The Canada Goose has taken over many of America’s golf courses, with each bird depositing over 1.5 pounds of goose goo per day. The bird’s waste can damage a course’s expensively-grown and maintained grass. Worse, if a golfer has poor concentration, the timing of his swing can be disturbed by goose honking.
Kent and Gwen Kuykendall have a solution: their company – Goosemasters – raises and trains border collies to discourage the offending fowl from setting up residence at a golf course. Indeed, their company’s slogan — and I kid you not — is “Let Us Get The Flock Outta There.”
Golf Conversations: Your horse is interested in my dog, Wolfie.
Kent Kuykendall: He loves dogs. He thinks he is a dog.
KK: We got him and I trained dogs off his back. We got him from the bird dog industry. The dog handlers would ride him; the bird dog trial dogs are very fast so unless you’re young and spry you can’t keep up with them. So they hunt with them on horseback.
He blended right into our border collie training program. When we used to compete in sheep dog trials, we would travel to different fields with a packet of sheep, our dogs, and we took him along. I would ride him. He could be hauled right in the trailer with the sheep.
When we first got him, we had two other horses. And he would go and hang out at the kennel. I think he thinks he’s a dog!
GC: What’s his name?
Gwen Kuykendall: Quinn.
KK: Not to be confused with Gwen.
GC: Watch it. You’re on thin ice there, Kent.
How did you get involved with the breeding and training of border collies? And how did you get into training them for golf courses?
KK: I was born and raised on a sheep and cow farm. My dad started having border collies in the late ‘50s.
GC: Where was this?
KK: My dad started in North Dakota and then Wisconsin. I was born in Wisconsin in 1960; in 1962, we moved to Pennsylvania to an estate that had 500 acres. My dad was the shepherd of a sheep farm.
He got his first border collie in ’58 or ’59. In 1972, we moved to a farm in Kentucky and then to another farm in Ohio. I got my first border collie of my own when I was 14. I trained her and competed in sheep dog trials.
GC: So you grew up with border collies.
KK: Right. My dad was in charge of a farm that had 2000 head of sheep; they had 40,000 acres in the southwestern part of Virginia. I remember riding in the back of a pickup with my dog bringing these mobs of sheep along with the pickup. That’s how I learned to train – in a practical way.
As the years went by, I met Gwen and we kept up with the border collies. How that changed to the goose stuff … we sold our first dog to the Asheboro Country Club.
GC: When did you two sheep meet and get married?
GK: We met in Springfield, MA at a sheep show. He was working for his brother and I was showing.
GC: You were showing dogs?
GC: Oh, you were both showing sheep.
GK: Then he gave me Salt, my first border collie. I whelped her out in CT and then got my first dog, Paige.
GC: So you gave her a dog. Was that your way … instead of giving her flowers, you gave her a dog?
KK: Basically, yeah.
GC: You were working your way into her heart with a canine, you dog, you!
Nice move, there, Kent. You give them a dog, instead of chocolate.
KK: Who doesn’t like a dog?
GC: That’s right. And if she doesn’t like the dog, you know she’s not the woman for you.
GK: She’s not a keeper, right. But I fell in love with her. I got a B.S. from UConn in Animal Science, so I was an animal person anyway. And that was in ’89. I moved down here in ’88, ’89. In 1990, we sold the first dog.
GC: You guys got married in Connecticut?
GK: No, here. He was living here and I moved down here.
KK: When I met her, I was traveling the state fair circuit. My brother is a professional showman; he shows sheep. I was helping him and was living on the road. Then when I met her, I decided it was time to settle down.
GK: We started Kuykendall’s Border Collies. We sold to a service company, Geese Police out of New Jersey. After that, it just boomed.
GC: Was training the dogs for goose control your first commercial endeavor?
KK: Yes. We knew about goose control but we hadn’t gone that way. We had been really heavy into competing in sheep dog trials. I won the Purina Herding Dog of the Year in 1995 with a dog that was a son of her Paige that I gave her.
GC: Forgive me, but I can’t resist: what was the name of the son of the bitch?
KK: Bill. There’ll never be another one like him. This dog was very special; he was one of a kind. He’s kind of made a name for us in sheep dog trials. I won almost everything there is with him.
GC: Is Bill’s progeny still with us?
GK: Some of them are.
GC: Let’s get back to that call from the Asheboro Country Club. Had you ever done this type of work before?
KK: No. We knew what was going on in the industry but we hadn’t branched that way.
GC: So they called you and said, “Hey, we need a dog. These geese are crapping all over our golf course. Can you help us?”
GC: So what did you do after that?
KK: We had a dog that we knew was very interested in birds and working ducks and domestic geese. So we gave him some swimming experience which is very important. If you have a dog that won’t go in these lakes after the geese, then the birds just go in there, they put their middle feather up, and wait ‘till you leave and they come back.
GC: The middle feather???
I didn’t know birds could do that!
KK: So we learned right off the bat that swimming is a must. The border collies work so well for this application because they’re very predator-like in the manner in which they work. They use their eye, they stalk anything they’re working, they don’t bark, they’re very silent. So they come off as being like a wolf or a coyote.
GC: We used to go to the sheep dog trials down in Huntersville.We took Wolfie there once to watch the border collies herd the sheep. He took one look at all the dogs running around and said, “What the hell is this?”
KK: Animal Planet shot a story there when I won with Bill. If you can ever look up that clip…
GK: It was a very nice clip. One of the nicest clips that anyone has done on the border collie in general.
KK: One of the neatest things about the border collie is they can be a good pet … you can work cows with them … and they’ll work gently with little ducks.
GC: But let’s get back to golf and Asheboro with your first border collie that controlled geese.
KK: Was it Zach or Zeek? I’m thinking it was Zeek.
GC: Zeek, Zach. It’s all in the same neighborhood. For sure, it wasn’t Irving.
GC: How did that work? You sold him to the golf course superintendent and he lived with him?
KK: Some of the dogs live with the superintendent’s family and sometimes they build a kennel facility on the property.
GC: And Zeek-Zach at Asheboro… how long did he live there? Did it work out for the club?
KK: It was very successful. I think they used the dog for 8 years. The dogs have a pretty long career. I’ve seen them work at 14. I used a dog yesterday and she’s 10 and still getting it.
GC: The Canada Goose is the culprit who’s hanging around golf courses. But didn’t they used to stop here temporarily on their way to migrating north or south? Why did they decide to stay here permanently?
KK: The survival instinct of the Canada Goose is to find a pond with short grass leading up to it in which they can have their babies. The babies have nice, young, tender, high-protein grass that they can eat. And because the golf courses are so well-manicured, there’s an overabundance of food. The land is so clear that the predators can’t sneak up on them; they have ample time to enter the water and escape the predators.
GC: The predators are walking around with drivers and 7-irons.
KK: Canada Geese mate for life. My theory is you have a pair of geese, one of them got injured and couldn’t fly so the mate hung out with it all year long. They raised babies. Without any way for the babies to be imprinted on migrating, they just hung around with their parents for the whole season and pretty soon they have babies and they don’t migrate. They say geese increase their population by 30% annually – the non-migratory geese; they’re called “resident geese.” That’s my theory.
GC: Makes sense. When the border collie is working at the golf course, is the idea to chase the geese away 10 miles down the road and get off the golf course completely … or is it to keep them off the grass and keep them in the water?
KK: The idea is to get the geese to leave completely. It might look like the dogs are chasing them; but actually, the dogs are trying to herd them. The more predator-like a dog is, the longer the geese stay away. If they see a dog stalking them, they think, “If we don’t go someplace else, we’re gonna be supper.”
GC: Is it an ongoing problem – even if you’ve got a stalking, predator-like dog? Don’t the geese eventually come back and you have to do it all over again?
KK: They come back. That’s because of the bird’s instinct to be in their home ground. Wherever they were born, they’re instinct is to nest there.
GC: I see.
KK: That’s why they keep coming back. But if you work the birds at varying times a day … a bird leaves behind 1.5 pounds of waste every day. They also have to eat a lot. So if they’re disturbed and if they have to leave, they’re going to get hungrier and hungrier and spend more time at other environments. Also, they’re going to be a lot more suspicious about where they’re gonna build their nests.
So little by little, every year, we find that we have fewer goose nests on the properties.
GC: They want to nest near the water?
KK: Their premier nesting ground is an island.
GC: If the golf course has lakes and ponds and the neighboring areas don’t have lakes and ponds, would it make it more difficult to permanently keep them away from the golf course?
KK: It does. The surrounding properties definitely affect the difficulty of keeping the geese away. But the dogs can’t do it on their own; they have to have an intelligent handler to work them. They can’t be just turned loose on a golf course; they’ll soon get sick of it. If you let a border collie decide for himself what to do, you’d be surprised with some of the stuff they come up with.
GC: Is that right?
KK: They have to be channeled in the right direction. Just like children; if you don’t keep them focused in a certain way, they might go the wrong way.
GC: Do you specifically raise some of your puppies to be goose control dogs?
KK: We don’t know specifically; we know that some bloodlines are better or not as good. Temperament is very important because the dogs have to have the nature of a pet but also have the drive to work.
We can take a litter of puppies and if one of them doesn’t like to swim, well, he can go to a farm. We try not to make the dog unhappy with the job we’ve chosen for it. That’s what sets our business apart from others.
GC: Clearly, you two folks love your animals. You want to do right by them and place them in the right homes.
KK: And we stand behind them, too. So if we know a dog isn’t happy where it is, we’re gonna do something about it.
GC: How many puppies do you breed in a year?
GK: Maybe 2-3 litters. Probably three-quarters of those we sell for pets, agility, farm dogs, and trial dogs. The rest of them we raise to use for goat, sheep, cattle, or golf course dogs.
GC: Most of the pups you raise are sold?
GK: Most of them, as weaned puppies. We keep what we think are the best replacements for us to keep the line going.
GC: How many do you keep?
KK: We’ve got a 30-run kennel; that’s including all the breeding dogs and the dogs we’re raising to train. We probably have 6 or 8 breeding dogs.
GK: We also buy outside dogs to raise and train and finish for golf courses.
KK: We don’t have any crosses that we sell that we wouldn’t want for ourselves.
GC: You get outside dogs to have different bloodlines?
GK: Yes. There are just so many hours in a day where we can work, socialize, and bring up dogs. We have way more demand for the amount that we can do properly. It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to make a good goose dog.
GC: What’s a typical day like?
KK: She gets up at 5 and I get up at 10.
GK: It’s 12-hour days, 7 days a week. We’re checking email early in the morning, or doing paperwork. Then we come out and feed the animals, do the kennels, socialize puppies, start training, do some service work.
GC: When was the last time you took a vacation?
KK: I don’t know.
GK: We go to Connecticut – that’s where I’m from – in August. And I guess that’s our vacation.
GC: And who watches the menagerie when you’re away?
GK: Our daughter. She’s now 21 so it stays in the family.
KK: She’s out doing goose control today up in the Triad.
GC: What’s her name?
[While this conversation was taking place, my dog, Wolfie, and 5 goats were staring at each other intently, separated by a fence.]
GC: What’s with the goats over there, huffing and puffing at Wolfie?
GK: They’re mad. When they snort like that and sneeze, they’re not happy with him.
KK: They’re staking out their territory. They’re showing him who’s boss.
GC: But they don’t act this way with your border collies.
KK: They can read the dog. If you work livestock or geese with a dog that lacks confidence, they’ll buffalo him. But if you put a dog in there that is confident, they won’t even question it.
GC: They sense the weakness.
GK: Well, he’s kind of complacent.
GC: He’s a Blumenthal!
That’s my boy!
KK: In Africa, the predators and the prey share the same water hole. When the lion goes to drink, it’s drinking right next to its prey and nothing happens. But five minutes later the lion turns into the hunting mode and the gazelle all scatter. That’s what happens to geese, too. If you have a pet dog that’s paying them no attention, the geese are oblivious.
GC: Let’s say I own a golf course and I’ve got a real goose problem. I contact your company; what’s the next step?
GK: What we do first is either talk to them or correspond via email. I send them our brochure and a 3-page questionnaire. I think, too, that’s why we’re so successful. We want to know exactly what the dogs are getting into. Whether the dog will be taken home, whether it will stay at the course, how much water is on the course.
They’re not cookie cutters, they’re individuals. We really try hard to match the particular dog with the person and the facility that they’re going to. We get back the questionnaire and Kent and I analyze it. We see which dog would be the best fit for that particular course.
They send a deposit to get the process going. We send them more information to get their course ready for the dog’s arrival. A handler has to get acclimated with the commands.
GC: Do you train the handler?
GK: Some of them come here. But we realize, too, that some superintendents can’t come here so we make them a little DVD that shows how we suggest they work the dog. But with the border collie, it’s 90% instinct with this breed. They basically know the job; it’s not rocket science.
GC: Even though they may have never been to a golf course?
KK: We also travel the dogs some, too. You can’t just keep them here all the time and then one day throw them on an airplane. We take young dogs with us during the day and they get used to traveling.
Let’s say I train a dog and then Gwen works it. The first time that a dog goes from one handler to the other, it’s more difficult for him. Once he does it once, then he can change hands very easily ‘cause it’s like, “Oh, you’re just somebody else; I’m still gonna get to work.”
GC: So there’s no separation anxiety?
GK: A little bit.
GC: On your part or the dog’s part?
GK: Both. When they drive out that driveway sometimes, boy, that’s hard. But I know they’re going to a one-dog environment. These superintendents treat them like little kings and queens.
GC: And the golfers, when they see them, they’re crazy about the dog. At least, I am.
KK: Sometimes it’s a little sad because the superintendents move to a different golf course. Some of them will buy the dog and take the dog with them.
GK: The dogs know the job. You take the dog out and it’s gonna know that they have to work geese. We just put direction and control on that instinct. We teach the handlers the commands like “Come By” – which is to the left; “Way To Me” is to the right.
GC: If I went to one of your dogs here and used one of those commands, would they listen to me?
GK: Probably. Tex would.
GC: You hear that, Wolfie? Tex would listen to me!
KK: Some dogs are more suited to quickly change than others. When I was younger, my dad imported this dog that had won dog trials in Scotland. It took the dog 30 days before he would even look at a sheep. So we always recommend spending a minimum of 2 weeks just bonding to the dog, getting him to respond to the basic obedience commands.
GC: How many dogs have you sold to golf courses?
KK: We probably average 25-30 a year.
GC: And they get shipped all over the country?
GK: All over the country, yes.
GC: How does one ship a dog to, say, California from North Carolina?
GK: We get a health certification from a vet, a crate, take it up to Greensboro. We like to use Delta…
GC: You get Frequent Flier miles?
GK: No, they won’t do that!
GK: And we checked into that!
GC: Is there a problem flying dogs in the baggage hold because it’s not pressurized?
KK: There is a pressurized cargo area for such things.
GC: Ok, good.
KK: Some courses will invest a day or two by sending the superintendent down here. They stay here and we show them how to work the dog for half a day or a day. They sort of bond with the dog while they’re here and then when they get the dog home, I think it’s less stressful on the dog.
GC: How old is the dog when he’s ready to leave the nest and work at a golf course?
KK: Any time after two years old if the training is there. I don’t like to send them out before they’re two.
GK: But some of them mature really early and others don’t mature until later. So, again, it’s individualized.
KK: There’s a lot of difference in the training, too. One dog, you can get to a certain level at 30 days of training. Others, it might take you 5 months to get to that same level.
GC: When you’re training the dogs, do you have to train them individually?
GK: Oh, yeah.
GC: You can’t have 3 or 4 getting a group lesson like in golf?
GK: No. That’s why you can only take out 8 dogs in a day.
GC: How much time do you spend with each dog in a day?
GK: It depends.
KK: In the very beginning, we’re exposing them to the goats and they might be out here for 5 minutes. Then you’ll work them 10 or 15 minutes on obedience later in the day. Or socializing them. A dog will basically learn one thing a day. I’ve learned through the years that less is more.
GC: Is one sex better than another in terms of goose control?
GK: We sell both and gender makes no difference as far as quality of work; it’s personal preference.
GC: Finally, how much does a golf course border collie cost?
GK: The purchase price is dependent on the answers the buyer provides in the questionnaire. That gives us an idea about the level dog they want and how much water is on their property. Some have even bought puppies and they train them themselves. So with all of those variables, it’s hard to give you a price.
GC: Kent and Gwen, thank you for showing us your farm and your wonderful animals. We enjoyed it.
GK: Thank you for coming.