Woof #1: Here's a genuinely interesting piece of research I heard about on my iPod podcast from BBC Radio 4.
Scientists in New South Wales, Australia, have done some research in several conservation areas and discovered that dog-walkers, walking dogs on leash, may have caused a reduction in birdlife of up to 41%. The lead scientist, Dr. Peter Banks, sounded remarkably level-headed even as he said this: "The birds were clearly showing an aversion to dogs - they clearly perceived dogs as a potential predator."
The team did some variable eliminations as well: single and pairs of human walkers did disturb birds but not to the same extent as humans with dogs. My only pondering in this is whether it is the combination of humans, dogs, and possibly leashes that causes the disturbance. For example, would dogs off-leash produce the same results (or worse)? And how do you control for natural canine and feline predators longitudinally?
Not trying to debunk the data, but I'm curious as to whether there are any other predators still extant in these conservation areas or if dogs and humans are sufficiently new or supplemental to an eco-system that they produce this shock effect on bird-numbers? as a new entrant fox population might, for example?
While I would never run our dogs free, as an example, in a peregrine falcon nesting site, my take is generally that well-trained bird-dogs also keep the birds they encounter 'wild' (especially in the absence of other man-managed predators). Nevertheless as the author of the study states: "We hope that this information will be useful when people are weighing up decisions about access by people and by people with their dogs."
Woof #2: Annie has some interesting observations on what it's like to walk a Labrador down the street in Ulan Bataar, Mongolia. Nobody blinks an eye at a camel on a lead.