Working dogs are unbelievable creatures. The general public owes their lives and safety to them for more reasons than we generally know. In fact, if you start diving in to find out about what working dogs are capable of, I guarantee you will get lost for hours, if not days, and you will have barely touched the surface of what they can do.
So, I asked K9 trainer and fashionable muzzle maker, Alesha Brandt, of Working Dog Dry Goods to give us the scoop on the some of the most important things we should know about these amazing dogs. Here are just a few of the fascinating things she shared:
1. Most K9’s go into service between 18-24 months
Most working dogs are bred to be such. They begin training between 12-18 months and then begin service that usually lasts between 6-8 years.
2. Rescue working dogs are gaining popularity
Traditionally, working dogs have been hand-picked from select breeders who have proven bloodlines and have formerly produced top performing working dogs for the police and military. However, more and more working dogs are being picked from shelters. Several of the 9/11, for example, were pound dogs that were trained to be search and rescue dogs. If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find some pretty amazing stories!
3. They aren’t pets, although some can be treated as such and are affable
Working dogs are bred and trained to be high drive. As such, they do best in an environment which will put their instincts to use in the right ways. It is important that handlers understand the needs and limitations of their working dogs and avoid interactions which could lead to accidental injury.
4. Dogs have to be trained to apprehend criminals and protect people
Natural instinct does play a role but isn’t reliable enough to ensure they’ll actually be able to do it. According the the RCMP, “a dog entering the RCMP training program has a 17 percent chance of succeeding due to the high standards required.” 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. Dogs and handlers are validated annually.
5. They can be trained to smell almost anything – and smell like we see
Working dogs are trained to separate out smells. If they smell stew – they smell the carrots, the onions, and the meat all separately. This is how trainers can train “single-purpose dogs” to find specific things. For example, there are dogs trained solely on electronics that can be used for finding hard drives, etc. for child pornography cases, such as the one who was used to bust Jared, the Subway sandwich guy. There are explosives dogs, contraband dogs (used to sniff out contraband such as cigarettes, cell phones, and prescription pills in prisons), narcotics dogs, mold dogs, citrus rot dogs, bed bug dogs, listeria dogs, morel mushroom, ginseng, etc. The list goes on.
6. They don’t get high while sniffing out drugs
K9’s are usually called to a scene because the suspected substance is concealed; wrapped in plastic, hidden in gas tanks, soap, coffee grounds, etc. It is extremely rare, however, in the case that ingestion does occur, the dog can become sick or, in the most extreme cases, die.
7. A dog can search a car in approximately three minutes
Three minutes. That is all.
8. The estimated cost to train a member and dog team for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is $60,000
“Healthy police service dogs cost less than $1,000 annually to maintain. Currently, there are 112 RCMP dog teams across Canada.” – RCMP
9. They do not need to be muzzled all the time
Working dogs do not need to be muzzled all the time. Muzzling serves several purposes: liability protection, these dogs are often trained how to bite and hold so they can do damage if an errant nite occurs, so it’s a good idea to have them conditioned to muzzles for vet visits, public, or crowded places where you may be in very close contact with a mass amount of people, etc. Muzzles can be used for drive building, drive capping, and for training the dog to fight using their entire body and not just teeth. They are also required in a lot of European countries no matter the breed and are required for airplane and most helicopter deployments.
10. Most get to retire with handlers or, services that adopt them to experienced homes
There are some really good organizations who pay for retired working dog’s medical, adoption, and travel costs. There are also amazing charities like Warrior Dog Foundation in the US, that rehabilitate and adopt out. If adoption is not possible, there are also ranches that they can retire to.
If working dogs are killed in the line of duty they get the same honors as their human partners. The handler makes all the decisions regarding their partner.
Special thanks to Alesha Brandt from Working Dog Dry Goods for sharing bits from her wealth of information on working dogs!