Written By: Mike Bullock
Owner /Trainer Bullocks Professional Canine
Over the years I have seen many working k9s on the street that didn’t have the proper drives, nerve or athletic ability to be a police dog. I will share my ideas on how to choose the proper dog and testing/evaluation procedures to ensure credible police dogs for all officers. I don’t judge a dog on a point scoring system. The dog must survive a pass/fail test or be eliminated from consideration. Essentially, I look at him/her with the perspective that the dog will fail and has to earn a passing grade. I do take into account the testing procedure is usually being done on a green candidate. This means a dog that has been well socialized, exposed to different environments and taught some basic aggression work (biting a sleeve) and some basic obedience, usually manners. I always give a dog the benefit of the doubt, for example, if the dog has never been exposed to slick floors or dark stairwells, I will try the dog on the situation more than once to see if he recovers and works his way through the situation. If the dog seems to learn that he can overcome his reservation then and only then will I move on to the following task. This, in my testing, shows me the character of the dogs nerve and his willingness to overcome obstacles that he has never seen before, which we know happens a lot in police k9 work. The situation changes daily!
My first test with each dog is the retrieve. I usually start in the field or the woods. For this testing, I also do inside buildings, slick floors, open and closed stairs and cluttered spaces, tight and dark areas, high and lows spots, even cars. I try to see the dog in uncomfortable settings to make sure he will not get rattled and stop working. The dog first must pass the outside evaluation to move to the inside testing. If he/she doesn’t pass the outside, it would only be worse inside, so the dog has failed consideration. I want to see if the dog is willing to retrieve different objects, from the Kong to metal pipe and all in between. If a dog will retrieve metal he will retrieve anything. Back years ago it was very popular to see a dog retrieve many different objects, but it really has gotten down to the PVC pipe, canvas bag and the Kong now days. Basically the objects he will be rewarded with in his work later on. If I am going to use PVC to reward the dog, then it is a must he retrieve the PVC pipe during my test. If not then he must be rewarded with something else like a canvas bag or a Kong. During this test I look for a dog that is willing to hunt and retrieve unconditionally, depending on what he will be trained for later (explosives or narcotics). I look at the dogs overall willingness and style of retrieve. Is he calm or frantic? Is he really hard on the retrieve or is he soft and easy but still working well. This tells me later on what aspect of detector work he will do well in. I usually don’t like a frantic or hyper dog working around an explosive odor. This only adds to the work later. (I will address this in future articles). The only thing I think is common with both types of detector dogs is possessiveness, they both must have the desire to keep his/her toy at all costs, I describe it as an obsession like state. The dog has such a desire to keep his toy that nothing else seems to matter to him/her. Once I see the dog work the retrieve I look at the overall possessiveness, if the dog during this time drops the ball/toy to go look at something or loses interest in it for any reason I consider this a failure. I have been asked by tons of people if possessiveness can be built up during training. In some cases yes, but for the purpose here I don’t take the chance. These dogs must be able to perform without question. Maybes never seem to work out. Too many times the “maybe” part comes back to haunt me.
If a dog has passed the hunt and retrieve part of the test, the next area I get into is the patrol. Only the dogs that made it through are allowed to move on to the patrol test, unless I am only looking for a patrol dog then the retrieve is not as important. If I find problems during the hunt and retrieve, rest assured there will be problems later on in the patrol work. I usually start the dog on a pole on a flat collar without the handler around. I want the dog to work independently of his handler and to be able to defend himself. Here is where I can evaluate the dogs fight, courage and his prey drives. I usually like to see a dog that is indifferent to a person that is not showing any kind of aggression or threatening movements. If the dog is calm at this point, I am fine with it. Most dogs have seen this situation before and know the routine. After this initial look of the dog, I start to challenge him/her. Will the dog stand out on the end of the chain or leash and start barking and challenging a decoy with no equipment, no sleeves, just a man that is trying to back it down or trying to intimidate the dog. If the dog backs down or shows avoidance, for example; spinning, turning to its side, showing fear or any weakness during the pole test I don’t go any further. It has already shown me that he/she can’t take a man in a one on one situation and in my opinion shouldn’t be considered. If the dog passes this initial test I go to the next step, I introduce equipment to test the bite and see if he has issues with the stick or gunfire. I want the dog to bite hard, confidently and deep during the added stress of the stick and the gunfire while working on the pole.
If the dog passes the pole work, he goes onto long distance bite testing. I usually do the long bites where the dog has to engage the man at a good distance usually 30 or 40 yards away challenging with gunfire or a stick. I always like to see the gun fired 2 or 3 times in fast succession while the dog is on its way to the long bite. Any deviation of the dog during the gun fire sends red flags up for me and I usually start to watch more carefully on following tests for signs of weakness. If I ever have a slight question about the dogs ability to defend himself I always keep working the test to see if he will fold on me. If there is a training issue I can address that, but if there is a trait/character problem, I can’t fix that. Remember, you can’t mold something that has no spine! After I have worked the dog on the pole and seen the long attacks, I work inside a buildings usually in tight places, dark rooms, slick floors and stairs (open and closed) even gunfire. I usually try to challenge the dog again by him/herself void of the handler (tons of dogs will fight when it has backup by a handler). If the dog will engage a decoy without its handler present during these situations, it will be a dog that is very dependable in the actual street setting.
Choosing the right dog for dual purpose police k9 work is very important. Spending 45 minutes or more going through the Detector and Patrol evaluations will result in the best dogs being selected. Any question in the dogs nerves and character during evaluation should be considered a candidate not worthy of street work. Only dogs with impeccable character will perform in the stressful and unpredictable situations of police work.
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