Training a K-9
Because dogs are used for so many types of police and security work, the training period varies by specialty.
"It depends upon the type of training you wish to do with the dog, as well as the trainer, his skill level and methods employed," Hydrick says. "No two trainers train the same way for every task, so this time frame will vary from two to 12 weeks, or sometimes longer. It also depends on the types of training you are putting into the dog, and the dog itself."
Drug and patrol dogs usually require eight to 10 weeks of training, but "specialized training for land mine dogs takes longer," Parks points out, "and it's normally done in the country where the dog will work. The thing that drives training time is what one expects the dog to do."
He notes that some training facilities take a green dog (untrained) and match it with a green handler and put them through school together. "Basically, the green handler is training the green dog," Parks says. "Doing it that way, the time to train a drug dog, for instance, can be as much as 16 weeks."
When departments do their own dog and handler training, there are many products on the market to help and many suppliers. Kevin Howard, general manager for Ray Allen Manufacturing Co. offers some advice in making a good selection.
"There are two factors which are most important in the purchase of training equipment: the quality of the equipment and knowledge of the sales staff to assure the right product is sold for the right job," he says. "So much of the K-9 training process has inherent dangers. After all, a lot of the training involves people being bitten by dogs. So, if the protection equipment is of poor quality or workmanship, injuries can occur. Along with that, if the equipment is not used in the manner in which it was designed, injury or a failed training scenario may occur."
Howard reminds departments to consider customer service, availability and price when selecting K-9 training and support equipment. As to price, "There's an old adage that states 'You get what you pay for!,' and in K-9 training equipment, that is so true," he notes. "Quality equipment is expensive, but the protection it affords and its useful life makes the purchase price worth it. When it comes to training K-9s, proper training and decoy protection has tremendous value."
Bruce Koffler, director of Securesearch Inc., agrees a supplier's experience and knowledge are very important. His company offers explosive and pseudo-drug simulant marking pens which deposit a trace sample used in dog training. "For training products, make sure the manufacturer/supplier is reputable and has an established history with the products, checked by several references," he advises.
"For both drugs and explosives, I would suggest dogs be trained and tested on trace and bulk amounts of drugs and explosives, whenever possible. Training with breakdown (chemical deterioration) or precursor products (chemicals used in manufacture or intermediate stages) or both, also would be a good idea, as long as the products are not toxic to the canine."
Handlers have lots to learn
"Our dogs come to us with some training done in their country of origin, so the handler needs to know about 15 commands in the language the dog is used to," Drexler says. "We send handlers a language/command tape three weeks before they arrive for training with us."
Handler lessons include dog health and hygiene, proper foods and nutrition, reward techniques, obedience matters and the complexity of search situations. Each school considered for training will give a course list corresponding to the types of work a dog is to perform.
"If someone has never worked with a dog, we tell them things they might not have thought about," Drexler explains. "For instance, the handler can't smoke or have nicotine on his hands or the dog will hit on ashtrays. Perfume or aftershave lotion will interfere with scents used on the training aids. There's a proper way to load a dog into vehicles so you don't crush the tails. These little things can be as important to overall success as obedience training on and off leash, building search, scouting, handler protection, etc. At our school, we make the handlers take a written test. If they don't achieve 70 percent, they're not certified."