Police Dog Service with my Police Service Dogs
A specialist policing role for 6 years from April 1976 to May 1982
Dogs and I seemed to get along and at some stage during Policing career I had the urge to become a Police Dog Service (PDS) handler.
Perhaps it was the independence of the role, the great backup that rode with you all the time or just the glamour of having a well trained animal to assist in Policing – whatever the motivator I went after this dream.
Growing up I had been around animals of many kinds, had a dog of my own but nothing like the handsome and powerful working dog – the German Shepard.
Having worked with them I have great respect for this breed and great appreciation of their loyalty and dedication to hard work and trust of the handler. During my Police Service Dog years I was delighted to have trained and worked with two dogs:
- Arko – a smaller and darker colored German shepherd (pictured above) with a nice disposition – that was used for general duties and for airport drug detection work
- Dutch – who was a very powerful and aggressive Shepard with a energetic disposition unless otherwise required – he was used for general duties dog work. He had many captures and arrests during our time together.
By way of history the RCMP dog section was formed in 1935 with the acquisition of three German shepherds: Black Lux, Dale of Cawsalta and Sultan. In 1937, Commissioner MacBrien, satisfied with the value of police dogs, ordered an RCMP training school for dogs and handlers to be established at Calgary. In 1940, the RCMP won its first case involving dog search evidence. The RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre was established at Innisfail, Alberta in 1965 at that’s where I attended in April 1976.
The RCMP uses purebred German shepherds as well as Belgian shepherds (Malinois) in perfect physical condition. The RCMP considers these breeds to be the best choice for police work as they are adaptable, versatile, strong, courageous and able to work under extreme climatic conditions. Male dogs are usually chosen. A dog entering the RCMP training program has a 17 percent chance of succeeding due to the high standards required. The dog starts its police training when it is from 12 to 18 months old. Basic training is approximately 17 weeks, but training never really ends as daily practice is required to maintain a high level of physical and mental fitness.
During my service both my dog and I were validated to the Dog handler Course Training Standard Field Level capability annually.
Dog handlers are regular members who volunteer for this particular duty. As a candidate I had to go through a staffing selection process, which involves meeting certain criteria. Although expertise is acquired through training and experience, as a dog handler I was expected to have a tolerance towards animals and be capable of appreciating the known dog instincts. While there was only a short waiting list for this role when I applied information suggests today there are currently over 400 names on the waiting list for police services dog training. We were required to attend a course where we worked with handlers and performed support roles to see our adaptability and ability to be a handler
The responsibilities of police services dogs include locating lost or missing persons; tracking criminals; searching for narcotics, explosives, illicit alcohol, crime scene evidence and lost property; VIP protection; crowd control, in conjunction with tactical troop; hostage situations; avalanche search and rescue; and police/community relations. It was a fantastic part of my policing career and you can for more information, please visit www.rcmpgrc.gc.ca.
The experiences as a Police dog handler were exciting, rewarding and at times very challenging.
PDS Training – Innisfail Alberta
I had great anticipation of life as a Police Dog Service handler. But first I had to complete basic training. I was fortune or a misfortune to attend this training facility on two occasions. For my initial training I was assigned a dog that was to be retrained. His handler had retired due to illness as I recall. Arko was also getting on in years but was experienced, a good searcher for a new drug dog program and it was up to me to keep up with the lessons. He knew it all, I had to learn how to read him. The training time was for us bonding together and creating a new team for field work.
A dog and master work as a team. The handler must be able to sense the dogs mood and judge when he is working effectively. Dog teams usually operate on a variable 8 hour shift basis but are on call 24 hours a day.
The training centre is located in Innisfail, Alberta just outside the larger town of Red Deer. It was a rural area with vast farm properties and forested areas leading to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Into the hills and forests were beautiful areas of training grounds for tracking and searches.
My second trip was to train my new dog Dutch who had been donated to the force as he was too aggressive for the family that raised him. He had been chained in a rear yard of a house and teased through the fence by children – he wasn’t therefore fond of them. Similar to the first training regime we had daily schedules and course syllabus to follow. I can remember that Dutch was a natural worker and fast learner. His new environment of working and being rewarded with praise and affection was the key to his motivation.
He was a great tracker and loved attack work – a hangover of frustrated aggression from years of teasing on a chain. He had the hardest bite the instructors had ever seen. This eventually proved helpful in his field work later in Newfoundland and in British Columbia.
Drug detection – Toronto International Airport
This was specialist police service dog posting with Arko – it was about drug detection. This involved searching both inbound and outbound luggage, checking airport lockers, working with the Customs Service and from time to time assisting RCMP drug investigations unit in searches of residences or commercial facilities. It also involved some ship searches which was a challenge for the dog.
The airport environment was a foreign environment for the dog with the grass and bush lands given way to concrete, conveyor belts and distractions from baggage handlers, ground staff and the traveling public. To continually improve performance and reliability of our police dogs on job training when not on search requirements was required. This involved keeping in shape through agility course, continued practice in tracking and general searching as well as the specialist drug detection practice. It was important for the dog to be able to find drugs from time to time to keep up his desire to search and find.
The drug dog detection program was a Custom Program, supported by the RCMP, that was commenced in the summer of 1975 and coordinated by a guy called Ed Joyce. The program had been operating in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. I became involved in a test process at the Customs Border Crossing at Windsor, Ontario as part of an evaluation to determine the value of expanding the drug dog program in Customs. The drug dogs were intented to be used as extension of search procedures and a deterrent to smugglers. It was unique to be part of a new program and testing new practises.
I recall that while we were in Windsor we teamed up with some Windsor Police Department dog handlers for an excursion across the border into Detroit where we met up with Detroit Police dog handlers for a professional exchange of information and training tips. We were also taken to a coloured bar in the inner city of Detroit, where the Police often drank apparently. It was a very intimidating environment in inner city Detroit that was the murder capital of the USA at the time. The Detroit police were in plain clothes but sporting thier weapons, exposed on their belts. We were unarmed. The bar patrons new the local police but wondered and watched our every movement. I was happy when we left the area after an enjoyable social time.
One of the nice things about the arrangements with our working police dogs was that they were kenneled at your home. The force would provide the funds for the construction of an elaborate kennel in your back yard. So this was a 7 day a week commitment in being a police dog handler as there was the daily cleaning, grooming, feeding and exercising of the dog. The dog was part of the family and while treated as a working animal the dogs did enjoy a wonderful life.
While on airport work could become routine and at time monotonous the calls to assist outside the airport to work with Canada Customs or the RCMP drug squads were exciting and generally interesting. Warehouse searches, cargo shed searches, homes, vehicles and all manner of facilities were experienced. There were a number of successful searches by Arko finding quantities of drugs hidden in various locations and packages. It was always a great thrill to find hidden drugs and to support their interdiction.