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January 21, 2016

When a family picks out a dog for a pet, they may immediately bond with the first puppy they see at a pet store, or go to a breeder and choose one from the most recent litter. The dog quickly becomes a household member, bringing into the family all its wonderful qualities – along with a number of quirks, some of which are trainable to counteract. Some inherent traits, however, are just the way that particular dog is, and everyone learns to live with the barker, the jumper, or the shoe chewer. The good outweighs the bad, and the strong bond of companionship is indelibly formed, generally lasting well over a decade. No one would second guess their choice of a pet. Choosing a working dog for security services is a totally different process. The emotional aspects are not factors. Most of these specialized unique K9’s come from the Netherlands. The breeding there over a period of many decades is quite different than other countries where show qualities were deemed most important. Resultantly, many breeds have incurred physical or psychological issues that compromise the necessary abilities of the highly skilled working dog. Dogs from the Netherlands are bred as working lines – not for looks – and imported to kennels in countries like the United States where security professionals who specialize in canine use and training go to pick dogs for specific purposes.

German Shepherd security & protection dog face close-up.

How Selective is the Process of Choosing the Right Security Dog

When high-level canine security professionals choose their dogs, they go to these specialized kennels. There are only a handful of these kennels in the United States, with Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpesville, PA and Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Indiana being in the top tier. These kennels are dedicated to providing the best dogs for these purposes. Kenneth D. Licklider, SMSGT, U.S.A.F. (Retired) is one of this elite group of breeder and trainer professionals at Vohne Liche, and comments, “In the last 39 years I’ve seen our chosen profession grow and improve in many ways. The recent study published by the U.S. Army says what we have always known. ‘The dog is the best, most effective tool to combat /detect explosives hands down!’ I go to work every day with a smile on my face due to the job that I do, training dogs for the Police and Military.” For the most part, dogs trained for security purposes are limited to five different breeds – German Shepherds, Belgium Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, Springer Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers. The usual average age when adopted is 2 years old. Is it love at first sight with the first puppy they see? No, not at all. The process of selecting the right dog is extremely comprehensive and very time consuming. Generally, the dog expert knows the exact future role (purpose and destination) for the particular dog sought, and the testing and screening protocol is substantial. It is common for the security professional to test 50 or 60 dogs at a specialized kennel before one or two are picked for the desired role. Specific character traits are sought, and some are unique depending on the tasks or environment in which the animal will be working. The procedure is very selective; the dogs have to excel through all the desired qualifications. The security professional is also scrutinizing the animal for any undesired qualities that could be identified in the dog, ones that they know would be difficult – or impossible – to change with training. The dogs are put through the paces of the testing to see if they are comfortable in a wide range or potential situations, such as moving on slick floors or going up and down stairs, getting easily acclimated with different heights, fearful of the dark, or startled by extreme noises. They are looking for all the signs that display courage and confidence, a non-aggressive level-headedness, and an animal that accepts praise.

Security dog being trained by handler jumping over an obstacle.

The dog is also evaluated on how it deals with an aggressor. If a person with a covered face wielding a stick approaches in a menacing manner, the desired response from the animal is to stay calm and focused until the threat is close and imminent and then engage; true fight or flight response evaluation. Additionally, the personality of the dog has to match up well with that of the dog’s future handler, and that person is already known by the security agent choosing the K9. Testing each dog entails a long series of drills and tests and could take well over an hour per individual animal. The security professional selecting the dog has the experience to identify all potential issues or problems that will result in the rejection of the animal for their desired purpose. Once the rights dogs are chosen, they are purchased from the kennel, where the cost per animal is anticipated to be over $10, 000. The training process is the subsequent phase, and is usually done by the specialized vendor the dog was purchased from in collaboration with the security firm that chose the dog. Depending upon the intended destination facility and type of protection or security service, the intensive training will take anywhere from four to seven weeks.

The Dog’s Internal Play Drive

Internal play drive – each dog has a different one. It is the prime factor in choosing a dog for protection and security roles because this play drive is what the intensive training taps into. The dog is rewarded for its success in achieving the desired goals for the intended task. The reward in most cases is the receipt of a simple toy like a tennis ball. Not an overwhelmingly large bounty for possibly sniffing out a bomb and saving thousands of lives. But the dog does not rationalize the world like humans do. They are not cognizant of saving lives, or caring about the realities of terrorist actions, or worried about drug use and smuggling. All they are obsessed with is finding the bomb or contraband, signaling their handlers and getting the best thing imaginable – that little yellow tennis ball in return. That substantial play drive sought in such an animal is the difference maker in the level of intensity that the animal does its job, and ultimately the success of its missions. All dogs have a play drive – some have it in extreme amounts – and that is what these dogs are all about. A skilled protection and security canine is like an elite NFL or Olympic athlete; they can’t wait for the moment when they get to do what they do best. Their life revolves solely around performing and succeeding. They live it 24/7/365, and it is the essence of their motivation.

Security dog sniffing luggage.

Over 300 Million Receptors to Smell With

A human has about 6 million olfactory receptors that govern their sense of smell. A dog has over 300 million! They can distinguish the many components in a particular smell. The Pentagon conducted an elaborate study – costing almost 20 million dollars – to identify the best methods of bomb detection. With all the modern technology available today, it was convincingly determined that the best choice for this task is still the trained canine. Dependent on the anticipated environment that the dog will operate within, during the training process certain smells are taught to be accepted and not to override those that are being sought for identification. For example, if a service dog will be working in an oil field area, the smell of petroleum will not compromise its ability to successfully identify the item it is trained to find. Top security and protection firms put dogs in service for a variety of purposes that include, but are not limited to: searching for specific items in rooms, buildings or other environments; alerting for smells, flammables, etc.; discovering a lost or hidden individual; protection of an object or certain territory; guarding an important person; identifying drugs or other contraband; and, finding bombs, weapons and dangerous devices. There are powerful wealthy individuals who want their personal jets scanned from nose to tail by security dogs before they’ll consider boarding the plane. Organizations often need to identify any illegal drugs on the premises or on the person of employees. Dignitary advance teams have to ensure that no explosive devices are planted before or during events on the itinerary. Currently, many governmental budgets are trending downward, and the availability of highly trained dogs in that sector is decreasing. The private sector is now supplementing this need. In the case of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings, the race route was patrolled by bomb sniffing dogs and deemed safe before the event commenced. Unfortunately, however, the bombs were placed during the race. It was a lesson learned for event security because if the dog details had remained on duty throughout the day, the bombers most likely would have been identified as they made their way to their desired destinations for the devices. A lesson learned.

Bomb sniffing black dog at outside event.

A Comprehensive Security and Protection Plan

The top security firms generally do not implement highly-trained canines for the singular purposes of being guard dogs on the estates of celebrities. These services of these elite dogs is most often in conjunction with a more comprehensive overall security action plan determined as best for the specific organization, individual, or situation. The security firm’s experts will decide when and where trained K9’s will be incorporated, and they will provide the animal that has been readied their whole life for that specific task. Canine animals are a high-level addition to the security and protection plan, and bring in an element of expertise for tasks that only they can do. Your professional security firm can evaluate your risks, threats, and vulnerabilities and advise as to your organizational or individual need for service dogs as part of the recommended security action. If deemed necessary, the top security firms will have the finest and best trained service dogs and handlers, who in most cases are chosen, trained and implemented specifically for your unique security and protection needs.

It’s a Dog’s Life

Dogs bring much into the human world. They are wonderful, loyal companions and pets. They also can function in a whole other element, and use their inherent skills – enhanced by elite training – to ensure safety in difficult or challenging situations, and protection in a variety of ways. These dogs are different animals. Their life revolves around their work which they do for 7 to 10 years. On or off duty, they follow commands before undertaking even the most basic dog behavior. They eat only the food their handlers give them and only eat it when told it is alright to do so. This type of structure is for their own protection, and eliminates the risk that they could be poisoned by others or distracted from completing their assigned task. They receive praise from their handlers, but not the overwhelming affection received by the typical dog in a house full of little kids. The bond between them and their handlers is a special one, but has its boundaries as well – because the handler may have to command the dog to enter into extremely dangerous situations and cannot hesitate based on their emotional feelings towards the animal. The ambition, the play drive, the desire to succeed, and the craving for reward – that is the security and protection canine. They are highly trained professionals, unique animals with a purpose that they strive to excel in. They do their job and live and breathe the challenge – making the human world a safer and better place.

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