Building Search Part II
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Suspect Building Search

Part Two - Introducing the Alert/Reward

By SMI Aycock


Last time, we discussed in depth the issues of keeping a dog in prey drive and conditioning the bite-work so to avoid an overly defensive biting partner. This installment will take us to the next procedure in training a dog to complete building searches for suspect.

Before we get started, go back and read the first column again. Make certain that your partner will meet all of the necessary requirements for a prey driven search and bite - before continuing.

Let’s get started.

First things first - in order to train properly, we must begin to introduce realistic searches from the beginning. To do this, we only need to follow two guidelines:

1. The decoy needs to be quiet. Suspects do not bark and growl at dogs. Furthermore, suspects do not encourage dogs to alert. Now, this seems awkward because in nearly all training across the nation and in Europe, the decoy will run into the building and as the new dog begins to search, the decoy begins to make noise to better draw the dog close or to kick in the prey drive. Unfortunately, though it does produce results, this type of training is not realistic and leads to either the dog having to be progressed through stages whereby he learns that suspects don’t cheat - or, the dog never becomes a very reliable building search partner and gives up or passes a suspect if the suspect is silent. And personally, I have never seen a loud suspect who was trying to hide from a dog.

2. The handler needs to be quiet. Handlers and trainers get into a terrible habit of talking to their partners far too much, yelling, calling, Etc. This rule is simple. If you make noises in a live search for a suspect, you will get killed. Period. Therefore, in order to condition the dog for silence of a live search, we must train with silence.

Here’s how it works.

Step 1. The handler and decoy plan the training. The location of the decoy will be pre-arranged and unchanged. In other words, it is crucial that the handler knows the precise location of the decoy and the decoy cannot change locations. In the planning, the handler will advise the decoy to remain quiet and to listen for the handler to assure that he or she is also compliant with the silence rule. The decoy must understand that if the dog finds him and does not alert, the decoy will not attack the dog but rather do what suspects do - try and get away. Tell the decoy to run out of the building, close the dog off from him, climb out of a ground floor window, slip away, and escape. Nothing kicks a dog’s prey drive in more than temporarily losing his prey. If the dog doesn’t catch the decoy trying to escape, he will have to find him all over again. Next time, the dog will keep a better watch for the quick footed, sly suspect. The decoy should be instructed for this stage of training to hide behind a door - flush with the door so to give off a good amount of scent under and through the seams.

Step 2. The dog should be placed in the patrol car but allowed to see the suspect run (never walk) into the building. Now, some folks will ask - isn’t that cheating? - And the answer is no. We want the dog to focus on the search. However, we want to keep prey drive high and ready. Thus, seeing the quarry run into the building will help to keep the prey drive in mode. Of course, we will eventually make the searches blind and the K9 team will arrive after the suspect has entered. But for now, it’s important to keep the prey high outside of the search area.

Step 3. The handler should wait 10 minutes before conducting the search. Time will slowly increase over the next several weeks of training until it reaches 1 hour.

Step 4. The handler should allow the dog a large amount of time to void. It is common to see dogs who use the search area as their bathroom. And the cause of such behavior is simply that the dog gets wound tight for the search and has to go. The handler / trainer must make sure that the dog goes outside and is not allowed to work inside the house until he does so. This training assures that the dog becomes clear that when he is told to break - he must do so before any other FUN will be allowed. Lazy handlers beware - it takes patience and time for this but it’s a part of training - an important part.

Step 5. The handler should approach the building and announce that the police K9 is searching (see legal note in a later edition Part 4). The handler will release the dog and remain quiet, stealth, and under cover. The handler should allow the dog to work and search. Do not fall victim to worrying over a dog that strays to other rooms. Allow the dog to do his job. You do your job. Keep yourself alive. The handler will control the dog using simple snaps of the fingers, maybe a whisper or two, a point, and gentle pats on the back for encouragement. Above all, keep an eye of the dog but keep an officer-oriented search going at the same time. Double check areas where the dog has searched. Let the dog recognize that you also are searching and often directly behind the dog. Save the suspect location for the middle of the search - not the end. In other words, don’t search the whole building and then go find the suspect. This final - search type of training leads to a dog that will be lackadaisical during the early stages of searches and skip areas. Instead, let the dog understand from the beginning of training that the suspect will be anywhere in the building. Sometimes, the decoy should be within a few feet of the entry.

Step 6. The dog should be worked until he locates and shows interest in the area where the decoy has hidden. Next, the handler should freeze and allow the dog to see him watching the alert. The handler should refrain from shouting out or praising the dog too loudly. Let the dog figure this out. The decoy should remain still until he knows that the dog is going to remain at the door. Once the decoy is certain of this, he should run deeper into the room and prepare for a bite.

Step 7. Seeing the dog’s focus of the door, the handler should move closer to the door. The handler should now free himself to encourage the dog to bark, scratch, sit, down, whatever alert the handler wants from the dog. Once the dog properly alerts, the handler should open the door and allow the dog to enter.

Step 8. If the dog bites, the search is over and the fun of the capture is rewarded. However, should the dog pass the suspect, or not scent directly to him, the decoy should sneak away, or flee.

Eight steps - every time.

A training agenda should produce this scenario for a minimum of three sessions per week until the dog will confidently alert, locate, bite and control a decoy on each session. Only then should the handler attempt to move on to the next level, which we will discuss next time.

Have fun. Have patience. Have success.

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