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By SMI Ronnie Ashie

There is something special about a dog trainer who embraces his craft. It’s not experience. It’s not the numbers. It’s not even the handler’s. Instead, it’s the X factor.

I have been handling working dogs for almost twenty-five years. Oh, I know, trainers love to toss around those big numbers of years to bolster their resume’, make themselves look brighter. But I’ve never seen a real point in that kind of fluff. So when I say I’ve worked dogs for almost twenty-five years, I mean literally for twenty-four years and several months. What is my point? The point is that no longer can anyone tell just how long a trainer has been working dogs, even by resume’. After all, most trainers aren’t going to issue twenty-years worth of references. What good would that do? I mean, seriously, the product a trainer turns out today may be a world apart from what he turned out a decade ago - even a few years ago. So what are usually issued are references of more recent training. And that’s okay.

It doesn’t really matter how many years a person has been training dogs. It really doesn’t. What matters is the natural talent, education, knowledge, and willing determination to turn out dogs and handler’s who are elite. ELITE. A word regularly used in reference to ASCT and the massive quality of training and handlers it produces. But for this article, elite isn’t about ASCT it’s about what sets a super trainer aside from one just holding down a business.

There are a ton of dog trainers in the pool that makes up services for American law enforcement. Most of these trainers are in the business to produce income. And income is important if one’s going to stay in business. But to be in the dog training business with sight on the money will not bring much growth to one’s training advancement and generally the business will fail within a year or two - maybe three.

After those business income target trainers are skimmed off the top of the water, the pool of trainers suddenly produces another class of trainers. Dog lovers are quick to surface. Now dog lovers are a special kind of person. They truly are. These trainers really adore dogs. Some love mostly working breeds but generally they all are animal fanatics for the support of canines. Dog lovers usually don’t care a tremendous amount about the income. In fact, dog lover, trainers normally end up spending more money on their working dogs than they make. The problem with trainers who are dog lovers is that though successful in the dog world itself, they have a tendency to be only focused on the dog itself and that will not get one very far in the law enforcement world. Police agencies expect handlers to be trained by someone motivated for law enforcement - not just dogs. In other words, if a person can train the dog but has zero knowledge of - and passion for police work, he will have trouble relaying the information to the handler. One thing about trainers who are dog lovers - they care about the animals. And though this type of trainer is hard pressed to last (financially), they’re drive to work with and care for dogs is enough to sustain them for around five years.

Once the dog lovers become trapped in the filter of the trainers pool, the water reveals yet another type of trainer, a bit more successful, a lot more aware. Experienced trainers are those who usually do make a living at training police dogs: they have learned how to balance their adorning of the canine species with business sense and level themselves. In addition, and the strongest trait, is the trainer’s ability to produce good police dogs that get the job done, passes certifications, and performs. Along with this, the trainer has enough working and training experience for law enforcement to relate to handlers and the specific needs those handlers have. These trainers know what K9 police work involves. The only problem here is that when we take a really close look at these trainers we discover that they’re limited. They can train dogs. They can train handlers. But they are only willing to do it THEIR way. They are either afraid to learn new things or are tender in their search for knowledge. Some of these trainers just don’t want to try and learn more. What has worked in the past for them is best left alone. But that’s a very bad way to assist law enforcement because police work changes, technology changes, dog training changes. There’s new K9 information, fresh techniques that lead to better production. Unfortunately, there are many experienced trainers who eventually succumb to the income demon and decide that the money is more important than the product. Once that occurs, the trainer with decades of experience, finds himself suddenly not so called upon for training and eventually is out of business. For those experienced trainers who stay on target, not falling prey to income, well they usually remain in the business for a long time. But as new developments take hold of the K9 world, the old timers hold themselves and their handlers back.

Evaporation is probably the only way to draw the old timers, experienced trainers from the trainer pool (tongue in cheek). Once clear, the pool is left with a very small group of trainers.

Dedicated professionals. That’s the kind of trainer who carries the K9 world in development and education. No, dedicated professionals are not those guys who only travel around the country holding seminars (SEE ASCT APRIL 2005 ARTICLE) and calling themselves consultants. Those guys are simply trainers who are too lazy to get down and dirty with dog training but instead have found a way to write a book, share a few methods, and pretend to be a guru. Eventually the income bug gets to these guys too.

No. Dedicated professionals are those trainers who spend their days training dogs for law enforcement. Day after day, they drive themselves to produce the best dog they can - every time. When the dog’s completed, the dedicated professional turns his entire focus on the education of the handler and the assistance of the police agency. These trainers put out excellent quality and very strong handlers. Income is never an issue for dedicated professionals. The usually live modestly and spend every extra dime on learning. That’s why they’re professionals. They approach K9 training like a college professor approaches a semester full of lectures. The education is the key. And to remain in key focus, the dedicated professional must keep abreast with new technology and prime methods for K9 development. These types of trainers spend hours studying and trying to learn new ways to assist the handlers they represent. You will not find too many dedicated professionals surfing the net to find out what the competitor are doing - they’re too busy training dogs to do that. Instead, they spend countless hours on research, schools, and doing what they do best - assisting modern police agencies with the K9 development they need. All of these quality traits are knitted together, producing the factor that sets the trainer well above the rest - the X factor.

Experience isn’t always a measure of ability. The X factor is. Combine the X factor with years of experience and what you get is a marvel of a K9 trainer.

I wish there were more of them.

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