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International training standards improve police service K-9s

German techniques help American agencies train efficient K-9 officers

Editor's Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from Jonathan Dorriety, Adjunct Professor at Kaplan University School of Public Safety and a Special Contributor to PoliceOne. Miller is one of the few officers left alive who was directly involved in Operation Switch, the first long-term undercover sting operation in the United States. In PoliceOne "First Person" essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other P1 Members, simply send us an email with your story. 

By Jonathan Dorriety, Adjunct Professor
Kaplan University School of Public Safety

Dogs have a nose for crime, literally. Their keen olfactory senses exceed that of humans to the degree that no two scientists can agree on how sensitive they really are. Nonetheless, police service dogs have proven to be a great asset to the law enforcement community in the United States since the mid-1950s.

Several organizations in the United States provide training and certifications for police service dogs. Some of these include the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA), North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA), National Police Canine Association (NPCA) and the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association (NNDDA).

Jonathan Dorriety with K-9 "Puma." (PoliceOne Image)
Jonathan Dorriety with K-9 "Puma." (PoliceOne Image)

All of these organizations have instructors, usually working for a law enforcement agency, who provide training.

German-Style Standards
Some agencies have adopted the German style of police dog training founded at the Landespolizeischule für Diensthundführer(State Police School for Service Dog Handlers) in Schloss Holte-Stukenbrock, Germany. There they train dogs according to what is known as the PSP regulation (Polizeischutzhundprüfung, or Police Service Dog Examination).

Many instructors across the United States are certified to train according to the PSP standard. The German training standards are known to be some of the most rigorous in the field; only dogs with the strongest working drive are selected for police work and only after passing a strenuous selection test. The training is extensive, requiring the dogs to perform tasks around various distractions and to stay focused on the job.

In the field of criminal apprehension, the German police introduced the agitation muzzle into police K-9 criminal apprehension training in the mid- to late 1950s. Using the muzzle on the dog instead of a padded suit on the person solved the problem of the dog’s fixation on a person’s arm or looking for a sleeve. This has caught on in the United States as a distinct advantage in police K-9 training, where the dog learns to fight the person and not a piece of equipment.

Many U.S. agencies seek to purchase prospective dogs from Germany and other European countries because of the working drives and quality of dogs available. Because the German police dog teams are trained in a wide variety of environments, such as businesses, factories, farms, homes, train yards, shipping yards, and schools, they can be reliably utilized in multiple surroundings without the dog being distracted. This helps to ensure the end result will be a team of handler and dog capable of working together in any situation.

Continuing Training
Once a K-9 unit is established within an agency, training doesn’t stop. In-service training is an ongoing process that involves maintenance training as well as attending seminars from sponsored agencies and organizations. Sometimes these seminars carry the sponsorship of a local college or university that provides CEUs (continuing education units) and are one or two weeks in duration. Adding this to the weekly or monthly maintenance training (minimum 16 hours per month), the K-9 team can remain proficient in the field and provide effective performance when called upon.

In-service training should be supervised by a qualified instructor or experienced handler whenever possible. This ensures the training is correct and meets standards set forth within departmental policies and procedures. Documentation of all training sessions, demonstrations and service calls, in addition to certifications, provides legal standing in court cases when the team’s qualification comes into question. Failure to train employees, including police service dog teams, causes severe liability issues against law enforcement agencies, as attested by Kerr v. City of West Palm Beach, 875 F. 2d 1546 (Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit 1989) and City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 US 378, 109 S Ct 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989).

Technological advancements improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the services law enforcement provides to the public every day. As technology continues to advance, the ability of police to deter crime and apprehend criminals will also improve. However, no technological development can yet match the numerous abilities of the police service dog. Its role in the law enforcement community is well established and, at least for the foreseeable future, will remain so.

About the Author
Jonathan Dorriety is currently a faculty member for the Kaplan University School of Public Safety. He teaches in the crime scene investigation emphasis area since 2004. After 28 years of law enforcement experience, Dorriety retired as a lieutenant from the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in 2010. Throughout his career, he worked in many fields, including police service dog handler and instructor, assistant jail administrator and assistant commander of the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force.

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