Four Legs, a Tail and Lots of Heart

Police K-9s really are something special.

Some outside (not departmental) trainers only cover the bare basics in their handler's courses, but the three cited here do more. "We cover every aspect of how and why a dog does what he does, and the legal aspects of why the handler must do things a certain way," Hydrick says. "We also spend a great deal of time with each handler on real-world exercises, so that he knows what the dog will do, when it will act and how well the dog will do it."

Becoming a team

Most dogs and handlers "click" very fast. "This rapport between handler and dog can occur in a couple of days," Parks says. "In our experience it normally takes on the order of six to 12 months before the team (dog and handler) are really up and running at a high level. The handler knows from the training received with the dog that the dog can do its job, but it's not until the dog makes a number of finds or arrests that the handler really begins to trust the dog. As the trust builds, the performance level goes up."

Hydrick adds, "The amount of time for a dog and handler team to bond with one another depends on the dog. It's the dog that has to decide this person is someone he'll work for. On average, this takes two to four weeks."

Key to the bonding process is the handler being the one person that meets all of the dog's needs. "The handler must be the one to feed and water the dog, to clean its kennel, spend time with the dog to meet its mental and emotional needs," he says.

Consider legal issues

Drexler says if a dog is about three years old when matched with a handler, that person can expect to get seven to eight years of service from the dog. During that period, he certifies the dog and handler yearly. "It's for court purposes, so I can testify that the dog is still functioning well. I also video each dog when it leaves our facilities."

Hydrick's Cross Creek Training Academy includes class sections on case law, key court cases and admissibility of evidence. He points out, "When selecting a trainer or training facility, find out if you receive training in the legal aspects of using the dog, as well as the trainer's experience with police dogs on the street. Also, if the trainer supplies the dog, find out if the trainer is willing to come to court and testify on your behalf about the training of the dog and you, the handler."

He gives other points to consider when choosing a dog supplier and trainer, whether it's for a departmental trainer or K-9 handlers:

  • the experience level of the trainer and where he received training,
  • references from other departments,
  • type of training aids used,
  • guarantees of the dog's health and workability,
  • numbers of dogs and handlers in training at the same time,
  • amount of training a dog receives before beginning,
  • how post-training problems are handled,
  • facilities large enough and conductive to learning,
  • extra charges for remedial training and
  • availability for assistance and questions after training.
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