How K-9 Dogs Are Trained

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Warden Paul Cardoza of the California Department of Fish and Game has one of the most loyal partners there is. His colleague is named Kilo, a German Shepherd-Malinois mix, and has been devotedly helping Cardoza catch numerous poachers and work on various law enforcement cases. Once Kilo found a firearm while searching a murder scene; his find proved that a man already arrested for the crime was innocent. Cardoza was named Officer of the Year for 2011, a title undoubtedly earned with the help of his K-9 partner.

K-9 dogs may be trained for different specialties, such as locating drugs, bombs or cadavers or as part of a SWAT or search and rescue team. Local, state and national law enforcement agencies all benefit from having K-9s on their force. Training may be provided in house, at an affiliated law enforcement agency or through an association/organization, such as the National K-9 Dog Trainers Association or the United States Police Canine Association.

Normally human law enforcement handlers and their K-9 partners go through an intensive training period plus continuous follow-up training throughout the pair’s career. For example, K-9 teams with the Gilbert, Arizona Police Department complete an 8-week, full time course followed by four-hour in-service sessions each week.

In reality K-9 dogs are always in training, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Steve Hall. Hall has been with the FBI’s K-9 program since it began in 1999. The dogs are specifically trained to find explosives and are able to detect 19,000 different volatile compounds. The FBI’s dogs are trained through a food reward program. They are never fed out of a bowl like a house pet, but after they’ve found something hidden as part of a practice routine or in a real risk scenario.

Other K-9 dogs are trained via the toy-reward system. Such is the case with the Utah Peace Officer training program for search and rescue dogs, for example. Even when these K-9s are travelling through the toughest of terrains or are very tired, the incentive of finding their “favorite toy” prompts them to continue searching.

While some K-9s are trained to detect and locate, SWAT dogs learn a whole accessory of techniques, such as climbing, subduing an offender, searching a suspect or attentiveness during surveillance operations.

While K-9 training depends on the agency for whom the team is working for and the specialty they are engaged in (from patrolling and trailing to searching for drugs or cadavers), there’s one thing all of the law enforcement duos have in common – a tremendously strong bond between handler and dog.