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


     The following section, Section 2003, is a grant program to further encourage development and growth of canine breeds best suited for detection.

     In summary, Ranking Member King said in a press release, "Properly trained dogs have more flexibility than technology in their ability to deter and detect threats to our homeland. Our legislation will ensure that this important homeland security tool receives the support and coordination necessary to continue the program's success."

Tactics for survival in police canine
     More than a dozen states have created their own standards for training, testing and certification. In other states, agencies typically choose standards from one of these states or an association, such as the National Police Canine Association (NPCA), the North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA), or the U.S. Police Canine Association (USPCA).

     "Once we have a standard, we train to the standard," says Terry Fleck, Ed.D., a SWGDOG member who served as a Deputy Sheriff II and canine handler from South Lake Tahoe, California, before retiring. "And once we train to the standard, we certify to the standard."

     Common among the standard-setting 14 states and associations is yearly certification.

     Training is essential for a successful canine team (dog and handler). The majority of canine teams train a minimum of 16 hours per month, or four hours a week on average. Fleck, who has a doctor of education degree in criminal justice, has polled about 17,000 canine personnel (handlers, supervisors and administrators) and found that 98 to 99 percent of them abide by this U.S. canine industry practice, which is corroborated and endorsed by canine associations.

     A canine handler and trainer for 24 years, Fleck has a unique perspective on training. He teaches students not only how to stay alive in a tactical situation but how to survive a lawsuit for excessive force that may follow two to three years later.

     He outlines three components of a successful canine training program:

  • Good dog training. When working with their dogs, police handlers today use training methods that are more positive and less stressful. Dogs are rewarded with toys or food, not punished.

     "Historically, we're pretty good at dog training," Fleck says. "We've learned well from the Europeans. We have evolved to a more operant conditioning style of training. There's always room for improvement, but I think we're doing a much better job with dog training."

  • Handler tactical training. Today there is more emphasis on tactical, or scenario-based, training.

     "As a general rule of thumb, we're not good at handler tactical training," Fleck says. "We're getting better but we have a long road to go. Historically when we taught canine handlers dog training, we inadvertently stripped them of their officer safety skills. We taught handlers to follow their dogs, which violated two basic principles in law enforcement: maintain your cover and contact/cover. You can't maintain your cover if you're following your dog, and you aren't letting one officer be the contact and another officer cover that officer for threats. In maybe the last 10 years or so, we've gotten better at including good officer safety skills, such as maintaining cover, good contact/cover, and the list goes on. Tactical training for dog handlers still needs to improve."

     USPCA President James Matarese also emphasizes that handlers and dogs must train to react to situations they would experience on patrol.

     "Once a dog sees something, he's comfortable with it, and the more we can expose the dogs to in training, the easier it is for the handler and dog to work on the street," he says.

  •      Legality training. Equally as important as good dog training and good handler tactical training is for an officer to know what he can or cannot do with the tool he's just been given, says Fleck, who teaches Canine Legal Update and Opinions Seminars in addition to several tactical seminars.  "Historically, we've been deficient with that," he says. "We're getting a little better, but I still don't see many classes out there to teach the canine handler what he can and cannot do."

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