Over the past 10 years I have given many lectures and seminars throughout North America, and have found that there are many differences in how law enforcement agencies run their K9 units. However there is one common factor with the majority of the agencies that I have been to. Budget constraints almost always hit the dog section of any department before any other section. Both in the United States and in Canada this holds true. This restraint has a direct effect on the officers within the section, their abilities to perform successfully on the street as well as the safety of both the dog handlers, and the line officers they support.
The dog section of the police department in many cases is run by an administration that is new to the concept of dogs. Particularly in this day and age, new dog sections are starting up and many departments have no previous experience with dogs.
Even those departments that have started up dog sections in the last five to ten years are still being administrated by officers who have no experience in K9. This brings to light many difficulties in running a section, starting with training.
Recently an officer contacted me as he had been having a problem with his dog. He sent me a video to view, and after giving him some recommendations, I also stated my doubts as to whether the dog would even be street workable. His department purchased the dog and sent it to a training facility to train, permitting the officer to train with the dog for a short time on a handlers course.
This is a very common method used by administrators in the United States in order to cut costs. They state in almost every case, that they cannot afford to send the officer away on a twelve to sixteen week training program in order to train, as they cannot have an officer off the road for that period of time.
The problems with this type of an operation are numerous and all too common. In this case, the officer depended on the training facility to test his dog for its abilities as a police dog, and then to train the dog for that purpose. A substantial amount of money was paid to the company to do that. The facility tested the dog, subsequently trained the dog, and then put the handler through a short training program to teach him how to handle the dog.
The team hit the streets, and were having problems almost immediately. When I finally got a video of the team sent to me, it became quite obvious that the dog was not capable of handling itself on the street. The officer that was handling the dog had never worked a dog before, and as a result, had to trust in the judgment of the facility that was hired to evaluate and train him. He had no concept of how to work out the problems in his dog, as he had not been through a complete training program that taught him how to actually train the dog. He had only been instructed on the concepts of how to handle an already trained dog.
The dog worked a year on the street, but never made contact with any suspects, although his tracking ability was excellent, and this caused the handler a lot of concern. He finally contacted me one day and explained that he had just had situation occur which he felt was quite serious.
He had responded to an alarm, and it was determined that a suspect was still inside the building. He released his dog to located the suspect, and the dog failed him entirely. The dog literally ran out of the building, leaving the officer to tackle the suspect on his own. At this point the officer made a decision to go back to his administration and advise them that the dog was not workable. The problem was that he was concerned that after all the work that had been put into starting a program, the administration would shut the program down. This is not an uncommon situation.
It had been determined by the agency that they were in need of a dog section. They then decided on what they felt was the most cost effective way of implementing that system, and then went through the program as I described. The implementation of the program was done in such a way that the officer would be away from the department for a limited time. As such, the agency felt it was getting the best value for its dollar. The officer at tended a three week was away for a limited time, and came back with a completely trained dog, which under normal circumstances would have taken the officer away from the department for a twelve to fourteen week period.
This method of marketing police dogs to agencies by various facilities has been a boom to private agencies. If we sit back and analyze what occurs once the K9 team returns to its department, we find that it is not the value for the dollar we thought it was.
Consider the following:
The dogs widely sold throughout North America are often imported from overseas suppliers by agencies who are in the business of selling police dogs to North American law enforcement programs. When the dog arrives in the United States or Canada, the purchaser has no real knowledge of the previous history of the animal.
The purchaser has a need too put out the product as soon as possible. The need for police dogs is so great, that the agencies often locate, train, and supply dogs as quickly as possible. Fortunately many companies are reputable and put the proper time and training into the dogs.
Once the dog is ready, the police department then sends a candidate officer for training. Often the officer is chosen because he has exhibited the most interest in the program, or because he is a high producer on the street. These qualifications do not always make a good dog handler. Although the desire to become a handler might be there, the officer might not have the type of personality to become a good handler. Only an experienced dog trainer will be able to assist in making that judgment.
The officer who is sent on a short program is only given the minimum amount of training required to handle the dog. Through no fault of the training agency, he is only given a small portion of the training he really requires due to time constraints placed upon him. Out of exigency the officer can only be taught basic handling skills. There is not enough time to teach the officer how to train the dog. Any experienced officer knows that you cannot expect to work a dog without continued training.
Each dog has its own distinct personality. Some will be more difficult to train than others, and each will have its own aptitude. Some dogs will learn to challenge the handlers direction, others will ignore the officers commands, and training problems will begin to arise. The dog may simply become confused with a specific training problem that the handler cannot seem to correct. These problems are not the fault of the officer or the training agency. They are a direct result of the officer being inadequately instructed in the art of dog training.
There is a distinct difference between training a dog and handling a dog. You can handle a well trained dog by giving it appropriate direction and working with the animal. However, you cannot train a dog by simply learning how to handle it.
A good dog handler must understand how his dog thinks and how to read and understand his canine behavior language. He must have a full understanding of how he can communicate with his dog, and that the communication is a two way street. This is a pre-condition to the officers street survival training. Everything the dog does tells the officer what the situation is. Subtle body movements can indicate imminent danger to the well trained officer. The only way to properly learn the skills required to communicate with his partner adequately is for the officer to train the dog from the start.
The officer needs to learn how to properly select an untrained dog. He then learns to temperament test the dog for law enforcement use, and how to properly train him. Upon completion of a full program of training the officer then has the ability to work on most problems that arise in the dogs performance without having to return to the agency where the dog was originally purchased from.
If the officer starts to encounter training problems with his dog, the only recourse that may agencies have is to return the dog team to the training agency for more training. The agency that sold the dog has qualified trainers that can work out the problems with the dog and then return the team back to duty. This is not productive or cost effective in the long run, and is dangerous for the officer and dog involved.
This is a long term savings and provides for teams that are far superior on the street. This also permits the officer the advantage of receiving appropriate street survival training that is crucial to a K9 team. I cannot stress enough the need for full and proper training that includes street survival techniques. A working team that is successful will be pulled in on more bandits with weapons, and be at a higher risk simply because of its success rate. As such it is reprehensible to deny them appropriate training.
In short, if you are going to use a private vendor, then I would recommend that you send your officer to the training facility for a full training program where he learns how to train a dog from the very basics. If you are purchasing a new dog to replace a dog for an experienced handler who is knowledgeable in training techniques, then a pre-trained dog with a three week familiarization program might be alright, depending on the situation. If you send a previously untrained officer on a three week program to handle a pre-trained dog however, keep in mind that you may not have the success that you expect, and you may be putting your officer at risk. Again, the facility you obtain your dogs and training from has no input as to who is sent to them for potential handlers, and they must do the best they can with whoever is sent for training. If you have a facility chosen where you would like to train, and you have no previous experience in K9, ask the people who run the facility to give you some guidelines on how to choose a handler, or have them come and assist in interviewing potential candidates. It will give your new program a far better chance for success.