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Leerburg Dog Training Blog

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

K-9 Supervisors and administrators listen up!!!

I understand that law enforcement administrators have a tough job. I’ll give em that. But, when it comes to my little part of the pond, K-9, I wonder where many of them distilled out their ideas from? Some have made some poisonous hooch!! I would think they would or at least should care about the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of their K-9 program. But, that’s just me…..looking through my narrow view as a K-9 Handler, Instructor and Judge!

So, what am I talking about here? Here is a list of things I think should improve in many many departments:
1). One and Done programs
2). Duration of Training programs
3). Maintenance training time, opportunities, and resources
4). Robbing Peter to pay Paul approach to training time
5). Continuing education….or more specifically lack of continuing education
6). Failure to educate the department on a ongoing basis about the abilities and uses of the K-9 programs.
7). Failure to demand the use of K-9 to keep personnel safe! & failure to educate first line supervisors.

These are not a complete list, but I figure I will keep this to a reasonable length. Because I know 3/4 of you K-9 guys are ADD!! (read joke here brothers I don’t want so much hate mail!).

1). One and Done

Who came up with this idea in the first place?? Yeah I know….we want to give people a chance to experience things in the department, we want to make it a career development position, or it’s just not fair to other who might want to be a K-9 handler. Or, the dog belongs to the shift and if the handler wants a different shift he/she has to give up the dog. Yep, that’s what I hear over and over. There are a few variations on the theme but in general this is it.

So, I can only say “What???!” Hey, this career field is small, specialized, and demands experience to be highly successful. That doesn’t happen in ONE K-9 partner. It takes a lot to understand what we do here. I say at least 2 years in most environments to even get a clue. This may be a little more or a little less given the intensity of the work environment. The ability to design and execute quality maintenance training is developed through repetition and experience, and education. This doesn’t happen over night. So just as your handler starts to really hit his/her stride………their dog comes up lame, or their back begins to become arthritic, or any number of maladies associated with work and working dogs. Maybe 4-5 year in, maybe 8 years in, maybe 2 years in. How is that work for the department or handler? It simply doesn’t. The handler, as he/she gets further in the craft they begin to realize that they are coming to the end. So, what next? Maybe start focusing on other things in the department, blow off education opportunities in K-9 for other things….may as well, they are gonna get the boot anyway! Handlers that love the work may not tell the administration about their dog’s diminishing capabilities, cover it up even until they have no choice……which means department members are complaining. If they see an opportunity for a position they want they may bail early to get a choice job…..can you blame them? Then the big picture…..the department simply looses the expertise developed by long term canine handlers doing their best to serve the department with skillful abilities honed over years and several partners. These people often become instructors, sometimes judges or certifying officials. They have a resume that points to their expertise……..something that protects the department in case of a civil claim. Oh, year…that law suit thing. I have noted over many many years of handling, training, judging, and certifying teams that most accidental bites, false positive indications, canine driven tactics that risk safety, are found during the first 1-2 years holding a leash. Remember…we tend to give rookies old vehicles because they are most likely to wreck em! So, with all this information how does a Chief or Sheriff go to one and done?? I’m baffled. But hey, if you are a department administrator and satisfied with mediocrity…go for it!!

2). Duration of Basic Training Programs.

I’ll start this with an experience I had recently. I educate and maintain several departments in my state. Basic Handler Courses, Instructor Courses, weekly maintenance training, advanced and tactical training. I’m retired from full time law enforcement and run training programs. A small local department had inquired about getting a dog and Basic Handler Training. Initially they were excited about it. Asked a lot of questions and then crickets. I figured, hey, they either couldn’t do it in the budget or they didn’t have the manpower to committ. It happens. Then I’m training with a local SO, who has a nice open door policy to other agencies to come train. This small agency that had kinda fallen off the earth shows up, handler and dog, to train. OK, so we are doing pretty normal stuff, nothing I would consider too hard for a dog right out of the Basic Course. Handler was proud of his dog. I was skeptical….the dog looked about 11 months. Handler says 2 years. But, no paperwork to show any age. He is fresh back from a 2 week handler course taught by non-law enforcement. Started with dope………missed everything, although to give the dog credit I saw alerts to all the aids, just that the handler didn’t. We started patrol work. Even worse, no understanding of area searches, or building searches, or tracking. In fact, the dog had NEVER been off leash during any of the Basic Handler Course. Handler had no clue that Officer Safety with a dog was even a thing. Off lead obedience…..just nothing.
I place the blame on the administration for sending the handler to a 2 week course because it was less of a commitment of man hours. The dog was misrepresented as a fully trained police dog as well. Solution? They had to send their team through an entirely new Basic Handler Course that included about 300 hours of work, academics, and testing. Simple, they started over. In the end, the dog matured, received appropriate training for the dog and handler and is a successful team on the road. The handler said after watching the dogs that were successful in our training group “I thought I had a police dog….I see that we are far from that”. But, we got him there. I can sing praises for the department for not sticking their head in the sand and stepping up to the challenge and taking care of their program….and therefore their community and their department members. Good Job!!!!!!!

But, this incident illustrates the problems in the industry and among administrators. Low bid isn’t best bid. Miracle short classes are a scam, and if it sounds too good to be true…it is. Did you ask why a vendor would train a handler and new dog in 80 hours when 6-9 weeks is normal among noted professional programs?? Didn’t you wonder why? Or, was $$$$$ the ONLY criteria? Or, did you fall to a slick sales pitch??  Something happened here.

Unfortunately, the departments that are described in #1 seem to fall into #2 as well!

3).  Maintenance training time, opportunities, and resources.

So, you have a green handler who just graduated from a Basic K-9 Handler Course.  Even if you were smart and sent your handler to an accredited course of an industry standard length (6-8 weeks or more) that handler comes out of the course no better than a rookie that just got his/her badge pinned on.  That handler needs help!!!  They must train consistently,  this “habbit” must be instilled immediatly.  The handler must have guidance so the program can develop in a safe effective manner that benefits the department.  Training groups or contract trainers fill this need.  How much training time?  Organized, directed training of about 8 hours per week.  Yes, I know that some sources say 16 per month.  But, I’m looking at the current state of affairs with multi purpose dogs.  They track, do building and area search, do detection, evidence search, and often are expected to support SWAT or ERT units!  16 hours for a green team won’t cut it.

Now I see a trend among departments to do this.  Hey so and so called in sick so we’re short.  So NO K-9 Training this week!  We need you for staffing.  Bullshit!  Call in someone else for over time!!  Yep, I said it OVERTIME!  If you are committed to a training program for K-9 you MUST support it.  In fact, K-9 training should supersede any other training or time off!  K-9 handlers should be expected to attend training and if they do not, their position should be at risk!  K-9 Training first, period.

4.) Robbing Peter to pay Paul in terms of training is also unacceptable.  So, I see this happening all the time.  “Well, you need to train with SWAT this week, so cancel K-9 training”  What???  In a SWAT environment K-9 handlers normally test their dogs’ cap[abilities.  They do not improve their dogs in that environment.  In fact they must be able to show off the capabilities they have developed that support SWAT operations!  So, you think you should steal from the training program for the dog?  Bad manager…bad manager…you get no treat!  In fact you might be inviting failures! Or here is another one I hear , “hey we got a demo for the rotary club.  You go do that instead of train for your job”.  Or any number of excuses to trade training time for any other time.  It is all wrong.  Now, the handler is also part of this program.  If your handler routinely schedules vacation or calls in sick on training days….time for a new handler.  No excuses, training is training and it must be treated with as much or more professionalism as a court subpoena!

5). Continuing education

This is not maintenance training.  This is advanced training, legal/liability issues, training theory, chalk talk and/or experiences in tactics for deployments, trends in the industry, new science which impacts training, training aids, etc.  Much of this is in the form of conferences.  I recomend conferences that are hosted by national organizations such as NPCA, NAWPDA, NNDDA etc.  These should have specific topics that support the work your program is involved in.  The national organizations tend to vet their speakers well, as they aren’t driven by the vendor dollars but by dues and and participation at events.

Another avenue for continuing education is to hire a reputable, experienced, law enforcement instructor to conduct both maintenance training and advanced training that is specifically tailored to your particular program.  This is becoming a more common option especially among departments with several teams.  It can be strong support for a well trained program that is kept within the legal boundaries and can be documented to prevent frivolous law suits.

If the department wants the K-9 Team to support SWAT there will need to be training for both the handler and the police dog.  The handler should have some form of Basic SWAT Course.  This can be many forms but really is necessary for the handler to understand how SWAT works.  Then a K-9 SWAT integration course will be a must before the team can train and then deploy with SWAT.  There should be no exceptions to this!!

6). Failure to educate the department on a ongoing basis about the abilities and uses of the K-9 programs.

Shift training at briefings on the capabilities of the program are a must!  This is just the basic stuff here.  Not every Deputy or Officer or Trooper has an idea about when to call for a police service dog team.  Ask any K-9 handler and they will tell you…..they are tired of being called to a traffic stop where the originating officer smells weed in the car.  Hey, unless you are in Colorado or Washington you already have PC for the search folks!!!  Yet, handlers are getting called out for this all the time!  But, when they have a driver in a rental without their name on the contract and a passenger they met yesterday and don’t know the city or name of the person they are visiting the handler doesn’t get a call?!?!  Education is paramount!  When to call and why for everyone in the field needs to start at the academy level.  Classes in K-9 capabilities and uses should be part of the foundations.  In field training the rookies need to spend a couple days minimum with K-9 to go to calls, see the work, and discuss it with the handler.

For patrol K-9’s it should include searches and tracking with the K-9 handler.  It also should include the K-9 policies so the new officers are part of the program, not a hindrance to the program.  From a administrators viewpoint….can you excuse ignorance in the field?  Or, do you do something about it?

7). Failure to demand the use of K-9 to keep personnel safe!

If you have a resource and a policy for that resources use what do you do when it is ignored?  I ask this of supervisors and administrators all the time.  Sometimes I get a blank stare, other times I get the ‘well, there would be consequences” answer.

I always believe we do best by the using the carrot approach rather than the stick approach to getting things done.  I like having a process where calling K-9 for an appropriate use results in a note to their supervisor, or at least some kind of pat on the back (we had small dog paw stickers the field guys could put on their side windows to show when their call produced a capture!).  But, at some point…especially at the first line supervisors level, there needs to be follow up and guidance in the use of this specialty tool!  Supervisors need to monitor their troops in the field and be certain they are not engaging in behaviors that put their troops at risk when you have a tool like K-9 that can save lives!  Failure to employ a police dog is a failure of a supervisor not only the officers in the field!  Clearing a call is never as important as clearing a call safely……that must be the message provided by the administration.   Completing a field investigation quickly is never as important as doing it professionally and legally.  Shortcuts by field officers and field supervisors cannot be tolerated.  I know these are strong words….but try to argue them in the courts and in the court of public opinion!!  Here is the way I look at it……..if you have an officer looking for a violent suspect in a yard search or building search who gets hurt or killed when the job could have been done by a dog, who is gonna apologize to the family, spouse, or children of that officer?  I can tell you, I would miss my dog………but never have to make an apology for using him.  In fact, I would be looking for his replacement as soon as possible.


I know that many people will look at this and see their program in full or part.  I also know that not enough administrators will read this….if you are a supervisor or administrator and have read this….thank you!!!  I have utmost respect for the handful that will.  If you need to talk, my email is available at my web site my phone number is there as well.  Thank you to all the handlers, all the first line supervisors, and all the administrators that support K-9 programs of all types and sizes.

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