he says. “It’s the only dog that uses a wolf-like glance. There’s no barking and carrying on, it’s more like stalking. Because of the posture, geese see them like a natural predator, such as a coyote. Other dogs, they’ll fly away, but they come right back.”

Marcks’ initial experience with Tac has him advising courses not to purchase their own dog. Once the geese were gone from his course, Tac had very little to do. “I left her in my office for 20 minutes, and when I got back, she had eaten my computer and three sets of computer cable,” he recalls.
In addition to boredom, Marcks says that dogs that just hang around one course get lazy after being fed and pampered by the members. If a course buys a dog and then the superintendent changes jobs, it creates problems because the superintendent and his or her family are attached to the dog.

California Collies
Across the country in Auburn, Calif., Jane Brogan, co-owner of Dog and Whistle Goose Control agrees with Marcks on the border collie’s natural superiority in chasing geese, but differs on courses buying their own dog. “If they play ball with the dog and keep it busy, it will work,” she says. “The dog has to go home with someone at night and be part of the family. They can be wonderfully loving dogs.”

Brogan and her husband, Brett, got into the business by fostering border collies for a rescue organization. She cautions that not every border collie is ideal for the job. “Of the 300 or so dogs that we have fostered, we have identified maybe 20 to 30 that have the high drive needed for this,” she says. “The best ones are the ones that will jump into the water and chase the geese. If they won’t do that, they’re only doing half the job.”
To keep the geese guessing, Brogan visits courses at all hours. “We try to go at different times to surprise the geese,” she says. “If you always go the same time, the geese will figure it out. We even laser haze them at night so they won’t overnight on the ponds.”

Larry Johnson, the golf course superintendent for Northridge Country Club in Sacramento, Calif., turned to Dog and Whistle after his border collie passed away. “My dog, Gertie, used to run beside my cart all day,” he says. “If she got tired, she’s hop in the cart and ride for a while. She went to work with me every day.”

After the loss of Gertie, the geese quickly discovered that the course was open for business. A new guard was needed, and the course came up with a creative solution for housing him.

“We asked the members who live on the course if they would be interested in providing a home for the dog,” Johnson says. The course purchased the new border collie, Liam, and pays for the dog’s food, medical care, and other expenses. The Brogans interviewed the couple and trained them on what the dog needed to do. Now, Liam’s handlers run him around the course seven days a week.

“It has worked out very well,” Johnson says. “The dog is real friendly, and chasing geese gives it something to do. Plus, the geese know that this isn’t a safe place to call home.”

Judy Kenninger is a freelance journalist who covers resort real estate, golf, travel and recreation.

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