Handler with his dog. photo SB Davis
My kids and I visited the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre yesterday. It’s located in Innisfail, Alberta just south of Red Deer along Highway #2. This is the national centre where all service dogs and their handlers are trained. The centre has been located here for 50 years. Prior to that several centres were located across Canada. For those non-Canadians reading this RCMP stands for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They are the federal police force of Canada, but also are contracted by eight provinces to do their provincial policing. The only existing provincial police forces are in Ontario and Quebec.
Some of training apparatus with teams in foreground. photo SB Davis
Every Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 pm during the summer months of July and August the centre puts on a free demo and information session open to the public. The day we were there it was very well attended, around two thousand persons. The grandstand was filled to capacity with standing and sitting room only on the grass next to the fence.
The sessions last about 45 minutes and include search and apprehension skills. There is usually a chance to meet a dog up close and sometimes there are puppies, but this isn’t guaranteed.
Training is done on site, but the majority of the training is conducted outside in the real world, nearby farmer’s fields, wooded areas, industrial areas and residential areas.
Police Service Dog Memorial. Plaques have info on each dog lost in service. photo SB Davis
Finally near the entrance and the grandstand there is a memorial (pictured) to all the dogs lost during service. Adjacent to the memorial are the graves of some of the dogs.
RCMP members occasionally used privately owned dogs to assist them from 1908 to 1935. Then in 1935 the force acquired three German shepherds. Later in 1937 satisfied with their performance a training school for dogs was established in Calgary, Alberta. The first case won with dog search evidence occurred in 1940. The present training centre was established in Innisfail in 1965. Staff consists of officer in charge, one program manager, one senior trainer, five sergeant trainers, one acquisition sergeant, two corporal pretrainers and support staff of six.
German shephards and Belgian shephards (Malinois) in perfect condition are used. These are considered best for police work as they are adaptable, versatile, strong, courageous and can work in extreme conditions. We were told that a dog entering the program only has a 17 percent chance of becoming a police service dog. This is due to the high standards of the RCMP. The annual cost to maintain a police service dog is less than $1000 per year. Most police dogs retire at the age of seven which was surprising to me.
Dogs start training anywhere from 12 to 18 months of age. Basic training is 17 weeks, but training is on-going to maintain physical and mental fitness. Dogs and handlers are validated on an annual basis.
Handlers are regular members of the force who volunteer for this duty. There is a long waiting list. Candidates are screened for selection. Obviously they must have a tolerance towards animals and appreciate dog instincts. The handlers and dogs go through the training program together and form a team.
What police service dogs do:
Police service dogs locate lost persons, track criminals, search for narcotics, explosives, crime scene evidence and lost property. In addition they provide VIP protection, crowd control, and assist with hostage situations. The dogs are great with police and community relations.
A search dog is trained for a specific skill in some cases. For instance a dog trained for sniffing out explosives only does that. Same with a dog trained for narcotics otherwise the nose get confused. The officer presenting to us said the officers need to know what’s in the package a dog finds. If a narcotic dog finds a package the officer must be assured it’s not anything else such as explosives.
Fascinating facts about police service dogs from the website,
A dog can search a car in about three minutes.
Dogs can work up to four hours with rest intervals.
At present there are 112 RCMP dog teams across Canada.
The estimated cost to train a handler and dog team is $60,000.
An interesting thing we found out is that the RCMP has its own breeding program at the centre. All the dogs are bred via artificial insemination. Private individuals nearby keep the females during their pregnancy until they’re ready to birth. At that time they are brought to the centre where the puppies are born. Once the puppies are about 8 weeks old they are given to handler candidates on the waiting list to be raised and looked after until they are ready for training at 12 to 18 months of age. Many of these member candidates in waiting have raised several puppies. I think it must be hard for them to give the puppies back I know it would be for me. By the way we were told they don’t receive any extra renumeration for doing this on behalf of the force. Dogs that are found unsuitable for training are sold and the demand is high.
We found the centre well worth the visit and went away with a new appreciation of these magnificent animals and their humans.
RCMP Dog Services