COLUMBUS, Ohio - The three Canada geese resting on the placid water began honking in alarm: Predators, they warned one another.
Two border collies approached stealthily, their heads lowered and eyes locked on the objects of their herding instincts.
"Come-bye," Pat Lee directed one of his dogs, sending him sprinting clockwise around the pond as the geese began to swim.
"Away," he told the other, who took off to confront the geese from the opposite direction.
Suddenly trapped in a corner of the pond, the geese felt threatened enough to fly away and out of sight.
Lee calls the process "educating the geese." The Westerville Community Center, they should know, is not a safe residence.
"That'll do here," he said to Dixie and Cutter, using another call for herding sheep -- and now geese.
Last year, hundreds of geese lived around the recreation center.
This spring, Randy Auler, director of Westerville Parks and Recreation, has counted a maximum of eight since the city hired Lee's business, Go Geese Go, with two people and five dogs.
Dogs, which have proved themselves effectively scary in places such as Central Park in New York and the lake beaches of Chicago, represent a type of goose-fighting ammunition recommended by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (along with shell crackers and propane cannons).
"The whole idea behind harassment is to make those geese feel so uncomfortable in an area that they don't want to be there," said Gary Ludwig, a wildlife biologist for the Division of Wildlife.
"That fear of a predator, that eye contact with the dog -- that's what really unnerves geese."
March marked the start of mating season, when the division's central Ohio office typically receives about 180 complaints of "goose conflicts."
A gander, trying to protect his mate sitting on her nest, sometimes flies directly at people, hissing and trying to strike them with his feet and wings.
Hunting season for geese starts in September but not within the city, where geese have found comfortable homes near office buildings, apartment complexes and other places where developers have created ponds as scenic lunch spots.
"What they really need to do is build something really nasty," Lee said. "You give them manicured grass, and you give them a clear line of sight so they see there are no predators around -- and it's goose heaven right there."
Lee became obsessed with scare tactics in 2000, when bottle rockets and actual wild-goose chases failed to deter the birds from taking over his backyard pond in Pataskala.
Learning about the use of herding dogs, he found a solution to his problem -- and an idea for a business that has grown to include 45 clients.
A few other Columbus-area companies also use dogs as goose fighters, each with its own plan of attack.
Lee's dogs stalk the geese slowly and silently, not wanting the herding game to end.
Meanwhile, Fred Buxton's Labrador retriever, his partner at Duck Duck Goose, starts barking on the drive to the property, then sprints directly at the geese when given the chance.
"I've seen as many as 1,000 geese, where it looked like someone took a goose pepper shaker and just shook them out everywhere," he said. "I let my dog out, and ... he ran them clear off.
"I was kind of upset because I got some new pyrotechnics and I didn't get to use them."
The Wildlife Control Co., which also handles other animal problems, owns three dogs, but owner Dick Shearer also likes to repel geese with fireworks or barriers he installs.
"Handling Canada geese is kind of like going to war," he said. "If you only use one tactic, you're probably going to fail."
Lee's war on geese can make for 12-hour workdays as he visits properties twice a day, six days a week.
He wouldn't disclose his rates, which are based on the time and "infestation level" of the property.
Westerville, Auler said, pays a monthly fee of $750 a property in hopes of alleviating residents' No.1 complaint to the department: goose poop.
On Lee's rounds last week, he visited a goose-free office building in Dublin where, before his company was hired, the mess required that the sidewalks be power-washed every morning.
Geese were also absent at a nearby medical office, where employees had been inadvertently tracking the toxic droppings inside. During his first year there, Lee found 17 nests on the property.
Property owners who have tried other goose deterrents can apply for a state permit to destroy nests or shake the eggs inside. (The mother will continue to sit on the nest, not realizing that the eggs won't hatch.)
And, when all else fails, the Department of Natural Resources also issues permits allowing adult geese to be captured and euthanized.
For now, though, Lee and his dogs are working to prevent the birds from building a nest in the first place.
Some geese immediately recognized them as a threat, honking as soon as they saw Lee's familiar white SUV pull up to a Dublin office building last week. They flew away when he walked behind the car to let
the dogs out.
Others put up a good fight, scrambling to rebuild nests between Lee's two daily visits and, on the day that the dogs stay home, turning the property into "goose party central," Lee said.
At Hoff Woods Park in Westerville, the dogs had scared several geese out of the pond when, a few minutes later, an emboldened goose returned to make another landing on the water.
"Get in there, Dixie!" called Lee, sending the dogs into the pond.
"Walk up! Good girl!"
The goose led his chasers in a 50-yard swim before again flying away, apparently feeling defeated.
"That's what we love to see," he said. "The geese can only take so much pressure."