The beating sound of a ball against the floor and excited barks rang through the air at a Washington Department of Transportation facility in Mullinex last week, as Sergeant Kintzley and K9 partner Moss celebrated a job well done.
Sgt. Kintzley and his black and white English Springer Moss successfully located explosives hidden inside the wheel of a truck- proving their detection skills and capability. As Moss sniffed around the next room with Sgt. Kintzley close by, Master Trainer Steve Gardner explained how Moss started working for the Washington State Patrol.
Moss and a fellow English Springer were given as a gift from a friend- however that isn’t the case for most dogs in the Patrol. Gardner says the WSP receives K9s in typically two ways: Dogs who are too active for families are usually gifted to the Patrol by citizens or they come through a Transportation Security Administration sponsored program where the agency trains a Trooper and K9 together at their facility, then sends them both back to their unit. In return the WSP Canine Unit helps TSA whenever they need assistance with a local incident.
And the Patrol isn’t just looking for German Shepherds, but welcomes all kinds of dogs into the family.
Garnder says the Patrol doesn’t discriminate against any sort of breed and has trained everything from English Springers to Pitbulls. Rather than looking strictly at breed type, Gardner says he looks for a natural ability to hunt and excellent air scent capability- qualities which are often found in sporting dogs.
Although age can vary, Gardner says the Patrol tries to start training K9s around 2-years-old; young enough to mold by mature enough for trainers to see natural abilities and characteristics.
So now we know how the dogs get placed into the Patrol, but what about their handlers?
Troopers who wish to transition to the Canine Training Unit go through an aptitude test where they must perform various exercises with previously trained dogs. This gives Master Trainers the chance to see how the hopeful K9 Troopers naturally interact with dogs. They are then put through a written test to demonstrate knowledge of the Unit, its efforts, and processes. Last comes a lengthy oral interview.
Picking the right Troopers and right canines is a tough job, but pairing the two together can prove even more challenging. “As corny as it sounds” says Gardner, “the dogs pick the handlers.” He says “for a dog, picking a handler is like picking a friend in an office setting. You can like and get along with a lot of people but there always seems to be one you work best with.” Master Trainers closely watch how specific handlers and K9s work together and will start guiding the pairing process, but ultimately it’s up to the K9. On average, pairing usually take place around week 6 (out of 12) of training.
Want to know how the entire training process works? Stay tuned for our next post in the “Canine Tales” series.