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The Recruit(s): K9 and Human Partnerships

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Freya
It’s always a challenge when the pups transition from working with the trainers to working with their new handlers.

The handlers are used to working alongside their soon-to-retire dogs: most teams have been partners for 6-8 years. (CIA dogs retire no later than their 9th birthday). The pups, meanwhile, are used to the precise movement and energy of the trainers. It’s like changing dance partners. It takes a while for the new partnerships to get in sync.

Our Lead K9 Trainer, Dennis, often talks about this “dance” between handler and dog.

“Watching an experienced K9-handler team should look like a dance,” says Dennis. “The handler should move through a search area with a smooth, fluid, rhythmic motion, presenting with their hand productive areas for the dog to search. This helps alleviate going too slow or too fast and also keeps the dog interested and focused in its search.”

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Heide
Having a dog for a partner is a unique experience – different than working with a human partner and different than having a pet dog.

“Taking your K9 partner with you everywhere builds a different kind of bond than you get with a pet,” says Dennis. “You literally take them everywhere you go: into every establishment you go in to, on planes next to you, into war zones. It’s an amazing experience.” An experience that Dennis and the other K9 officers wouldn’t trade for anything. But there is a down side: “Your job is finding bombs.”

For CIA’s K9 officers, working side-by-side with a dog, doing work that they’re passionate about and that makes a difference for our nation, is an honor. The gravity of the work our K9 officers perform on a daily basis in order to protect the Agency and our country makes the job rewarding, but also extremely challenging. This is why the handlers and pups undergo such extensive training and evaluation.

The exercises during training get more difficult as the teams progress through their advanced courses, preparing them for their final certification tests and graduation. Recently, the teams practiced a variety of vehicle and room searches.

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Advanced Searches

During advanced training, the trainers create simulated exercises for the pups and handlers to practice and refine their skills while searching all kinds of different objects in a variety of environments.

This includes searching large objects such as cars, trucks, and trailers:

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Nicole

Heide

The pups also practice searching in a range of settings like office rooms, hotel rooms, and warehouses:

Nicole

Heide

Heide

It can be challenging for the pups to transition from searching can-lines, cement blocks, and luggage to these larger items and arenas. The search patterns are different and sometimes it takes the dogs a while to learn that searching something like a car or an entire warehouse can be productive (i.e. that they’ll find a target or “hot” odor and get a food reward).

To keep the pups motivated, the trainers start the dogs out with easy search patterns and multiple hots.

Nicole

As the handlers and dogs focus on the task at hand, K9 trainer Steve reminds the handlers to “make it fun!” A K9 officer’s job is extremely serious work, but the dogs respond best when they’re enjoying their work. It’s up to their handlers to keep the pups motivated.

“Your energy and attitude runs straight down the leash to the dog,” says Steve. “If you’re having a bad day and come in grumpy, the dog will pick up on that and behave accordingly.”

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As the pups and handlers improve their search techniques, the trainers make the searches longer and more challenging, including using multiple vehicles or several rooms and fewer hots.

Eventually, the pups will search multiple rows of cars with only a single hot, as well as several rooms containing no target odors. This helps teach them to pace themselves properly to increase their endurance for long searches; an essential skill for any explosive detection dog.

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As the pups and handlers finish their training, they’re preparing for their final evaluations. Once they’ve passed all their certification tests, it’ll finally be Graduation Day!

If you miss any of the articles in this series, visit “Follow CIA’s New Puppy Class!” main page, where we are chronicling the puppies’ progresses throughout their training.


Posted: Nov 30, 2017 03:45 PM
Last Updated: Dec 07, 2017 06:54 PM