The following information was presented as an applicable assignment during the ASCT 408 Teaching
Current ASCT Standards for Basic Handler’s School: 50 Question written test issued to student
on day 8 of the Handling School, 80% success is needed to qualify as a Handler. Testing resulting in failure cannot be re-attempted.
One of five different tests is issued at random by ASCT to the Instructor. Handler’s attending a
second Basic Handler’s School can opt for a waiver on a second testing, and in its place can take an open book test
with the Handler’s Manual.
Level Class Standards: All attending must complete a test at the conclusion of the class in order to receive ASCT Educational
credit(s) for the class. Anyone certified at the level of Senior Master Handler or above must conduct a teaching practical
in order to maintain certification.Analysis:
The Why’s and Wherefores of Testing. The reasoning for why
the testing is in place-for all levels of certification- is elementary and three fold. First we need to literally ‘test’
the individual’s motivational level. Is this person highly motivated to be involved in K9? The commitment level K9 requires
invariably is higher than was expected by beginning Handlers. The commensurate rate of pay increase that accompanies K9 in
no way compensates or even ameliorates the 24/7 commitment it requires. Being involved in K9 may very well mean that individual
has to pass up future promotion opportunities. Being involved in K9 (especially in small departments) means being available
for narcotics or tracking call-outs and a litany of other, lesser duties, such as PR demos. On and off the job, the commitment
level must be total; testing is merely a step we use to ascertain that level. Secondly we use testing as a means of judging the individual’s
ability to assimilate and retain information, plus recall it often under duress and ‘on the fly’…as it
were. Above and beyond all the legal, procedural, and departmental protocols a LEO must be constantly aware of, K9 introduces
another facet altogether. Properly assimilated and deployed it makes the Handlers job easier, more effective, and safer. Improperly
done it becomes a hindrance for the Handler and other LEOs around him, and a huge liability issue for his department. In this
instance, testing assures the Handler’s continuing ability to perform at a high level. Thirdly though it is rarely spoken of, testing
introduces another increment of stress and pressure. There is a time line involved, and a standard to adhere to. This often
introduces, at least in the Handlers mind, an inordinate amount of stress to the situation. Point of fact is that it is considerably
less stress, and of a different kind, than a LEO encounters on the street on a daily basis.
How he or she handles this added increment
is notable. For some it is merely another brick in the road to success, for others it seems to border on crisis level. Everyone
handles different types of pressure differently, testing allows us to see how some handle academic pressure. Failure is not an option: With a testing standard of 80% to pass ASCT has raised the proverbial
bar, and with good reason. Again motivation and liability enter the picture. K9 requires highly motivated individuals due
to the liability it incurs. In K9 motivation must be found in inverse proportion to liability. In an ordinary academic setting
a score of 80% could be considered a low “B”, well above a “failing” score.
In K9 an “average” score
will not cut it. The knowledge base required, the level of motivation, the ability to quickly process information and assess
situations must be very good to excellent primarily because of the increased level of liability involved. If a collegiate
student makes a “C” grade, his GPA suffers slightly (or not, depending on the individual.) That is his largest
consequence. If a K9 officer doesn’t process and deploy on a high level, the public at large, his fellow officers, and
his dog per se are all put into a dangerous position. When we have a student that score under 80% and refuse to allow him to re-test
we are simply tightening up the process as a whole. This individual did not arrive on scene prepared to do well, motivation
or application-wise. As the old adage goes “you only have one chance to make a first impression”. Allowing them
to re-test and nursing them through the process until they succeed is time consuming, counterproductive and would result in
a spectrum of problems. Like a first impression, you only have one chance to avoid making a big mistake. The ‘average’
or ‘below average’ individual in all likelihood, will make it.
Benefits and Problems with Testing: The first benefit of testing has been alluded to. Testing will
quickly separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. Motivated individuals, with an ability to assimilate information and
handle a little extra stress will quickly show themselves under initial testing. Subsequent testing ordinarily reinforces
the perception of these qualities in an individual. Testing is the easiest and most traditional way to measure an individual’s
progress and performance, but it is not without its pitfalls. Problems with any testing are many, and varied. First and foremost I have
experienced ( in my own learning endeavors) and have seen in others the ability to completely forget a concept once
it is written down on a test. It is the difference between retaining information-for a time- and truly assimilating it. Traditional
testing promotes retention more than assimilation.
Traditional testing also promotes a tendency by students to ‘parrot
back’ information they have been given, rather than truly attempt to understand it, analyze it, and extrapolate on it
as a concept. Traditional testing I feel is a necessary evil but it can be ‘tweaked’ to be more beneficial to
student and instructor. The
stress factor in testing affects different people in different ways, depending on their personalities. Some who respond well
to other forms of stress start to crumble under testing? I actually consider the stress factor a good thing, and something
to be considered strongly if it plays a part in the selection of individuals for K9.
In K9 it seems to always come down to Court Testimony.
A handler can very well be put into a stressful venue and have pointed technical unrehearsed questions by complete strangers
put to him. If he or she cannot handle traditional testing, in all likelihood they won’t do well under the more stressful
trappings of Court Testimony. If anything, I would be inclined to ‘ramp up’ the stress of a testing situation.
1. Present a concept in class, then test the
student’s ability to extrapolate upon it, rather than simply ‘parrot’ it back. This can be done on paper
at times or in the field at other times.i.e. Air flow in a vehicle/ How a narcotics scent stream travels: Point out in class how a slightly opened window or
door affects air flow in a vehicle, and how this can be used to not only speed up the process of a dog being able to indicate
on the exterior, but speed up the process of him finding the source of the odor. Take the students to the field and have them set up
a few known hides to demonstrate the principals involved. The way they do it will demonstrate their grasp of the subject.
Secondarily set up more difficult hides for them, which may necessitate changes made to the air flow to see if they can or
will extrapolate on the base concept, thus showing they understand it. Once it has been demonstrated and experienced it will
be a great deal easier to recall, and remember, for traditional testing, either written or oral.
2. On traditional testing, again either oral or written, rather than have the students
define a term, the question should be presented using the terminology in context. This not only gets them to recall the definition
but reinforces it via its use in context. I.e. Question-
Define: Alert. Vs. Question- When your dog Alerts to the presence of contraband
he may do a number of things. Name three...Secondarily re-word the question and approach it from another angle, again to solidify the student’s
understanding of the concept.I.e.
Question- Your training and call-out log should reflect every form of alert every time the dog demonstrates one.
T or FIn this instance
if the Handler has the customary confusion between the terms ‘Alert’ ‘Indication’ and ‘Final
Response’ this will inadvertently serve to solidify the terminology, at least in part.
question has been posed on how to reduce stress in testing. As I have alluded to earlier I personally do not feel the level
of stress in ASCT testing is out of line, and indeed were I to do anything, it would be to increase the level of stress. I
would do this in a couple of ways which would reflect real world scenarios in the hopes of better preparing the officers involved
for those scenarios. For
example: an easy way to do this in Advanced Schools would be to have attendant Trainer Certified members (and there are always
some present…) go along on tracks/searches etc. with Handlers they are not personally familiar with. Have them critique
performance, rightly or wrongly as the scenario unfolds, primarily to test the Handler’s reaction to the critique. In
a real-life scenario there is no shortage of officers peering over the K9 Handler’s shoulder remarking that he, or his
dog, don’t know what they are doing. Theoretically this exercise would help the Handler get through these situations
without his performance, or his psyche, being affected. I would also increase the amount of Court Testimony scenarios conducted in a courtroom
venue. The affect this has on normally unflappable officers never ceases to amaze me. My thought here is that if they can
quickly articulate accurate answers in this setting, they will be able to do so virtually anywhere. A ‘jury of their
peers’ in a normal street scenario should flow quickly and easily in comparison. An offshoot of increasing courtroom scenarios
is basically a requirement to really understand the concepts put forth to them in class. Hopefully the intimidating
venue would add impetus to their willingness to learn. Encouraging
Material Digestion and Increasing Performance: I have placed these two concepts together because one basically leads to the next.
The more material that is truly digested, the more performance is increased. Regrettably both of these are linked directly
to an individual’s level of motivation, so we must approach the topics in such a way that the average K9 officer will
benefit, whether he realizes it or not.
From a testing standpoint I think this is best done with some of the aforementioned
suggestions, and an increased emphasis on oral examination. Many times the oral gives the student a chance to articulate what
he cannot put succinctly on paper, with the big plus-also previously mentioned- that the information doesn’t get ‘flushed’
from the memory banks once it is written down. If time constraints are an issue with the Instructor, the aforementioned Trainer
Certified individuals could be pressed into service to administer oral exams. They have all had experience with testing, both
written and oral, in Basic Handling schools they’ve done, and utilizing them, if they are of open mind could easily
be a learning experience for them as well. Likewise on field exercises when the Instructor/Trainer notices a little nuance in the way the Handler
does a thing with his dog, and asks him for an explanation.
A lot of times these little things are literally done without thinking, and when
asked to explain the Handler often arrives at an “Aha” moment when he realizes he is indeed putting principles
learned in class to work. He has connected the dots without knowing it. Again, these little things are indicative of assimilating
knowledge, not simply retaining it. Along with these tiny revelations and epiphanies comes a resultant increase in performance.
Sometimes the accompanying Trainer/Instructor has to encourage the connection, sometimes he has to point out some of these
little nuances to the Handler, where again a ‘connect the dots’ moment is had. In either event these
things require more one-on-one time with the Handlers, not always a possibility, but not an unreasonable expectation in most
Speaking from the Trainer’s perspective, I learn something from every Handler I’ve walked through these exercises.
They don’t know it, but I have been learning from them all along.