PEPPER the bull terrier was born on January 4, 2017. Specially chosen by owner Adrian Wilkins, the little cute, mischievous puppy had no idea what an exciting life lay in store for her.
We chatted to Adrian about training, and now working, with the clever and adaptable Pepper, the anti poaching dog:
“I wanted to go for a bull terrier because a large part of my work is proactive defence and BTs have an intimidating look and reputation. Once I had decided on the breed of dog that I wanted to go with, I researched the top breeders and then approached them firstly for their advice on whether they felt my choice was appropriate for the application and environment, and then placed my order. I have owned 7 BT’s before so know them well, but this was a totally different, so I sought as much input as I could get. I used Shodan Bull Terriers to breed her and her Dad is the SA Champion Ceasar.
My philosophy is to maintain an active presence on the reserve and hopefully my presence plus a breed of dog that is feared will make poachers consider their options. Also I need a breed tough enough but also compact enough to be able to fit into vehicles and be hauled up into tree-based observation platforms.
She has proven to be very good at tracking and trailing too. I didn’t get her as a front-line tracker but I think I underestimated the breed’s ability in this regard.
Firstly I developed a bond of trust and respect. I used Mike Ritland’s book Team Dog [available from Exclusive Books] as a large part of my training process. It is based on ‘command and control’ – so you first earn the dog’s trust and let it know that you are in charge. That gives you command of the animal and the situation. Once you have that, you can then control. The command bit does not involve any cruelty, it is simply letting the dog know through persistent reinforcement that I set the boundaries and the rules of what is allowed, where she can sit, how to behave etc.
Then there was all of the time that we spend together which exposes her to all sorts of different scenarios, day and night. The more time you invest in the animal, the more they learn, the more you get out. From early on I would take her in an open vehicle into herds of buffalo, elephant, etc. and let her sit right next to me and reassure her as they came closer that it was okay. I also controlled her so that she couldn’t leap and I could tell her not to growl or bark. In this way, she could learn that everything was okay and also what to do and what not to do around big animals. This then gradually transferred to similar situations on foot and sleeping out in the bush.
Tracking training started with a sausage on a string being dragged around the garden and little treats along the way for her to find as she followed the trail. So that was all fun. Then it progressed to longer routes, less treats along the way but lots of praise at the end and then tracking people over longer and increasingly confusing routes out in the bush. The clever one here is the animal, I just create the parameters to steer her talents in a direction which is fun for her but beneficial to myself, the rhino and the reserve.
On patrol, Pepper acts as a visual warning to anyone out there or passing information to poachers that we are active and pretty menacing. So a lot of our work is as a visual and conspicuous deterrent. The fact that we patrol through remote sections of the bush means that intruders will also be wondering when we are going to appear and thereby make them feel uncomfortable in my section. Pepper and I also sleep out in the bush and do not return to camp for several days so that anyone who shouldn’t be there has to contend with us being present, always watching and listening.
She also provides a lot of protection for me. Our greatest danger is from the dangerous game in the areas that we operate in. We are far more likely to get killed by a lion, buffalo or elephant than by a poacher, so she is invaluable to me with her superior senses at forewarning me of danger lurking ahead.
We have had a number of arrests out here where it was revealed later that poachers had been moving into our area, had become aware of our presence, and then tried to get away and run straight into our main tactical teams. So it’s a very successful formula but Pepper and I do the grunt work and leave the heroics up to others!
Probably most importantly, she is just wonderful company for me. I just love this breed. Their reputation precedes them, which is unfair, because they are very friendly, loving and dear animals but in my case, their reputation plays to my advantage. I know too that if things go pear-shaped, I would trust her power and spirit to defend me to a greater extent than just about any other breed. It is an inherent trait of the breed. You get the best out of them when you love and care for them and invest time in developing their unsung talents. We all know that BTs have the power to brawl and there is nothing new about trying to prove that.
I hope that any people interested in acquiring a BT will consider a rescue dog from Adorabull Terrier Rescue And Rehab or similar rescues.”
For more info on adopting a bull terrier, contact Adora-Bull Terrier Rescue and Rehabilitation, a non-profit, pro-life rescue organisation facilitating the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of bull terriers countrywide, based in Vereeniging: