P.A. police dogs have their day

Matt Gardner
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Prince Albert Police Service showed off their canine training program on Thursday to demonstrate progress made by the dogs and their masters.

The department adheres to a provincial police dog standard that consists of a 16-week training school. Dogs and their handlers are currently four weeks into the program.

Accomplished trainer Sgt. Jon Bergen serves as lead instructor.

“We’re full-time training Monday to Friday right now, (but) we’ve got to rest the dogs,” Bergen said. “So typically, we’re actually training dogs out for at least six hours of the eight to 10 hour day … The dogs would actually be out working for about half that time, because you’ve got to break them. A tired dog, you start to work backwards.”

Sgt. Bergen has gained a great deal of recognition for his skill in instructing canine units. He helped the FBI teach tactical dogs at their training headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, and served as a judge last weekend at the Canadian Police Canine Association dog trials in Regina.

“He has some interesting perspectives and we trust everything in our canine unit to his care,” said P.A. Police Chief Troy Cooper. “This is an investment for our service and something very valuable to us, and we know that Jon’s got it well under control.”

Three officers and their dogs were present on Thursday. Conservation officer Jamie Chartrand commanded a Belgian Malinois named Jax. Const. Clint Rudderham was accompanied by his Seattle pooch, Jaeger, while Const. Dallas Stender’s dog Loki hailed all the way from the Czech Republic.

Stender emphasized the importance of trust in partnerships between cops and their furry companions.

“I got (Loki) three weeks before we started training, so we haven’t had a whole lot of time to bond,” he said. “Ideally it’d be nice to have a few months together, but by the time he got here and everything from overseas … it took a little longer than we thought it would, so we haven’t had the same bonding time that these other guys have had. But that’s a big thing too, because they won’t work for you if they don’t trust you.”

Sgt. Bergen led the three officers and their dogs through a typical training routine, which includes tests for obedience, agility, locating drugs and biting.

They won’t work for you if they don’t trust you. Const. Dallas Stender

“Any time we’re doing control work or bite work, they have to respond immediately to our command … This is basically the foundation of what we base our training on,” Bergen said of the first test. “Obedience is extremely important.”

Agility tests required the dogs to navigate a series of obstacles, including jumping through tires and windows.

The drug section involved four boxes, one of which contained illegal narcotics.

“What we’re using right here are canine-shaping behavior boxes,” Bergen said. “What it does is it’s remote-controlled — I’ve got the remote with me right here — and we put whatever drug we’re working on in the one box, and only the one box. The dog has to be directed to each box, and when he actually smells that odour, then he indicates it with a sit. It’s this first box that has the drugs, and there’s high-grade cocaine in there.”

When the dog sits, Bergen presses the remote and a ball springs out as its reward.

Making training fun for the dog is a conscious decision.

“We motivate them with reward training,” he said. “We don’t do the old school forced-type training … They’re happy to do their job because there’s something in it for them. So you can see that these dogs are all having fun. Their tails are wagging.”

For the bite test, Bergen wears a special protective sleeve and goads the dog into chasing him and clamping its jaws onto the sleeve. Police dogs are trained to bite only when a suspect has committed a serious offense and there is no other means of making a lawful arrest.

Selection for canine duty is a highly competitive affair among police officers, but Const. Stender’s obvious affection for his dog Loki helps explain why.

“There’s ups and downs,” Stender said. “He drives me crazy one minute, but then the next … I wouldn’t want any other partner.”

Organizations: FBI, Canadian Police Canine Association

Geographic location: Quantico, Virginia, Regina Seattle Czech Republic

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