The best from man's best friend

Achieving optimum performance of detector dog teams and exploring tactics for survival in police canine


     A SWGDOG presentation slide explains: "The bottom line is that you will find outstanding detector dogs of every possible combination of sex, breed, color, size, temperament, training length, reward type, reward system, alert used, search method and aids employed.

     "The focus, in the end, should be on how a team performs after initial training, during documented maintenance training and upon annual re-certifications following consensus best practices to allow comparison with other teams."

     The ultimate goal is that organizations will adopt the consensus-based guidelines and continue to follow them so the overall performance of detector dogs will be improved nationwide and internationally, Furton says. And not only will their performance improve, their reliability and courtroom acceptance will improve as well.

     SWGDOG is funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The work of other working groups, typically funded by either the NIJ or the FBI, has led to the establishment of national accreditation bodies.

     The same could happen with SWGDOG. Other steps of the continuous process then would include:

  • Independent body accredits certificate-granting agencies/organizations whose own certification guidelines meet or exceed consensus best practices.
  • Accredited certificate-granting agencies/organizations carry out unbiased certifications using reliable source of odor samples/proficiency tests and continue to issue their own certificates.
  • Annual recertifications are issued.

     Whether or not national accreditation based on the guidelines will happen in canine remains to be seen.

Uniform canine standards
     Earlier this year, the Canine Detection Improvement Act of 2007 was introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), ranking member, and Rep. Chris Carney (D-PA), chairman of the Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight joined with Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Ranking Member Peter T. King (R-NY).

     The Canine Detection Improvement Act establishes standards for canine detection teams as well as an accreditation process "to assure federal, state, local and tribal authorities that the dog they look to rely on to help defend the homeland can get the job done." It also addresses the shortage of trained canine detection teams.

     "This law will build upon the success of SWGDOG in order to ensure the proper standards for voluntary certification are applied and maintained," Carney said in a statement introducing the bill.

     The establishment of an accreditation board would ensure proper certification standards. The board would consist of experts in the field of canine training and explosives detection from federal and state agencies, universities, and other research organizations and the private sector, and be modeled after SWGDOG's executive board.

     The board would also maintain a public list of accredited entities upon which other agencies, federal, state and local can rely on for qualified canines. "The aim of this board is to reduce misrepresentative, fraudulent or otherwise improper certification of dogs and their training organizations, but ultimately the board will ensure public safety and the safety of law enforcement," Carney said.

     He noted that since 9/11, there have not been enough trained dogs to meet the demand for explosive detection and there have been fraudulent operations and inadequately trained canines and canine handlers have been used. Carney gave the example of a case in which a Virginia man was hired to protect several government buildings. In multiple tests his dogs failed to detect 50 pounds of dynamite, 50 pounds of TNT, or 15 pounds of C4.

     The bill directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to coordinate all training programs within the department, including research and development of new canine training methods.

     Section 2002 of the bill directs the Secretary to increase domestically bred canines used by the department, and encourages the use of universities, private and non-profit organizations to accomplish this. The section also directs the Secretary to work with public and private entities to not only encourage the use of domestic-bred canines, but to consolidate canine procurement wherever possible to reduce cost.

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