DNR turning to K9s in battle against zebra mussels (video)

PRIOR LAKE, Minn. — At first, it appeared Shelby might be a bit off course.

The zebra mussels-sniffing K9 for the Minnesota DNR jumped with excitement when she got behind the motor of a boat being used for this K9-mussels-finding demonstration.

And that’s a good thing — such a change in behavior lets her handler, conservation officer Brent Grewe, know that something might be up.

Just moments earlier, Grewe had stashed a small metal box containing several zebra mussels up towards the middle of the boat, under and behind the wheel of the boat trailer. Still, after a trip around the boat/trailer, Shelby again got especially excited at the rear of the boat.

Ah, the wind.

There was just enough of a breeze Thursday at the boat access on Prior Lake in the Twin Cities to waft the scent of the mussels behind the boat and trailer. Shelby was all over it, and before long, the German shorthair had worked her way up to the box of mussels, immediately sitting to indicate the find, tail wagging.

“She used the wind to her advantage,” Grewe said of the effort, which still only took less than a minute. And even if she hadn’t found the box, her behavior would have been enough for the CO to take it from there.

“We run the dog around the boat and see if there’s a change in their behavior, and if there is, we take a closer look,” Grewe said.

“It’s just another tool,” Grewe said of the addition of K9s in the effort to detect zebra mussels on boats, motors and trailers. “It helps a lot with inspections. It’s amazing how fast they typically find it. They (zebra mussels) can be small and difficult to see. Dogs are a great supplement.”

Shelby and another dog just completed training and were certified in zebra mussels detection on April 30, Grewe said — just in time for the Minnesota fishing opener May 13. They join two veteran dogs that, according to Grewe, have been on the zebra mussels-detection force for about five years.

“There will still be inspectors at boat launches,” Grewe said. “And we may use her (Shelby) on road checks as well.”

According to Grewe, the hope is that the DNR will continue to grow the program “as time and money allows.” He and others on hand from the DNR on Thursday also stressed that the main responsibility in the battle against zebra mussels and aquatic invasive species in Minnesota still lies with boaters and anglers.

“It (the K9 program) is a great tool to have, but we still need the public’s help — that they’re making sure their equipment is clean,” said Keegan Lund, invasive species specialist with the DNR.

While many might equate German Shepherds with K9s, when it comes to, say, zebra mussels detection, German shorthairs are ideal.

“The dog has to have a very strong drive for reward,” said Grewe, who covers the Minnetonka area.

And Shelby’s reward? Nothing more than a run-of-the-mill doggy toy — a small ball attached to a short tugging strap. But she couldn’t get enough of it Thursday, carrying it in her mouth as she proudly trotted around the boat after finding the mussels and getting her prize.

“When she finds zebra mussels, she gets rewarded with the ball,” Grewe said of Shelby, who along with being his partner on zebra mussels detail, doubles as the Grewe family dog.

“It’s a fun game for her.”

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