RCMP Service Dog Training Centre

August 20, 2015

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.

The Dogs:
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.

Dog Handlers:
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.

Further Information:
RCMP Dog Services

Great Sand Dunes National Park: An alien world

April 18, 2014

Great Sand Dunes photo Steve Davis

I visited this park in March 2014. The park is located at the base of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains in south-central Colorado. It is west of Interstate 25, north of US Highway 160, and east of Colorado 17. Access into the park is excellent, but is a little off the beaten track. It’s well worth the drive.

The huge dunes, North America’s tallest, are the focal point of this park. It was a surreal experience. One could almost visualize being in the Sahara Desert. Star Dune at 755 feet (230 metres) is the tallest in the park. At a close second is High Dune at 699 feet (213 metres).

Evidence shows that humans have lived in the area for 11,000 years. In historic times Southern Ute, Jicarilla Apache, Navajo, gold miners, homesteaders, ranchers, and farmers have lived here.

The dunes are a source of local pride and tourist income. By the 1920s valley residents petitioned for protection of the area. In 1932 it was designated national monument status under the Antiquities Act. Finally in 2000 the dunes and surrounding area became a national park and preserve.

The park facilities include a visitor/interpretive centre, hiking trails, picnic areas and campgrounds. When we visited it was still cool and jackets were a necessity. In summer though the temperature can reach into the 100s F (40s C).

Climbing the dunes is an experience not to be missed, even if you only go part of the way. Carry lots of water and a jacket. A good pair of athletic shoes is all you need, but be prepared to get sand in your shoes. From the visitor centre you have to walk a couple of hundred yards across a flat, beach-like area to get to the dunes.

Being on the dunes is like being in an alien world. As a photographer I was challenged to take the time to find new perspectives, it cries out for a picture every time you look around. It’s possible to slide down the dunes on boards similar to snow boards, these can be rented at a store a short distance outside the park entrance. The ranger told me that normal toboggans, snow boards, or saucers won’t work on the sand. Something about the consistency and make up of it. My son met some kids who let him try it and he was thrilled. They were from Colorado and told us they came here often to try out their skills. The dunes are steep, but forgiving if you fall, you’ll be filled with sand but not injuries.

If you’re looking for an unusual experience then this park is a must.


Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
11999 Highway 150
Mosca, CO 81146-9798



Train Travel – Hang On Tight

July 24, 2009
Hanging on

Hanging on

This picture of Indians traveling for the eclipse fascinated me. I wondered if,
  • Those outside got a discount over the fare for riders inside the cars.
  • If a rider falls off, can a refund be requested.
  • Train wrecks in India seem to be frequent. Wonder if this is the reason fatalities are so high when they do occur.

I’ve decided if I ever travel to India not to travel by train. I just don’t think I could hang on for very long.

Travel Writing with Emotion

May 4, 2008

The May 2008 issue of The Writer magazine has some fantastic articles on writing. One of the best is “Step by Step: A Fresh Eye and Busy Feet Make a Travel Writer” by John Smolens.

In this article he offers some out of the box ideas for writing about travel. He suggests making incidents during a trip into an article. The idea is to narrow the focus, avoid the chronological technique, and write about one moment that really strikes you for whatever reason. Emotion and fiction writing techniques should be employed according to Smolens to make the account of your experiences stand out.

I have traveled to Washington, D.C. on a couple of occasions. As a history writer it was one of my favorite and most interesting places to explore. To try out Smolens’s idea I have taken one moment on the trip and attempted to let my emotions and personal thoughts roll onto the page. The result is a short non-conventional travel story. Here it is,

(Above: Incredible photo by Josh Lane, Chicago, used with permission. Check out his Flickr site at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshlane/)

“End of Innocence

The flame flickered gently in the cool summer breeze. As I watched silently my mind traversed the years.

I was a fourteen-year old high schooler at the time. Even then I was hooked on history and loved reading everything I could. I was lucky to have had a couple of history teachers who could make it come alive.

It was Friday afternoon around 2:00 p.m. and some of us had just come in from a physical education class outside. I remember coming in and being asked to sit on benches in the hall. It seems the principal had an announcement to make.

As those unbelieveable words came over the public address system that President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, I was in shock. Not sure how to react some of us kidded around, then looked sheepishly at each other and silence ruled.

Now I was at his gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery standing among a crowd of strangers. Like me they were quietly reflecting. We weren’t strangers in this moment. Even the young children with no idea of the event, sensed the silent reverence of their parents. As my eyes traveled over the words engraved below the flame, “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1917 – 1963”, the sense of loss was overwhelming. Here was a man I didn’t know other than through television and newspapers, but I felt like he was a friend. I missed him so much. I reached out and gently placed my hand on the stones imbedded in the site.

My mind replayed the graphic images over and over. Kennedy slumping forward, the gore of the kill shot, and his wife retrieving his brain matter from the trunk of the Lincoln. On that sunny November day a wife lost her husband, a young daughter and son lost their father. It was the end of my innocence.”
#### Steve B. Davis, May 2008

I found this experience eye-opening to say the least. I intend to try it out again. Look back through your souvenirs and photos of trips and have a try at this technique. Many thanks to John Smolens for the article.

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