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Canine Socialization is Important

The canine academy is very important for training your partner the ins and outs of sniffing out suspects, drugs and apprehending suspects, but one of the best things that you can do is socializing in different environments.

I’m sure we have all heard of Canine Good Citizen training/certification, which in all respects is to have a well behaved canine in all environments around people and other animals.  Our working canines don’t have to be aggressive all the time and we shouldn’t have to put a muzzle on them when around people.  Just because they are working dogs, doesn’t mean that they can’t be a “Good Citizen”.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for our partner to terrify the hell out of a suspect, and hopefully comply without getting bit.  I firmly believe that from day one of training, socialization should be a big component of that training.  Taking your partner in training to the pet store, park, and through the neighborhood so there is interaction with other animals and people.  I’m not saying that they should be going up to strangers trying to get affection, but they shouldn’t necessarily be shying away from them or showing aggression either.  As you are walking, they should be paying attention to you and where you’re going, not the animals, people or smells in the area.  At least in the beginning phases of training, but that can change a little depending on what training your partner receives beyond basic/advanced obedience.

Do you think that a narcotics or explosives detection canine should be a “Good Citizen”?  I think so, and this is why.  From call to call we have no idea what we will be dealing with or where.  We could be assisting a fellow officer with a traffic stop and the vehicle is full of young kids, do you want them to be scared or even traumatized by an aggressive canine?  I hope not.  You get called to assist officers at the local bus depot; that is full of people.  You shouldn’t have to muzzle your partner to get through the crowd.  Your partner should always be under your control and not be getting aggressive until given a command to do so, but I will discuss that further shortly. 

For good public relations, police agency tend to have an open house and/or demonstration days.  This allows the public to meet officers from different divisions, such as school resource officers, detectives, SWAT and canine.  It can be a great thing for an agency, but you could be excluded or have limited participation if your partner isn’t a “Good Citizen”.  It shouldn’t matter what type of training your partner has, you should be able to walk him/her through a crown of people without a thought of harming someone.  When you’re working and have your partner at your side, most adults know not to approach, but what about that 4 year old that loves dogs and saw your partner.  That 4 year old breaks free from mom or dad and comes running to hug and kiss your partner.  If trained properly, your partner shouldn’t react to this child’s affection other than maybe giving a big wet kiss in return.

When it comes to tracking for SAR, obviously your partner must be a “Good Citizen”.  For certification for this type of work, your partner cannot show any signs of aggression towards people or other animals.

As for our partner trained to apprehend suspects, they still must be a “Good Citizen”.  Not everyone that we come into contact with is a bad guy.  Just because they are out of the cruiser with you, doesn’t mean they need to be going ballistic and trying to bite Joe Shmoe that just walked up to ask you a question.  Your partner should be sitting next to you watching, but not showing aggression unless the situation changes.  Whenever I’m training a canine, I work socialization into the training just as much as bite training.  I look at bite/apprehension training as being advanced obedience.  No matter what is going on, your partner must be obedient, especially when it comes to bite/apprehension work.  It should be like turning on and off a light switch.  If you give your partner the command to apprehend, s/he should be aggressive and going to get the suspect.  If you call him/her off, whether they have a hold of the suspect or not, they should be doing exactly that.

Back to socializing…throughout the training I will incorporate numerous bite, no bite situations, just as we do shoot, no shoot scenarios on the range.

1) I will have the decoy (helper) walk up, shake my hand and walk away;

2) I will have the decoy walk up, talk and/or shake hands and then attack;

3) decoy walks/runs up attacking.

In the attack situations, the canine obviously should react by protecting and going for the bite.  After calling off the canine, the canine should be on alert but not aggressive.  In many of the bite scenarios, I will then shake the hand of the decoy again.  It is all part of the socialization.  What happens if you’re all alone on an arrest after your partner just took someone down and your back-up is 10 minutes away?  You should be able to handcuff the suspect, help him/her to their feet and walk them back to your cruiser.  You can watch any number of police TV shows and see a canine officer holding their partner back from biting a suspect that is in handcuffs.  In my opinion, these canines need more training.  As I mentioned before, it should be like a light switch.  You give the command to apprehend (switch on), give the out command (switch off).  Yes it takes a lot of training, but we as trainers and handlers owe it to our partner, the police agency and more importantly, to the public.

Stay Safe!


About the author:

Steve Forgues started his career over 18 years ago in Arizona. Over the years, Forgues has worked contract security, police, corrections and tactical operations. Forgues has been an instructor in various disciplines since 1998, and has been working and training with canines since 2000. Forgues has also been writing for law enforcement since 2005. He is currently working as a police officer and firefighter in Pennsylvania.