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Border Collies vs. Bacteria

May 27, 2014

Could border collies help clean up beaches?



Bacteria-busting border collies. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A border collie patrols a Lake Michigan beach. (Elizabeth Alm)

A border collie patrols a Lake Michigan beach. (Elizabeth Alm)

Visit just about any public beach and you’ll find it overrun with sea gulls. The birds contaminate beaches with bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. But could an army of border collies help chase them off? Central Michigan University microbiologist Elizabeth Alm and her team recently tested the idea.

ELIZABETH ALM (Central Michigan University):

The border collies are really smart, and so they can be trained to specific types of birds. When the dogs are running at the gulls, the gulls will fly up into the air and generally, they’ll move off to some other location.


Her team had the dogs patrol the shores of Lake Michigan during the summer. Gull numbers dropped by 95% on these beaches. What’s more, when the border collies were deployed early enough in the season, fecal bacteria never had a chance to gain a foothold. Alm thinks the dogs could serve as effective gull deterrents on any public beach. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.