When preparing to run a K9 unit, it is vital to ensure that things start off on the right foot. For a K9 team to be successful, there are many different facets to consider.
A K9 supervisor who understands their role and what their team will need to be effective will go a long way to ensuring success for the teams in the community. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of ten things that every K9 supervisor needs to know.
1) Supervisors need training too
To set up and maintain an effective K9 program, supervisors need training on how to perform their role correctly. Understanding the core responsibilities of a supervisor – and just as importantly, how their decisions will affect team members and operational efficiency – is critical to getting the most out of the team as a whole.
2) Failing to plan is planning to fail
This guidance can be applied to most aspects of life, but it is especially true in a situation where resources are likely to be limited. Whether you are bringing an additional K9 into the team or starting a new K9 unit altogether, it is crucial that there is a clear, defined plan in place. Taking the time to set aside funds for equipment, food, veterinary treatment and any other expense is crucial. Consider contingencies for additional expenses such as ongoing training costs or certifications. Scheduling time to revisit your plan is the best way to ensure your team remains on track.
3) Teams need consistent training
Ever heard of the phrase ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’? This has never been more relevant than it is for K9 teams. Without productive training, it is inevitable that dogs and their handlers will see their skills start to wane – particularly skills that may not be used as frequently in an operational setting, such as patrol work or trailing. Consistent training ensures that dog teams are ready for any scenario thrown their way and allows them to work through any problems that may be encountered along the way. Teams that train consistently are more likely to perform consistently in the field.
4) Good equipment is crucial for effective teams
Most K9 teams require specific equipment to do their jobs effectively. Whether it’s a long line, a harness or bite equipment, it is crucial that teams have suitable tools at their disposal. While a department may have a 25-year-old bite sleeve or a hand-me-down harness, it is definitely worth the investment to ensure both efficiency and safety. Scrimping and saving in this specific area is likely to cost you in the long run – whether it results in reduced operational ability or causes injuries to the handler and/or the dog. This is not an area to try and save a penny in.
When budgeting for a new K9 team, it isn’t just the initial cost of equipment you should focus on – you should also consider how long the equipment will last and if it will need to be maintained or replaced. It may be beneficial to have each piece of required equipment explained by either the handler or the vendor to help ensure the team is equipped with what they need, in addition to avoiding unnecessary financial outlay.
5) Other resources handlers will need
A truly effective K9 team doesn’t just need equipment. There are other factors to consider, too. Think about a tracking/trailing dog; handlers will need training locations, plus individuals who can lay the trails for the training exercise. For a trailing dog to be the most effective, they will need to have opportunities to find a variety of different trail layers, over varying trail lengths and terrains.
As another example, patrol dogs will also need to have consistent bite work to maintain the efficiency of their patrol work. Working with knowledgeable individuals/companies that are able to decoy is incredibly important for the dog’s continued development, and also reduces the chance of injury during training. Detection teams will need to be able to train in a variety of locations, ranging from buildings to vehicles. This all comes back to planning. By understanding what a handler will need, supervisors can produce a plan to assist them and ensure the team can train properly.
6) Understanding the purpose of each K9 team
Not all police dogs are trained to do the same thing, especially when purchased from different vendors. Understanding what each K9 is specifically trained to accomplish is incredibly important to ensuring the right dog is called for the right job. For example, dogs that are trained to bite at the end of a trail should not be put on a search for a lost individual such as a child or elderly person that must be found safely.
7) Educate colleagues about the dog’s capabilities
K9 teams are an incredible asset to a department, but everyone on the unit should have some idea of the dog’s capabilities and the circumstances in which it is likely to succeed. This means that unit members will understand when it is appropriate to use the dog. For example, K9s which use the last known point from a fleeing suspect will not be able to locate the correct odor of the suspect if multiple officers have contaminated the area, resulting in no clean starting point.
8) Hold handlers accountable
Teamwork is vital in the handler-working dog relationship, so handler selection is incredibly important. In addition, handlers must be held accountable for their K9 partner during their career together as a team. Consistent training, appropriate care and attention, and a strong bond are all important contributing factors to success. Supervisors should monitor and verify that the K9 is receiving the proper training and treatment, both while on duty and at home.
9) Handler education can be the difference between success and a lawsuit
Like any new team member, when preparing to bring on a new K9 handler, they must understand several things. They must learn how to handle their new K9 partner. They must know how to look after the dog and how to get the most out of them operationally. But they must and have a good understanding of what they legally can – and can’t – do. Maintaining training records and understanding how to articulate their dog’s behaviors is incredibly important to be comfortable testifying in court. While looking for vendors, be sure to find out which topics the handler school will cover. The better the education is, the better the handler’s understanding of what to do (and just as importantly, what not to do). This avoids potential liability issues for the department.
10) Police K9s are not robots
While highly trained and extremely capable, police K9s are still just dogs at the end of the day. They will have bad days, they will have sick days, and they will have incredibly successful days. Even by following everything in this article – lots of training, a good plan, and setting handlers up with all the resources that they need – it is important to understand that K9s are not robots. Every dog has their own unique temperament and training preferences. No two dogs are the same. There is no such thing as a perfect K9, but understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the dogs individually will help set up K9 units for success by consistently working to make their K9 teams stronger and more reliable.
Looking to further your education and knowledge as a K9 supervisor? We recently launched our online learning platform for K9 handlers and supervisors, providing a range of great online programs, including our Complete K9 Supervisor course. For more details, visit our Online Training page.