Certified Trainer, Cpl. Kevin Kinard
A Few Points of Concern for New Handlers
The intention of this article is to give an insight into some of the issues that I see first time handlers going through. This is by far not a comprehensive guide but instead a brief summary of the main issues that I have learned through experience.
Overtraining- As a first time handler or even an experienced handler with a new partner, it is easy to come out of school with a lot of motivation and energy. I have seen handlers come out of the gate and automatically begin to set up training sessions that are extremely long, complex and frequent. Through trial, error and observing others, I have determined that this is rarely ever effective. When beginning a training session, have a specific goal in mind and set the training up for success. One solid repetition, done correctly, with the desired result is worth far more than five or ten that were mediocre. Set the training session up so that you are absolutely sure that on the last repetition the dog will be successful and will end it on a good note. Putting the dog away on a blown or mediocre set is one of the worst errors that you can do as a handler. The dog’s last memory of the event must be fun and the dog must show an eagerness for more.
Ego- This is always a hard one for everyone. For this you have to look inward and actually figure out what you are doing wrong. If you have a dog that is absolutely knocking training and live scenarios out the park, and then begins to have problems or possibly even shut down completely, 90 percent of the time the handler is doing something wrong. Whether you have developed something that is keying the dog, or your training hasn’t been up to par you have to figure it out. Dogs are extremely cognitive and pick up on everything. The best way that I have found to correct this is to bring in a third party or video yourself. See if you are doing something to key the dog. Be your biggest critic. Make sure that live searches go through the same motions as training. Ask yourself if your speed is the same, am I dropping a hip, slacking the line, tightening the line, what am I saying and how am I saying it. Simply stating that the dog is screwed up should not be acceptable when most of the problem is probably coming from you.
Fun with a purpose- The absolute most important thing in dog handling is enjoyment. This applies to both the handler and the dog. If the dog is not having fun with both training and live scenarios, then it will begin to shut down. Everything must be successful. If you keep simply keep the thought that you will never put the dog away on a bad experience, you will see an extreme pick up in performance. You also have to keep the dogs enjoyment focused on the task at hand. The enjoyment that the dog feels should be derived from working and training. If the dog comes home with you and finds that he likes sleeping on the couch or chasing birds in the back yard more than he likes coming to work, then you are going to have problems. You and the work should be the alpha and omega in the dog’s life.
Don’t get Frustrated- This is one of the biggest obstacles in handling. Everyone has problems. Handling and training are just endless cycles of plugging holes in a leaking damn. Once you work one problem out, another one is most definitely going to arise. If your dog is having a narcotics detection problem and you work on that for a month, the following month it may be tracking, or a different detection problem arises. Do not get frustrated that the dog isn’t always 100 percent. It is never 100 percent. Pressure from administration and your own self motivation always makes you strive for perfection but it is very rarely going to happen because the dog is a living thing and different factors affect it just like humans. The best attitude to have is “It is what it is”. Give all you have into training and perfecting your handling. That is all you can do. And when a scenario comes along that requires you to perform, you are as prepared as you can be and what happens, happens.
I hope that this is helpful to some of you reading this article. Every person who has been serious about handling a dog understands the pressure and responsibly that comes with it. It is hard work but just keep in mind why you signed up for this to begin with. It is never perfect but it is the most rewarding thing in this profession when it all comes together.
Cpl. Kevin Kinard
Walterboro Police Department
ASCT Certified Departmental Trainer