Certification. Is it Legit?
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By Deputy Wayne S. Wright Fauquier County VA

It continues to be problematic for many agencies to understand or accept something that is given to them. Many certifications are not worth the paper they are written on and they are accepted as “The only certification we accept”.

Other certifications are recognized by their discipline as “The only certification that means anything”.

Some of the certification and acceptance process in law enforcement is determined by governing bodies of states. In a few states, an accepted and approved certification can only be given by state governing body such as Department of Criminal Justice or DCJS. Yet, most states do not have anything in place for minimum requirements of canine standards.

This is a double edged sword for anyone involved in canine training and for agencies due to liability issues. Though at times these minimum standards are much below what is generally accepted by the canine world at times they are too restrictive and limit the progression of canine training methods.

Gone are the days of “HARD” dogs! Did you hear that? GONE! How could this be? We have been training dogs for umpteen years and never had a bad dog or any problems. Well, except for that one dog that didn’t bite as well as the others but we “fixed” that dog and now he is very hard. It was the handlers fault anyway so we made sure he knew we were in charge and not his agency. Then there was that other dog that barked and bit everything and everybody but he was a really good dog and just needed to be with an experienced handler.

Sound familiar? For many of us it is all too familiar and the repercussions are hidden from or by agencies until it gets to a law suit.  Then the handler is left alone to defend himself, the agency, the dog and the training he received. Who helps the handler? Should it be the agency? Should it be the training organization? How about BOTH?

How did this occur? What occurred that presented the law suit? Did the handler not see that a situation may occur and that he would need to control his canine? Was he not trained in how to recognize the signs of aggression in his canine? Did he prompt his canine to be aggressive? Is the canine a “hard” dog that no one can get near except the handler? Is the canine handler aggressive at times? Is the canine aggressive toward the handler? Could this be a training issue? Should we be responsible for any of this?

We look to our agency to make sure we have been sent to the best training that will provide protection not only for the agency but for the handler and the canine. Many states have these minimum standards in place to help circumvent potential liability. Too often the agency calls the training organization or trainer directly and the first thing they get is, “Sounds like the handler messed up”. So now the agency paid expert is telling the agency that it is not his fault but the handlers.

The agency realizes that it has no backing from the trainer so they start an accusatory investigation of the handler. Not the handlers training and not the canine training but the handler themselves. Wonder where this is going to end? We all know where it ends but what we really want to know is WHEN it will end.

When will agencies realize that cheaper is not better? Some places or agency command staff/administrators are not educated in the workings of canine so they find one person they like or have a relationship with and have them setup and run the program. This is too often politically motivated or just friends helping friends. So we end up with the same questions as before. 

Does a couple of handlers getting together and making up their own organization make them qualified to certify anyone else in their training? Does this certification carry any weight?

Lets say Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith are K9 handlers with different agencies in the state of Timbuktu. They decide to open a school for K9 handlers in Timbuktu. Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith decide that they will certify handlers that go through the school. They make up some fancy looking certificates and both sign their name at the bottom to make it look official. The agencies think they are getting certified handlers and dogs. Are they? Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith K9 School certify that the handlers have passed the Timbuktu Police Canine Association test. They are certified. Yippee! Agency has covered their basis the training is good, the trainers are experienced and have put out a great product.

Now we seem to have a problem. Just because Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith have created Timbuktu Police Canine Association does this mean that they will testify in court for the agency, the handler and the training? They should but what are they going to be able to testify? They have both been handlers and run a K9 training center with great success. Okay we can testify to that. What qualifications do they have that makes them able to certify us through Timbuktu Police Canine Association? Who runs this Association? Surprisingly it is found that Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith run the Association. They created it because they are the trainers and that makes it gospel. Where is the accountability? Do Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones travel around the country as attorneys and expert witnesses on K9 cases? Not likely. It wouldn’t matter because it will be the handlers fault no matter what.

Think this is a joke? This is a very real scenario in many jurisdictions. I personally like the idea that I have an organization like A.S.C.T to keep me up to date on the latest research and training methods. This helps me not only with my daily work but in court. I am my own expert witness and if I ever get in a bind A.S.C.T. is always there to support me and keep me on the right path. It’s not about the money for any member of A.S.C.T., it is about the canine and the training. Keep yourself and your agency out of court as much as possible and make sure you get your training with a legitimate organization.

If you can’t rely on your trainers to support and stand behind there training and techniques then how can we expect to have been certified by anyone worthwhile. This begs the question? Why choose anything other than A.S.C.T. for your agency, for your training or for your K9 program? If you are going to be ELITE you better train and be supported by the best.

You deserve what you settle for!”

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