Four Common Handler Cues To Avoid

Four Common Handler Cues To Avoid

Detection dogs are incredibly beneficial for a variety of purposes. Whether it be searching public areas for bombs, locating narcotics, or helping in conservation efforts, detection teams make an enormous difference in their areas. 

The key to a reliable detection team is a dog totally reliant on odor and indicating reliably at their trained source of odor. However, this is easier said than done. Sometimes, dogs are much more intelligent than we think and sometimes learn how to cue off their handlers. Dogs can pick up patterns to access their reward item based on information from their handler. 

These dogs usually appear to be falsing or walking hides, when in reality they have discovered an easier way of accessing their reward without hunting for odor. 

Here are four common cues dogs pick up on, which handlers should avoid.

1) Velcro

Many handlers keep their reward items in their pocket. When the dog shows they are close to indicating, the handler pulls the toy out of their pocket to get ready to pay – opening the Velcro in the process. 

After repetition, the dog can learn to cue off the sound of Velcro, resulting in a final response early – committing to the hide before the dog is sure of the location. 

This can be avoided by keeping reward items away from velcro.

velcro pocket

2) Detailing to odor

detection dog in training

Oftentimes, when dogs are having trouble working a problem or searching a new area, handlers have a hard time waiting for the dog to solve the problem on their own. In an attempt to assist the dog, they detail the dog to the source of odor so the dog can indicate and get paid. 

However, the danger of this is that the dog learns that when times get tough – and problems arise during a search – everything will be okay, because they have a wonderful detection human on the end of the leash. 

In order to keep dogs independent and confident, they need to have the time to work out problems for themselves. This will go a long way in building reliability in a team.

3) Cocking ARM

When dogs start getting close to odor, our natural reaction as handlers is to get excited and want to pay. In order to pay a perfect indication, many times the reward item is held in the air so the handler can pay as soon as the dog offers the desired behavior. 

Dogs have a much larger peripheral vision than humans. If done consistently, the dog can cue off the arm being cocked and result in a false indication.

sheriff with detection k9

4) Stopping

drug detection dog

It is easy to move with a dog while they are searching. However, when they start getting close to odor, it’s also easy to stop in anticipation of paying them. 

If the handler stops every time the dog gets close to a hide, the dog can cue that there is something close by – even if they have not gone into odor. This can result in a handler-dependent dog.

It is therefore vital to move naturally and not unintentionally cue the dog that a hide is nearby.

While working detection dogs, it is incredibly important to keep them independent and reliable. Watching out for unintentional cues can go along way in keeping teams reliable. 

Remember – dogs are far smarter than we think they are, and are very capable of picking up on established patterns in order to access their reward item. Avoiding creating patterns when the dog comes into odor is the best way to keep a dog reliable and independent.

Why You Should Be Running Blind Trails

Why You Should Be Running Blind Trails

There is little that is more impressive than witnessing a well trained K9 team find a person at the end of a challenging trail. Trailing exemplifies an incredible ability that dogs possess that humans couldn’t even begin to dream of experiencing. Many times, when you are part of a police K9 team, your dog is taught to trail by a professional organization. After your K9 is proficient, you may take a handler course where you learn the skills necessary to work your dog on the streets. Just as with any learned skill, continuing to practice trailing regularly after certification is vital to maintaining and improving your team’s trailing ability. 

Although practice is vital to a trailing team’s success, practicing the correct way is even more important. Many well intentioned teams hit the street solid after their handler course, but eventually begin to experience problems. “My dog doesn’t look like he’s working.” “He keeps coming back to me.” “She’s all over the place.” Issues like these generally occur after a while when a K9 team or a unit begins practicing on their own. Many times handlers are not certain about the best way to troubleshoot the issues or concerns they may begin experiencing with their dog and unintentionally begin cuing them in an effort to help. 


trailing dog

Cuing occurs most frequently when a dog handler knows where their subject is hiding. As the difficulty of the trails increases, the handler may begin losing confidence in their K9 or they begin feeling like they have to “help” their dog. This results in a dog who does not have a clear idea of what is expected of it, and who looks to their handler for direction. The best trailing dogs have been taught to work independently of their handler, and are motivated and enthusiastic about their work. 

The most effective way to avoid over cuing your K9 while improving your teams trailing skills is by running “blind trails.” The concept behind running a blind trail is that the handler does not know where their subject is hiding, and must trust their dog fully to locate them. Instead of telling your subject the exact location you’d like them to hide, you will simply agree on timing, let them run their trail and hide wherever they’d like (without telling you where they will be), and then you and your K9 will go out looking for them. Not convinced that you should be running blind trails with your K9? Avoiding the cuing trap is not the only benefit of running blind trails. There are other benefits of implementing this strategy during your practice sessions as well.

Reading the Trail

Blind trails keep your focus on the dog you are working with. Since you are trusting them fully to find the person you are looking for, you become more adept at analyzing your dog’s working style and signals. It is vital that a handler can recognize when their K9 is on the correct trail and when it is not, as well as recognize when their dog is signaling that the trail has changed direction. Dogs do not all have the same working styles, and it is important that you can read your dog’s specific cues (especially when they may not replicate other dogs you have seen working in the past). By only running “known” trails, it is easy to become disengaged and consequently fail to focus on reading your dog.

amber trailing on train tracks

The Cuing Trap

Handlers cannot cue their dog when they are running blind trails because it would be pointless. When a trail is difficult enough, a dog must learn to work through it because their handler cannot help them. This is especially true in a real world scenario where you literally have no idea where your suspect is located. When a K9 is forced to work out difficult problems on its own, while the handler focuses exclusively on reading the signals their dog is sending them rather than trying to help “lead” the dog, a more skilled and reliable trailing team is formed.

trailing k9 unit

Recognizing Proximity Alerts

Recognizing your K9’s proximity alert near the end of the trail is incredibly beneficial. Knowing that you are close to the individual you are searching for allows the trailing team and their back up to plan accordingly rather than approaching a suspect unprepared. When a handler always knows where their trail layer is hiding, they do not have the opportunity to recognize the proximity alert for their self – typically because they know that they are very close and simply watch to make sure that their dog continues moving in the correct direction.

Blind Trails Build Team Trust

Handlers who frequently run blind trails are significantly more confident in their dog while working in an operational environment. These handlers trust their K9 to get the job done, rather than panicking or experiencing concern when suddenly they don’t know if they are following the right trail or they can’t be certain if their dog is working when a trail becomes more difficult. Simultaneously, dogs that often work blind trails do not rely on their handler’s cues but rather their own natural ability to effectively follow a trail. 

Developing the ability to work as an effective trailing team is incredibly important. You can help ensure that you and your K9 are always improving your trailing skills by implementing enormously beneficial strategies such as running blind trails. Regularly running blind trails will help you break though a plateau, make your team significantly more solid in an operational environment and will ultimately take your team to the next level.

How to Teach a Reliable Call Off

How to Teach a Reliable Call Off

Watching a well-trained police K9 apprehend a suspect is truly a breathtaking experience. Seeing the intensity of a driven dog escalate as they focus on a decoy or take down a criminal never fails to amaze – the speed, power and concentration makes a police K9 truly unique. Although these qualities make a police dog unique, they can also make it incredibly difficult for a handler to call a dog back to them after they are released for a bite.

The negative consequences of bad training

Many commonly utilized methods for teaching a “call off” – which is the act of instructing a dog not to bite after they are released – can have many detrimental consequences.

For example, punishment- based training techniques which use harsh punishments to teach a call off are frequently justified because they are “the way it has always been done.” Unfortunately, this method can be extremely dangerous. Punishment based training can result in the dog returning, but then biting their handler out of sheer frustration. Some dogs may even refuse to bite after a harsh attempt at training a call off. Even worse, there have even been instances of dogs breaking their necks or damaging their trachea by using corrective collars which are fixed to a heavy object. 

Another common issue that dogs can eventually become familiar with the call off, which will cause them to come back to their handler at random instead of responding to a cue. If a police K9’s call off is unreliable, is means that the dog’s reliability in bite situations cannot be trusted.

Police K9 andler Courses

Teaching the recall command - before the call off - is essential

A dog must understand the recall command before the call off is taught. If the dog cannot come back to the handler reliably without distraction, then there is no chance it will return after being sent for a bite. When teaching a recall, using reward-based methods such as food to teach the dog to return to the handler makes it an enjoyable experience. Once the dog understands the cue, a higher value reward such as a tug can be offered. 

To increase the dog’s proficiency with the command, add in distractions. Practice the recall in different locations and distracting environments, ensuring that its sole focus remains on the handler, and add in other elements such as distance by moving further away. The dog should always be rewarded upon returning to the handler with a game of tug. This method sets the dog up for success before a decoy is ever in front of them.

Teaching the call off

When the dog’s recall command is reliable, it is time to start working on the call off. The process for teaching the call off is as follows: 

  1. Before attempting the call off, ensure you have a tug and longline. Plan to communicate your plans with the decoy.
  2. Send the dog to bite and give the recall command.
  3. If the dog does not respond, slowly apply pressure to the longline and keep the dog from being able to bite the decoy.
  4. The decoy must remain perfectly still, so the dog is not stimulated.
  5. The handler can have the tug out and move it to catch the dog’s attention. As soon as the dog starts to move towards the handler, praise and reward them with a long game of tug. This process teaches the dog that returning to their handler is positive. 

With time, consistency and practice, a trainer can teach a dog that returning when they hear the recall command is the most exciting option. Through the use of positive reinforcement, a dog will want to return to its handler, resulting in a call off that is reliable and effective.

basic police k9 patrol seminar

Additional tips

When practicing your call off, always ensure your dog is sent more than they are called off so they do not begin preemptively returning to you. Doing this will help keep their send-off reliable and will maintain their enthusiasm during bite work. Always be certain to practice call-offs randomly throughout your sessions with a dog to prevent predictions in patterns. 

Corrective collars can help to make a dog more reliable; however, remote training collars and other tools should be introduced to the dog outside of a bite work environment. This ensures that the dog fully understands the meaning of each training tool. If a dog has not been correctly introduced to a training collar in other environments, it should not be utilized during a call off. 

Training a reliable recall is possible when the process and structure is properly devised and implemented. Teaching a dog one step at a time may be time consuming but ultimately will produce consistent, reliable and safe results.

Here's Why Your Police Department Should Never Buy a 'Green' Dog

Here's Why Your Police Department Should Never Buy a 'Green' Dog

Today’s law enforcement environment is one where all levels of staffing are constantly being asked to do more with less. Across the nation, budgets are regularly being slashed while calls for service are increasing in numbers and growing in length as police officers are constantly being asked to play a social worker role in addition to law enforcement. 

With fewer available funds and more responsibilities than ever, it is no wonder why business savvy executive command officers look to K9 units as a cost-effective force multiplier. As any good steward of tax payer funds should do, these executives want to make certain that the funds they are provided are spent wisely, ensuring that the department gets the most for their money.

What is a 'green' dog?

This is where the ‘green’ dog discussion arises. In the K9 world, a ‘green’ dog is a Police K9 candidate that has been tested for police disciplines but has not yet been trained. Essentially, a ‘green’ dog is nothing more than a dog that has the potential to be an effective police K9. Because this dog has not been trained, it is generally priced between 35% to 55% less than a fully trained Police K9. This considerable ‘saving’ leads many executive officers to look in-house for potential K9 trainers or previous K9 handlers that are already on the payroll to train a ‘green’ dog. Once they have decided on a trainer, they will assign the dog to a new handler for 12-16 weeks before the handler and dog team are able to hit the streets.

police k9 handler training

Why you shouldn’t purchase a 'green' dog

Testing a ‘green’ dog does not by any means guarantee that you will have a quality police K9. Purchasing an untrained dog is a wager on potential, not success. The thirty minutes it takes to test a dog’s capabilities cannot assure that this dog will be able to complete its training at the same level and perform at that level after it is released on duty. Dogs can “wash out,” partway through training, just like humans can. 

One other word of caution regarding the ‘green’ dog you are thinking of purchasing: unfortunately, many of the untrained dogs available through US Police K9 vendors are the weakest candidates available after they have been tested. Typically, these vendors keep the strongest candidates to train and sell as completed Police K9s. This helps to guarantee the maintenance of their brand image as higher quality police K9s help their services appear better to other agencies. This method also ensures that they can capitalize on each dog their agency acquires.

Why a trained dog actually saves you money

Many other vendors sell green dogs from $6,000 to $8,000. Here at Highland Canine Training LLC, a fully trained Narcotics Detection, Patrol, and Trailing K9 is currently available to GSA eligible clients at $11,815. This sum includes more than an elite, fully trained police K9, however – it also includes: 

  • A 3-4 week Handler School (depending on the chosen discipline) 
  • Handler lodging 
  • National court accepted certification 
  • Free re-certifications for as long as the agency owns the dog 
  • Free in-service problem solving for as long as the agency owns the dog 

The aforementioned sum is even less for returning clients or clients purchasing more than one dog at the same time. 

A 52% discount on anything can seem very attractive; however, a closer examination of the numbers reveals that the initial lower price will cost departments significantly more when all of the relevant factors are included.

police k9 training

Why a 'green' dog will cost you more than a trained dog

According to, the average annual Police Sergeant salary is $71,600, while a Police Officer’s average annual salary comes in at $58,320 – not including benefits. Generally, the K9 Sergeant and new Handler will want to travel to numerous vendors to ‘test’ dogs before they are purchased. Depending on the geographic location of your department, this can entail extensive traveling around the United States or Europe resulting in not only exorbitant and unnecessary travel costs but also departmental overtime to cover the shifts that these two employees would have normally worked. 

Once a vendor is selected and a ‘green’ dog has been chosen, the dog and handler now have to be trained. Generally, detection dogs need 10 to 12 weeks of training while dual-purpose detection and patrol/apprehension dogs require 14 to 16 weeks of training. 

Considering the above salary figures in conjunction with a conservative 12-week training period, the agency combined payroll cost for a sergeant to train the ‘green’ dog and new handler is upwards of $26,697. Again, this figure does not include the additional payroll costs of covering the shifts of the two employees while they train. It also does not include the necessary equipment needed to train the dog including bite suits, bite sleeves, and detection training aids. This factor conservatively adds an additional $3,500 to the total cost of this dog. 

When all of these figures are combined, your ‘discounted’ green dog has now cost your agency at least $30,197 plus the cost of the green dog adds up to approximately $36,434. This gargantuan sum of money can wreak havoc on a department’s budget, and will still not guarantee that you will end up with the quality police K9 you were expecting.

In summary

At Highland Canine, we understand that department budgets are continuously being limited and consequently aim to provide departments with the best quality K9s available at the best possible price. Using the previously stated salary figures, one employee attending a three week handler course at Highland Canine will cost the agency $3,364. When added to the cost of the fully trained dog we will provide you, this equals $15,179. In summary, your department purchasing a fully trained K9 in addition to a comprehensive handler course will save you approximately $21,255

Purchasing a fully trained police dog not only is demonstrably more advantageous, it is also significantly more cost effective. Every fully trained Police K9 from Highland has proven itself to be fully capable, reliable and the best at what it is trained to do. At Highland Canine, we do the hard work for you so that your agency can focus on doing its job as effectively as possible while enabling you to make the most of your budget, as well as ensuring that your K9 units are fully prepared to take on everything they will encounter on the streets.