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HERE’S What You Should Know About Being A K9 Handler: SOURCE

HERE'S What You Should Know About Being A K9 Handler: SOURCE
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Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the source podcast. Everything working dogs. And today I’m bringing to you a great episode. Every week we look at topics. That can help you guys or listeners or those that are watching on YouTube. We put together these topics because most times it’s what people come to us with and say, Hey, I really wish you’d talk a little bit about this.

Or we really wish you’d put out an episode about this. So this week’s episode is talking about the things you should know before you accept a canine handler position. But I’m going to attack this from two different perspectives because I thought it was important to really look at this holistically.

And when I say holistically, there’s two parts to that marriage when it comes to becoming a K 9 handler. There’s the K 9 handler or the K 9 team, [00:01:00] but there’s also the department. So, if there’s somebody that runs a department, or somebody that’s going to set a canine unit up for department, or maybe it’s just a department that.

Maybe struggling a little bit with some understanding. I want to bring a little bit of clarity to that. And then for those that are maybe considering becoming a canine handler or wants to follow their dream of becoming one, I think it’s important that you understand thoroughly what you’re getting into before you accept that position.

Because you can really do a disservice to yourself, to your department. Both financially and time wise, but it could also kill the likelihood of getting another canine unit if you’re not fully invested in this, oftentimes there’s more people involved in that investment than just you as a person taking that position, so I’m also going to talk a little bit about that today.[00:02:00]

So let’s jump right in. I’m AJ Vargas. I’m the CEO of Custom K9 Unlimited, law enforcement turned business owner, and absolutely love what I do every single day. But most importantly, at heart, I’m a trainer. And because of that, I do this podcast every single week to teach you just one thing that I’ve learned through my experience.

I often think about things from a perspective of where I came from and the things I’ve dealt with, but I’m blessed because I have a huge network of people and I hear things from various angles parts of the country and even parts of the world. And problems that people are dealing with

I get to hear all that. So I’m blessed to be able to bring all that to you guys each and every week and teach from those perspectives. I have to [00:03:00] rely on the things that I get to see in my training, in my relationships and staying close to departments and handlers in a sense that I get to see it from a different perspective now versus when I used to be in it and only seeing it from that perspective.

But now I get to see it from a wider range. And also I get to take all that information and bring it to you each and every week. So I’m, I’m just glad that I’m able to do that. And I pray that one of you guys learns one thing from each of our episodes. Because then it’s worth our time and it’s worth your time listening, but as I jump into this, I want to remind you and I’ll remind you again towards the end of this, that if you ever have a topic that you want us to cover, whether we need to research it or it’s something that you want to learn and you think others would benefit from it, [00:04:00] always reach out to us, send us a message, email us, you can call us, take that time to look out for others and give us it.

a perspective that maybe we haven’t even looked at. All right guys, let’s jump right into it. Today we are talking about becoming a K 9 handler and the things you should know. And again, I told you I’m, I’m attacking this from two different angles. I’m attacking it from a handler perspective and I’m attacking it from a departmental perspective.

Spend a little time with me today and learn just one thing, please. So one thing to realize there’s a lot of canine handlers in the country. A matter of fact, there’s over 200, 000 canine handlers in our country. That’s a lot, but not everybody’s happy being a canine handler. Not everybody is doing what they expected.

To [00:05:00] be, and I’ve seen this, not just from a training perspective, but also talking to departments and other handlers, there’s people that get into this thinking that they’re going to live out a dream that they’ve always had, or do something that they think is so cool because they see it from the outside, but they never see the background to what goes into being a canine handler.

And it’s like that, even with CCU, everybody sees the front facing. Of what we do every single day, but they don’t see the behind the scenes things. And I think about trainers and especially new trainers that come on with us, they come on seeing, you know, us involved in training and they see us out with students traveling and doing all these things, but they never understand the hours that go into it outside of that the paperwork that we have to do the [00:06:00] preparations that we have to make the coordinations that we have to have for sites every single day that we’re training that.

So there’s a lot that goes into the background. As with any other profession that most times you’re not privy to unless you’re in the profession. So as a K 9 handler or a potential K 9 handler, you’re seeing all the good stuff. You’re seeing the deployments that these teams go on. You’re seeing them, you know, get the glory of catching somebody or finding a Large load of drugs or, you know, working in an event or doing a demo and how well behaved their dog is or how smooth they look as a handler, but you don’t see all the work that went into getting to that point to making it look easy.

And I always say that great handlers make that job look easy. And that’s what everybody [00:07:00] sees, but they don’t get to see all the heartache and the problem solving that they’re going through and the amount of training that they have to put into to make all this work. So, guys, let’s talk about a few things that as a canine handler or a potential canine handler, I want you to know before you decide to take this job, because it’s so important that you understand what it’s going to be like when you do accept that position.

And I would always recommend, especially if you have a family. That maybe you let them listen to this podcast as well, or several years, I wrote an article about this very topic, and we’re going to place that article in the show notes for your reference as well, so that you can refer to that as well, but I think too, you need to include your family in this decision because this will, [00:08:00] let me repeat this.

This will guys, listen up, this will take. Time away from your family, you’re not going to just be able to hang up your gun down at the end of the shift. You’re not going to really have days off. Yeah, that’s hard for you to realize that, but it’s going to be hard for you to get days off between court training, maybe call outs.

You may not. Get a single day off in a month. Is that okay with you? I don’t know. Does it fit your lifestyle? I don’t know. Is your wife okay with that? Or your kids okay with that? I remember thinking back and taking time off work

and leaving a shift and going to catch an event at my child’s school and then leaving right after and going right back to duty. [00:09:00] I did that for many years. But it was something that my family was on board with, and I made very clear with that,

and we were very upfront with that. I didn’t get the pressure of my wife being mad at me because I had to work late or I told her that I was going to be home at 7 o’clock and I didn’t get home until 10 o’clock. My kids were okay with that, but looking back, I realized how much time I miss with them in order to follow my dream.

And that’s not okay with everybody and I get that it’s not a bad thing, but it’s something that you have to realize that you’re taking on more than a job when you decide to take on a dog or become a canine handler, you’re taking on a job that has some unique features. And that first unique feature that I need you to understand is that [00:10:00] you’re going to build a bond with a dog like you’ve never built.

before. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of dogs pass in my time and a lot of handlers lose their dogs. Heck, I’ve been doing this 20 years. So naturally you get to see a lot of that and be involved in a lot of that. And the immense pain that handlers go through when they lose their dog is just, it’s beyond descriptive words that I could give you.

I can’t explain how they feel, but it’s that deep pain. You don’t often see someone in law enforcement cry or show emotion, but I’ve never seen anybody lose their dog and be able to hold back their tears. Just doesn’t happen. So that’s the first thing you need to realize is that you’re building a bond.

You’re [00:11:00] often spending more time with this dog than you do your own family. So they’re not just tools. That you hang up at the end of your shift or you check back into your equipment locker. These are obviously living animals, but you build a bond through training and through deployments that ultimately keep you safe, but at the same time could be detrimental to the other relationships that you have, not to mention if a department makes changes.

Within their union, you they decide to move that dog to somebody else that could be very difficult to cope with. But I want to bring this up because it’s important for you to understand as a handler that that’s a departmental asset. And those changes can be made oftentimes not favorable or not, um, not want [00:12:00] it, but it could happen.

And I want you to know that going into that, that there’s always that potential for that. Knowing that not necessarily prepares you for that, but gives you a keen understanding of what you’re really jumping into. This is not taking away your duty belt and replacing it with another duty belt. This is an animal that you build a bond with that you’re going to grow to love.

You’re going to grow to talk to in the back of your patrol car. You’re going to vent to this dog because nobody else listens to you. But this dog, you’re going to get used to the sounds of this dog in the back of your car. There will come a day. When that’s all gone and that’s hard to cope with. So you have to understand that going into it, that one day, even if you get another dog, this dog will no [00:13:00] longer be with you.

I know that seems kind of odd to jump into this with that, but again, I’ve seen this over my career with people losing dogs or dogs being removed from the particular handler, and it always seems to come as a shock to them. So I want to let you know upfront that there’s that potential. That, that doll may be removed from you, that, that doll may pass away during your career.

And, You have to accept that, going into it, knowing that, so that you’re well informed and this is something that you’re willing to deal with one day. The next thing that I want you to understand is that your free time is no longer your free time. Everything you do, both professionally [00:14:00] and personally, is going to revolve around that dog.

You go on vacation, you have to plan for someone to take care of that dog. You have to make sure that they have food and water. When you get off shift, you don’t just go home and take your gun belt off and that’s it. You have to take care of the dog first. When you get up in the morning or in the evening, if you’re on night shift, you have to go out and the first thing you’re going to do is go take care of that dog.

You’re going to go check on it. You’re going to make sure it has food and water. You’re going to clean its kennel. You have to groom it. You have to take it to the vet. These are all things that you often do when you’re not on duty. So again, that’s taking away from your family time. You can’t just leave the dog [00:15:00] and do things you want to do.

There’s a lot of planning that goes behind that. Now, furthermore, you have to train and industry standards say an average of 4 hours per week, but most handlers train more than that. So that’s another. amount of your time that’s taken away because now you’re training on your off days

now you have court and because you’re a canine handler you’re involved in more cases or at least you should be and that’s going to require more court time and again oftentimes that’s not built around your work schedule that’s built whenever the courts are running and whatever that court schedule is you have to adhere to so now that’s more off time that you have to give up [00:16:00] And guys, not everybody is made for that.

There are a lot of people that value their off time and want to decompress. But I can think back through all those years that I was a canine handler and my life was consumed with doing something dog related all the time. It’s hard for me to think back and remember times that I actually just had days off.

Because not on top, not only on top of that, We have demos that we do. We have citizen police academies. We do, we have talks that we give at the DA’s office. We teach other people that are around us, other shifts and other personnel that support us. So my life was centered around something dog related. [00:17:00] All the time again, not for everybody, but it’s important, especially if you have a family that you relay that to them, because what you don’t want is being required to do all that.

And then also have the pressure of your family, not being happy. And if you ask me, I would always tell you to go with your family first. Always. I was fortunate because I had a family that supported me. And to this day, they, they support me to no end. However, not everybody’s like that. Not every wife or husband is like that.

Some kids need more attention than others, and you need to be there for them. So it’s important that you realize what you’re jumping into before you get into it. And you consult with your family. Now let’s talk about your home space. Now your [00:18:00] home space is not just your own home space any longer. You’re moving a dog into the situation.

You’re going to put a kennel in the backyard, or may put a kennel in the backyard, and you’re going to have crate, you’re going to have dog hair everywhere. You may also have people that are allergic in your family to dogs. So it’s important that you know that most of the dogs that are used in law enforcement are not hyperallergenic.

So that may cause further issues in your household. You don’t want to bring anything into your household that affects somebody else per se. So you got to think, think through these things before you decide to take this position. The next point that I’m going to make to you is that training days are not optional.

Unfortunately, not just industry standards. But there’s a true need for continual training. [00:19:00] If you want to be a good canine handler, if you want to be a true asset to your department, you have to train. And that dog needs to be trained with often. Again, more time you’re taking away from your family, as I said earlier.

However, it’s not optional. You have to train. And most times that’s going to be on your off day. So just be mindful of that jumping into this. You don’t just get to put this on the shelf once you get it. And once you do go through basic training, you don’t get to just, okay, well, I’m trained, I’m done like most other law enforcement courses, you know, you go to basic mandate, you go to, uh, interviews and interrogation class, you’re done after that class is done, but with a dog, you got to have continual training with that dog to make sure your skill sets, both [00:20:00] your dog skill sets and your skill sets and.

Your skill sets together remain at the highest level, because if not, the tool or the purpose of you being a canine handler is going to fail because your deployments will suffer if you don’t train. The 3rd point that I’ll make is that remember you’re going to respond to higher risk and more critical calls than anybody else.

It’s inevitable. K9 goes to all these critical calls. You’re directly involved in drug activity. encounter drug activity. You’re involved in search warrants. You’re going to be involved in going to violent crimes or tracking violent people. If you’re a tracking team, if you’re a patrol team, you’re going to go out to barricaded suspects.

I mean, there’s a wide range of calls you’re going to go to that you [00:21:00] would never go to if you weren’t K 9. But on top of that, you’re going to go to all of them. You don’t get to pick and choose which ones you go to. And inherently, that’s a higher risk. Because you go to more high risk calls, statistically speaking, you’re going to put yourself at a higher risk of being injured, hurt, or facing trauma. That could be physical or mental. Is that something you’re willing to do? Is that something you can handle? Because again, being a K9 handler is cool when you’re on the outside looking in.

Because you only get to see a small caption of what that team really does. That’s the 98 percent culminating in the 2 percent that they use their dog in a situation. And that’s [00:22:00] what most people see. They don’t get to see the other 98 percent when they’re dealing with trauma from a high risk event.

They’re dealing with heartache of their dog being injured or hurt. The training that they’re going through on and off duty and the classes that they’re going to for continual training, the report writing that they have to do on top of going to all these, the documentation that they have to do for every piece and second of training that they do, taking care of that dog off duty, all these things that a handler has to deal with on a day to day basis.

giving up all their free time because remember their time is no longer their time. They no longer have the free time that they’re going to have because they have [00:23:00] a dog to take care of now. The things they have to coordinate and oftentimes this is off duty. So guys before you jump into it please consider all these things and the other piece of advice I gave you was to check with your family and cover these things with them before jumping into this.

Because it’s going to save you a lot of time in the future if it’s not right for you. And it’s okay. K 9 is not for everybody. It’s only for the elite.

Just be mindful of that.

So before we check off the handler side of this, we wanted to give you a few things to consider and some reasons why The top three reasons why we found that people leave canine and don’t fulfill their entire career as canine. You [00:24:00] know, I was one that once I got into canine, I knew there was nothing else for me.

I stayed in it. My entire career and now even as I’ve left law enforcement, I stayed in canine because I knew that’s where I should be. There was no doubt about that. But if you’re iffy and shaky on some things, it just may not be for you. So some people get dogs and they end up leaving canine, which again, from my perspective, I can’t understand that.

But also understanding the realism behind what we do every single day and the grind and all these things is hard and some people have different directions in their careers or other things like I wouldn’t even take a supervisor position per se, because I didn’t want to give up my dog. I was great at where I was, and even today I do these [00:25:00] podcasts because I love training.

I love teaching and because of that, I gravitate towards this, put it in a lot of time, even now to do this, but I also had the support of my family. And I know I’ve said that a couple of times because I can’t stress the importance of it because on the flip side, I’ve had trainers. I’ve had people that I’ve sent overseas to work contracts that just can’t deal with it.

And most of the time it’s the family aspect, being away from their family or their spouse and their spouse not being able to accept. That type of lifestyle, which I get, it’s not a problem, but you should know going into it, what you’re going to have to give up to make this all work. So let’s talk about three things really quick.

Let’s [00:26:00] touch on them on why people leave canine. First and foremost, people leave canine. So they say it because of a lack of support from their administration. Or, and it may not just be support from them. It may be the financial support that goes into this. And that’s why I thought that it was important to touch on the department side of this so that our department understands what they’re getting into when they bring on the canine team or what it takes to really support them.

And I’m going to compare that with departments that I see that thrive. So again, lack of support is the first reason why people leave K 9. That could be financial support or administrative support. Okay, the second reason that people leave is because of a change of administration. Okay, new leadership comes in.

They have a different vision for the department. They don’t [00:27:00] see the benefits to their canine unit. So, they decide to disband the canine unit. Some of that’s financial. Some of that again. And I had a department tell me this, a chief that was really in support of a canine unit.

But he said, why should I keep a canine unit when I’m not getting any return on my investment? And he’s absolutely right. Why would he? Why would any leader pour into something? That they don’t reap the benefits of I wouldn’t. I don’t think you should either. So again, we talk about being a handler. I think it’s important that we talk about the pressure of being a handler as well because that pressure is going to come from many different areas, peer pressure and administrative pressure.

And what I mean by that is, is peer pressure, people expect you to be successful every single [00:28:00] time because they don’t understand how dogs work, they don’t understand the effects of the environment on our dog’s productivity, um, and there’s just things sometimes that are outside of our control. But I always tell handlers this, you’re only going to be known for your last deployment.

If you catch somebody or your dog alerts on a car and you guys find a big load of dope, you’re the best handler anybody’s ever seen. People are going to be talking about you, how great you are and how great that dog is you mess around and don’t catch somebody or you don’t alert on a car that they think something’s in there.

You’re the worst piece of crap ever. You’re the suckiest handler. Your dog sucks. And guys, it’s just nature of the beast. You got to be able to push that stuff to the side and keep moving and keep doing what you do to become better every single day, for whatever reason. Everybody expects [00:29:00] dogs to be perfect, and unfortunately, we know that we’re not.

There’s some things beyond our control, and there’s some things that we just haven’t prepared for in training yet. And yes, it gives us revelations on things that we need to work on. We’re not the catch all, and a lot of people think that. But that’s a lot of pressure also. When your peers are talking about you or when your peers are trying to downplay you and especially in our industry and while in law enforcement, it’s we’re, we’re alpha people because of that, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and on each other to perform and, uh, to really be the best that we can be, but when that breaks down and that fails, we’re also our worst critics.

So that’s a lot of pressure for somebody to handle, but from administrative side, [00:30:00] when we’re talking about return on your investment and a new administration comes in, or it could be a current administration, and they’re not seeing that return on investment. You’re not catching people. You’re not finding drugs and money.

You’re not fighting crime with that tool. They’re not going to want to keep it. And that’s a huge complaint that I hear from administrators is that. Yeah. My team’s just not productive and there’s a lot of excuses out there on why not, and there’s always two sides to every story, but that is an overarching complaint that I get from administrators is that they just don’t do anything.

They’re always training and I’m going to talk about that here in just a little bit to try to give some clarity with that. All right, and so last thing is, is, or the last reason people give up a canine position is because of time constraints. They feel like they’re always working, they feel [00:31:00] like they have no family time, and it’s a lot, it’s a demand, and it’s just hard.

So, the three main reasons people give those things, give up a canine position after they accept it. Lack of support or what they feel is lack of support from the administration or financial changing of administrations new administration comes in and I get rid of the canine unit. And then lastly, because of time constraints all very viable, right?

Because if I’m a canine handling, I don’t have the support of my administration. Why am I doing this job? And that comes both financially and just from support on what we’re doing. But I always say there’s two sides to this as well. Sometimes we need to sit down and assess if we’re really putting in the effort, putting in the stats that [00:32:00] justifies our position, because you will do a lot of training and when administration only sees the training and doesn’t see the outcome of that training.

They’re going to begin to question it. So it’s our jobs to produce as well. Again, that goes back to the pressure that’s on us as well. And that may not be for everybody. But it’s something to consider as you think about taking this position as a K 9 handler. So important. But let’s jump right into the department side because that’s another important facet.

Of this entire equation. It’s not just handler and it’s not just on you. If you’re thinking about becoming a handler, there’s other considerations.

So, as you take on this canine handler role or position, we got to have the department that makes some considerations as well. And the 1st [00:33:00] consideration that a department needs to make is a consideration of training time. Because there’s just no way around training time and a lot of departments think that they can just cut training time out.

And still achieve the same results. Maybe you can, because maybe your team is not producing. Maybe they’re making excuses. Maybe they’re not doing the things they should, and maybe they’re only focusing on training. And so statistically, there’s no way to justify what they’re doing, because if you’re giving them the training time and their numbers are not going up, I can very much see the complaint there.

I can very much support the fact that, there’s no return on investment. However, let me give you this in and out this analogy. A business that cuts out [00:34:00] budgeting is like an administration that cuts out training for a handler. And what I mean by that is you have to invest in training to reap the rewards.

A team that doesn’t train will not produce. They will fail more times than they succeed on the flip side team. That’s getting the support and training and has the training time should be producing. And I say should because the training should lend to them becoming a better team, which then puts them in a position to be successful more because they’re well prepared.

A SEAL team is successful because they train, and then they do their operations, and their operations are successful because they put in the time and training. K9 team is very much the same, but I will agree absolutely [00:35:00] wholeheartedly that your team has to produce as well. And statistically, we should be seeing the results of that.

Captures, fines, deterrent criminal activity, demos, all those things go into this team being A team that we’re going to continue to invest in as an administrator. So I get that, but administrators, please understand cutting training is not going to help the situation at all. So if your team’s not being proactive or they’re not producing, cutting training is not going to help them become productive is not going to save your return on your investment.

So from a handler perspective in a, in a department perspective, you just want a dog to say you have a canine unit. and a handler. Don’t invest all the money in training. Get him a companion dog that he can ride around with in the back of his car [00:36:00] or her because that’s where your investment is going. It’s going to nothing.

But if you really truly want this to be successful, you have to invest in training, continual training. So it’s not just them going to school and getting their basic training. It’s also continuing training that are continual training that they need. The next thing is supporting them financially. So you have to make a financial investment.

I see departments do this all the time where they’re trying to shortcut starting a unit or shortcut supporting a unit financially. And you just can’t do that. We cannot get them what they need, allow them to have the training that they need. The continual training and maybe even some advanced training and you put them in the best spot to be, um, productive [00:37:00] and a great asset for your department because you also have to think about things from a different perspective when people in your agency see that there’s growth potential, especially for specialized units, the retention rate for people is higher.

People leave because they want other opportunities. So when you create opportunities within your department for people to make lateral changes or advancements, they’re more likely to stay with a department that has that and that offers that. So I’m not saying that’s the only way, but that’s one way to deposit in making your department an advantageous place to work.

Why not go to the county over or the city over? They have a canine unit, they have these other specialized units, their administration supports them and really pushes them to be better, where here [00:38:00] we’re not getting that. And I’m not saying that’s every situation, I’m saying in my experience that I’ve seen that, where we start a dog program, but the dog program is just a checkbox to say we have a dog program.

You’re not fully invested in it. On the flip side, I’ve seen departments that have went through turmoil, they’ve lost handlers shortly after coming to training, um, they’ve had maybe some bad deployments, or not so great deployments, but because they supported their unit or their K 9 teams, they moved past those very quickly, and their unit has prospered.

So sometimes you’re going to reach those rocky areas. Or those storms, if you will, but you’ve got to push through those with the dedication you have for what you’ve invested in and that initial investment and such, [00:39:00] you will come out on the other end. So again, from a departmental standpoint, you got to prioritize training.

You got to hold them to that standard. You got to check on that standard. And as a result, you should see an increase in success from that. Okay. I understand the cost of that is high. I really do. But you have to invest in that quality training. It will truly help your department. It will truly reap the benefits for your city or for your county.

If you do that. Okay, and then the last thing I’m going to talk about is selection of the right handler, utilizing resources like this for a person that applies for a canine handler position, giving them the opportunity to thoroughly understand what they’re getting into, not just a loss of time. [00:40:00] Again, guys, I talked about that.

I talked about the pressure from their peers and from you guys on the need for them to produce and you’re going to hold them to that standard. Of their production, they need, they need to have a well rounded understanding and a thorough understanding of that before they jump into it. So selecting the right handler is paramount.

Selecting the right dog and the right training for your department. I know everybody, at least from a handler’s perspective, most of them want patrol dogs, or they want this type of dog, or they want, I’ve gotten people that call us and said, Hey, I want this bad dog. And you know, these are people that don’t have even have an understanding of what.

A bad dog is, and you know, they just have these illusions in their head, but as a department, it’s on, it’s [00:41:00] really important that you understand what you need for your department, what fits into your department. I would always recommend a department. That is a smaller department, not to get a patrol dog, and it’s not because of the liability, believe it or not, it’s because of the need of training and the amount of resources that has to go into a patrol dog, getting the adequate training that it needs without depending on somebody else, because a lot of departments will depend on another agency to help them with training.

And just in my experience, It becomes a hardship and it doesn’t always work out. So then now the handler has a has an excuse. Not to do training because they have to depend on somebody else. And if those relationships are severed or not the best, it’s easy for that department to say, no, we can’t help you, or we don’t have time to train with you or whatever the case may [00:42:00] be.

So it’s important that a department has their own resources for their, for their handler. So for a patrol dog to go to a small agency that maybe only has one dog, to me, it just doesn’t make sense. Because now you got to have a decoy. You got to buy additional equipment to support that training, take on additional liability.

What if your decoy gets hurt? Now that’s 25 percent of your work force that’s out because they got hurt because they got bit by a dog or they twisted their ankle or turn their knee. I’m not saying I’m against it. I’m just saying that it doesn’t make sense to do that for a small agency until maybe they grow their unit after a few years.

And I’ve seen the agency be very. Successful from that standpoint and more success came, came through growth of building a unit through a few years. And then their, their second round of dogs, [00:43:00] when their first dogs began to retire, they were big enough to support patrol dogs. So what they did was the next round of dogs, they begin to buy patrol dogs.

And as the patrol dogs began to phase in the single purpose dogs began to phase out. And I’ve seen great transitions made that way because of that. But with more disciplines comes more training. So selecting the right handler, selecting the right dog and selecting the right disciplines that you need for your department is very important.

Let me touch on just a little bit. About selecting the right handler. And I won’t dig too deep into this because we teach classes that go into how to select handlers and the processes behind that and the thinking behind it. Um, which look at our canine [00:44:00] resources. We have those things that are available, , to help you with that.

If you’re, if you need some guidance and obviously you can always call us and we’ll give you. whatever help that we can give you or at least point you in the right direction to get the help. But selecting the handler, it’s not always the best option to pick the person that puts in the most work to get the unit started.

Now don’t take this the wrong way, right? If somebody wants to start a K9 unit, they have to be willing to To step back and say, maybe I’m not the right person for the job. Maybe I’m not the best person to start this unit just because they did the legwork to get it started. Doesn’t mean that they’re the best handler choice.

And that’s why we’re a huge advocate on having a handler selection, a full scale selection, where they go through testing, they go through examinations. [00:45:00] They go through a board and the best candidate is selected. That’s not the foolproof and it’s not to say the person that put in all the work to get the unit started It’s not the best choice either.

I’m just saying that’s not the automatic choice or shouldn’t be the automatic choice Consideration needs to be made in all facets. If you want to make this this thing successful so going into it There’s a lot of legwork to even get it started Both through selection, time, writing policies, and the department has to be willing to put in that time and that effort to make it a success.

Because those things are also what holds handlers accountable for doing the right thing as well and adhering to the expectations of the unit. The worst thing a department can do is not have clear expectations of what their handler does. And I, and I hear this often. Well, they’re not doing anything. Or they’re not meeting [00:46:00] our expectations.

And the 1st question I ask is, what is your expectations? Define your expectations to me exactly how you want them laid out. And if you don’t mind, let me see your policy that states that. Or your directive that states what those standards are and most administrators that say that. And say that the handler is not meeting expectations, or they don’t do anything, or they don’t fulfill the return on investment.

And I asked him that question to show me their standards. Each one of them say the same thing. Well, I mean, they know what they should be doing. Really? Well, they’re the K 9 handler. They know what they should be doing. I get that perspective, but they don’t. Most times they think they’re doing the right thing.

They don’t really thoroughly understand where they’re not meeting expectations. So, as administrators, especially [00:47:00] 9 unit, we have to be very clear on what their expectations are. And if they’re not meeting expectations, be willing to find a replacement that will meet those expectations.

Knowing all these things before you jump into it is very important. I get that it’s a lot of work. I understand that. But once you get it set up and get it rolling, people begin to learn the expectations. It becomes elite and people want. To become the elite. And when you have a demand to become the elite, it’s easy to fill positions.

It’s easy to retain people that feel like they have a place to go and they’re not going to be stuck on patrol for the rest of their career. They have a standard that they can be proud of, and sometimes they don’t like it, but when they really look at it and look at everybody else around them, they’re proud to know that they have the standards that they [00:48:00] have.

And they’re proud to know that they’re being held to a higher standard and being held to that standard because they thrive in those types of environments. If you pick the right handlers. They thrive in that type of environment and they’re really going to produce for you. If you haven’t, they’re going to complain, but then you really know that they’re not the right choice for you.

And you probably need to look at getting a new handler because of that. But this is not a podcast on getting rid of people or anything like this. It’s really about informing you on what it really takes to be a canine handler and what it really takes. To have a canine unit or canine handler working for you, because I really want those two to really marry up and really be informed on what they should be doing or what the, what I see as a whole, you know, [00:49:00] being blessed to have many different departments that we deal with on a daily or weekly basis and being able to hear various perspectives and not just from handlers.

I mean, obviously I talk to chiefs and sheriffs and administrators all the time. I have really good relationships with a lot of our departments and their, their chiefs and their sheriffs, deputy chiefs or assistant chiefs, like, we really build those relationships. With that, I get the inside knowledge of what they’re struggling with and things that they need help with.

Because we’re able to talk openly about that. And then on the flip side, we stay in communication with our handlers. So I hear it from their side. What’s, you know, what their struggles are and what they’re dealing with after they leave school and how they feel it can be made better, and that’s not always the, you know, Oh, it has to be this way because there’s sometimes we will tell handlers [00:50:00] up front, you’re crying about something that doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter what department you go to, it’s going to be the same, right? So quit crying about that and do your job. But at the same time, there’s some that have valid points to what they’re saying. And if a couple of those things can work out, it would be a better relationship.

They would probably thrive a little bit more and produce better stats, but it is a two way relationship. It’s not just the department giving everything to the handler. And I never tell you that. And from a handler’s perspective, it’s not the handler giving everything to the department. Got to go into it 50 50, but at the same time, the handler has to produce, at the same time, the department has to give that support, if you will.

So just thank you. Think through those points that I made, you know, it’s not the catch all. It’s not the only way I’m just teaching from [00:51:00] my experience when I see these things and the, the availability of, and the perspective of being in their shoes, being someone that operated a canine unit at one point as well.

And then also now being in touch with both sides of this relationship and hearing the pros and cons from both. I’m going to recap those really quick from a handler’s perspective. Some things you need to know. First and foremost, your dogs are not only tools.

And guys, if you want to write this down, if you want to stop, because I’m at the meat of what these points are now, write them down, stop what you’re doing, because I know you’re probably multitasking first, from a handler’s perspective, what you need to really know before you take this handler’s position is this.

Dogs are not just tools. You’re going to build a bond with a dog. And sometimes that bond [00:52:00] gets in a way from clear thinking, but also may hurt your feelings within your career. Okay, for one reason or another. So just be mindful of that. It’s not your dog. It’s the department’s dog, period. And I know a lot of handlers don’t like to hear that, but it’s the truth.

It does not belong to you. So that could lead to you losing the dog one day. Hopefully you work a long career with your dog, but it’s inevitable. More than likely that one day you’ll lose that dog. And I want you to be prepared for that and understand that it hurts no matter which way you turn it, it’s going to hurt.

So be mindful of that. You’re going to build a great bond with this dog. The second point that I made. Is your free time is no longer your free time. You’re losing all that your dog becomes your world. Training days are not optional, rain, sleet, snow, [00:53:00] hot. It doesn’t matter. You got to put in that work. Okay. The other point that I made was that you’re going to respond to more high risk calls, which could have a physical and mental effect on you. You gotta be able to handle that because of that, it turns into more court time, more paperwork.

than anybody else. It turns into dealing with a lot more than your normal patrol officer or other officers that are not in a canine position. And then the last point that I made for you was the fact that there’s a lot of pressure to being a canine handler, both from your peers and from your administration. You got to be able to handle that pressure. Okay. So just be mindful of that. Those are the points that I made For K 9 handlers, the most important points that you should know before you take a K 9 handler [00:54:00] position.

Okay, for an agency, here are some things and some points that I made that you should know. First and foremost, remember that most people that lead K 9 is their number one reason, not saying it’s right, but their number one reason is because of lack of support from their agency. And that could be Lack of support from the administration and what they’re doing or lack of financial support from the agency.

All right. So it’s important that we address those as a, as an agency. If we want to keep our people happy, if we want to be successful, the next thing to be mindful of from a department standpoint, it does take financial investment to make this run. And that’s ongoing. Also, it takes investment in training from the agency.

[00:55:00] You can’t rip training away thinking you’re going to fix problems. Training is one of those things you have to invest in, in order to at least put them in a best position to reap the rewards of that tool that they’re working. Ongoing training is necessary.

They have to train to stay at the highest level of potential. Now save potential because it still takes that handler to go out and be proactive in order to be successful. If they’re not getting the dog out of the car, if they’re not being proactive, of course they won’t be successful. There’s no way possible.

The last point that I made for agencies and selection, the correct selection of the right handlers. The right dogs and getting the right dogs that fit their department and having the right training. That’s so important because without that foundation, you’re missing a [00:56:00] probably one of the most important pieces to this equation a square box doesn’t fit in a round hole, it’s just not going to work.

And again, that proper selection of those handlers puts you in the best position to win or to get the return on your investment. So spending a lot of time on selection versus just picking somebody is not the way to go. Spend the time on proper selection. You can even have neighboring agencies come in and help you to sit on your boards or help you to select handlers.

There’s a lot of people that have a lot of experience that may have been doing it longer than you have that can help you to do that. Just don’t pick the person that’s available. Because that may not be your right choice. It could work out, but more often than not, it doesn’t. So just be mindful of that.

So those are the points that I went over for [00:57:00] departments to be mindful of when selecting your canine handler and to be accepting of because I want you to be well informed as well and what you’re really getting into. There’s an ongoing of support, uh, to produce what you’re really envisioning that your unit produces for you and your department and be clear on those standards. Clarity is the best rule because nobody can argue the clarity between what those standards really are.

Now,

I’ve packed this podcast with a ton of information. I think my point behind this was to really give that perspective on really what it is to be a canine handler because it’s hard. It’s hard to put in words. Because there’s so many intangibles between a department and a handler and having a K 9 unit or K 9 teams in general.

But I hope I gave a little bit of clarity to those that are considering this. , and really to drive home the point that it’s [00:58:00] not as easy as what it appears to be a lot of times. There’s so much work that goes into it. I have people that show up for training. They worked all night, they get an hour or two of sleep, and then they’re into training for the rest of the day.

 It’s important that you understand before jumping into this that it takes a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice before that one deployment where they were successful comes about. So many hours and time put in before you ever get to that point, but the great man once said, I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.

That was the great Muhammad Ali that said that. And that’s so true. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion, he says. And that’s through training. So the investment of training through a handler and through A [00:59:00] department in support of that training is so vital in living as a champion.

 I hope you enjoyed this podcast. Learning one thing. Remember on Tuesdays, we have our short sets within 15 minutes. I’m going to give you some training advice. I’m going to pour into you a little bit on some things you can think through, through the week, and hopefully it carries you through the week.

In a different perspective of training to inspire you to do something different outside the box. Then of course, every Friday, we’re giving you our various perspectives of what we do and what we’re involved in every single day.

Guys, enjoy the rest of your week, have a safe weekend, and I look to see you back on, or I hope to see you back on Tuesday. See you on our next short set.

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the source podcast. Everything working dogs. And today I’m bringing to you a great episode. Every week we look at topics. That can help you guys or listeners or those that are watching on YouTube. We put together these topics because most times it’s what people come to us with and say, Hey, I really wish you’d talk a little bit about this.

Or we really wish you’d put out an episode about this. So this week’s episode is talking about the things you should know before you accept a canine handler position. But I’m going to attack this from two different perspectives because I thought it was important to really look at this holistically.

And when I say holistically, there’s two parts to that marriage when it comes to becoming a K 9 handler. There’s the K 9 handler or the K 9 team, [00:01:00] but there’s also the department. So, if there’s somebody that runs a department, or somebody that’s going to set a canine unit up for department, or maybe it’s just a department that.

Maybe struggling a little bit with some understanding. I want to bring a little bit of clarity to that. And then for those that are maybe considering becoming a canine handler or wants to follow their dream of becoming one, I think it’s important that you understand thoroughly what you’re getting into before you accept that position.

Because you can really do a disservice to yourself, to your department. Both financially and time wise, but it could also kill the likelihood of getting another canine unit if you’re not fully invested in this, oftentimes there’s more people involved in that investment than just you as a person taking that position, so I’m also going to talk a little bit about that today.[00:02:00]

So let’s jump right in. I’m AJ Vargas. I’m the CEO of Custom K9 Unlimited, law enforcement turned business owner, and absolutely love what I do every single day. But most importantly, at heart, I’m a trainer. And because of that, I do this podcast every single week to teach you just one thing that I’ve learned through my experience.

I often think about things from a perspective of where I came from and the things I’ve dealt with, but I’m blessed because I have a huge network of people and I hear things from various angles parts of the country and even parts of the world. And problems that people are dealing with

I get to hear all that. So I’m blessed to be able to bring all that to you guys each and every week and teach from those perspectives. I have to [00:03:00] rely on the things that I get to see in my training, in my relationships and staying close to departments and handlers in a sense that I get to see it from a different perspective now versus when I used to be in it and only seeing it from that perspective.

But now I get to see it from a wider range. And also I get to take all that information and bring it to you each and every week. So I’m, I’m just glad that I’m able to do that. And I pray that one of you guys learns one thing from each of our episodes. Because then it’s worth our time and it’s worth your time listening, but as I jump into this, I want to remind you and I’ll remind you again towards the end of this, that if you ever have a topic that you want us to cover, whether we need to research it or it’s something that you want to learn and you think others would benefit from it, [00:04:00] always reach out to us, send us a message, email us, you can call us, take that time to look out for others and give us it.

a perspective that maybe we haven’t even looked at. All right guys, let’s jump right into it. Today we are talking about becoming a K 9 handler and the things you should know. And again, I told you I’m, I’m attacking this from two different angles. I’m attacking it from a handler perspective and I’m attacking it from a departmental perspective.

Spend a little time with me today and learn just one thing, please. So one thing to realize there’s a lot of canine handlers in the country. A matter of fact, there’s over 200, 000 canine handlers in our country. That’s a lot, but not everybody’s happy being a canine handler. Not everybody is doing what they expected.

To [00:05:00] be, and I’ve seen this, not just from a training perspective, but also talking to departments and other handlers, there’s people that get into this thinking that they’re going to live out a dream that they’ve always had, or do something that they think is so cool because they see it from the outside, but they never see the background to what goes into being a canine handler.

And it’s like that, even with CCU, everybody sees the front facing. Of what we do every single day, but they don’t see the behind the scenes things. And I think about trainers and especially new trainers that come on with us, they come on seeing, you know, us involved in training and they see us out with students traveling and doing all these things, but they never understand the hours that go into it outside of that the paperwork that we have to do the [00:06:00] preparations that we have to make the coordinations that we have to have for sites every single day that we’re training that.

So there’s a lot that goes into the background. As with any other profession that most times you’re not privy to unless you’re in the profession. So as a K 9 handler or a potential K 9 handler, you’re seeing all the good stuff. You’re seeing the deployments that these teams go on. You’re seeing them, you know, get the glory of catching somebody or finding a Large load of drugs or, you know, working in an event or doing a demo and how well behaved their dog is or how smooth they look as a handler, but you don’t see all the work that went into getting to that point to making it look easy.

And I always say that great handlers make that job look easy. And that’s what everybody [00:07:00] sees, but they don’t get to see all the heartache and the problem solving that they’re going through and the amount of training that they have to put into to make all this work. So, guys, let’s talk about a few things that as a canine handler or a potential canine handler, I want you to know before you decide to take this job, because it’s so important that you understand what it’s going to be like when you do accept that position.

And I would always recommend, especially if you have a family. That maybe you let them listen to this podcast as well, or several years, I wrote an article about this very topic, and we’re going to place that article in the show notes for your reference as well, so that you can refer to that as well, but I think too, you need to include your family in this decision because this will, [00:08:00] let me repeat this.

This will guys, listen up, this will take. Time away from your family, you’re not going to just be able to hang up your gun down at the end of the shift. You’re not going to really have days off. Yeah, that’s hard for you to realize that, but it’s going to be hard for you to get days off between court training, maybe call outs.

You may not. Get a single day off in a month. Is that okay with you? I don’t know. Does it fit your lifestyle? I don’t know. Is your wife okay with that? Or your kids okay with that? I remember thinking back and taking time off work

and leaving a shift and going to catch an event at my child’s school and then leaving right after and going right back to duty. [00:09:00] I did that for many years. But it was something that my family was on board with, and I made very clear with that,

and we were very upfront with that. I didn’t get the pressure of my wife being mad at me because I had to work late or I told her that I was going to be home at 7 o’clock and I didn’t get home until 10 o’clock. My kids were okay with that, but looking back, I realized how much time I miss with them in order to follow my dream.

And that’s not okay with everybody and I get that it’s not a bad thing, but it’s something that you have to realize that you’re taking on more than a job when you decide to take on a dog or become a canine handler, you’re taking on a job that has some unique features. And that first unique feature that I need you to understand is that [00:10:00] you’re going to build a bond with a dog like you’ve never built.

before. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of dogs pass in my time and a lot of handlers lose their dogs. Heck, I’ve been doing this 20 years. So naturally you get to see a lot of that and be involved in a lot of that. And the immense pain that handlers go through when they lose their dog is just, it’s beyond descriptive words that I could give you.

I can’t explain how they feel, but it’s that deep pain. You don’t often see someone in law enforcement cry or show emotion, but I’ve never seen anybody lose their dog and be able to hold back their tears. Just doesn’t happen. So that’s the first thing you need to realize is that you’re building a bond.

You’re [00:11:00] often spending more time with this dog than you do your own family. So they’re not just tools. That you hang up at the end of your shift or you check back into your equipment locker. These are obviously living animals, but you build a bond through training and through deployments that ultimately keep you safe, but at the same time could be detrimental to the other relationships that you have, not to mention if a department makes changes.

Within their union, you they decide to move that dog to somebody else that could be very difficult to cope with. But I want to bring this up because it’s important for you to understand as a handler that that’s a departmental asset. And those changes can be made oftentimes not favorable or not, um, not want [00:12:00] it, but it could happen.

And I want you to know that going into that, that there’s always that potential for that. Knowing that not necessarily prepares you for that, but gives you a keen understanding of what you’re really jumping into. This is not taking away your duty belt and replacing it with another duty belt. This is an animal that you build a bond with that you’re going to grow to love.

You’re going to grow to talk to in the back of your patrol car. You’re going to vent to this dog because nobody else listens to you. But this dog, you’re going to get used to the sounds of this dog in the back of your car. There will come a day. When that’s all gone and that’s hard to cope with. So you have to understand that going into it, that one day, even if you get another dog, this dog will no [00:13:00] longer be with you.

I know that seems kind of odd to jump into this with that, but again, I’ve seen this over my career with people losing dogs or dogs being removed from the particular handler, and it always seems to come as a shock to them. So I want to let you know upfront that there’s that potential. That, that doll may be removed from you, that, that doll may pass away during your career.

And, You have to accept that, going into it, knowing that, so that you’re well informed and this is something that you’re willing to deal with one day. The next thing that I want you to understand is that your free time is no longer your free time. Everything you do, both professionally [00:14:00] and personally, is going to revolve around that dog.

You go on vacation, you have to plan for someone to take care of that dog. You have to make sure that they have food and water. When you get off shift, you don’t just go home and take your gun belt off and that’s it. You have to take care of the dog first. When you get up in the morning or in the evening, if you’re on night shift, you have to go out and the first thing you’re going to do is go take care of that dog.

You’re going to go check on it. You’re going to make sure it has food and water. You’re going to clean its kennel. You have to groom it. You have to take it to the vet. These are all things that you often do when you’re not on duty. So again, that’s taking away from your family time. You can’t just leave the dog [00:15:00] and do things you want to do.

There’s a lot of planning that goes behind that. Now, furthermore, you have to train and industry standards say an average of 4 hours per week, but most handlers train more than that. So that’s another. amount of your time that’s taken away because now you’re training on your off days

now you have court and because you’re a canine handler you’re involved in more cases or at least you should be and that’s going to require more court time and again oftentimes that’s not built around your work schedule that’s built whenever the courts are running and whatever that court schedule is you have to adhere to so now that’s more off time that you have to give up [00:16:00] And guys, not everybody is made for that.

There are a lot of people that value their off time and want to decompress. But I can think back through all those years that I was a canine handler and my life was consumed with doing something dog related all the time. It’s hard for me to think back and remember times that I actually just had days off.

Because not on top, not only on top of that, We have demos that we do. We have citizen police academies. We do, we have talks that we give at the DA’s office. We teach other people that are around us, other shifts and other personnel that support us. So my life was centered around something dog related. [00:17:00] All the time again, not for everybody, but it’s important, especially if you have a family that you relay that to them, because what you don’t want is being required to do all that.

And then also have the pressure of your family, not being happy. And if you ask me, I would always tell you to go with your family first. Always. I was fortunate because I had a family that supported me. And to this day, they, they support me to no end. However, not everybody’s like that. Not every wife or husband is like that.

Some kids need more attention than others, and you need to be there for them. So it’s important that you realize what you’re jumping into before you get into it. And you consult with your family. Now let’s talk about your home space. Now your [00:18:00] home space is not just your own home space any longer. You’re moving a dog into the situation.

You’re going to put a kennel in the backyard, or may put a kennel in the backyard, and you’re going to have crate, you’re going to have dog hair everywhere. You may also have people that are allergic in your family to dogs. So it’s important that you know that most of the dogs that are used in law enforcement are not hyperallergenic.

So that may cause further issues in your household. You don’t want to bring anything into your household that affects somebody else per se. So you got to think, think through these things before you decide to take this position. The next point that I’m going to make to you is that training days are not optional.

Unfortunately, not just industry standards. But there’s a true need for continual training. [00:19:00] If you want to be a good canine handler, if you want to be a true asset to your department, you have to train. And that dog needs to be trained with often. Again, more time you’re taking away from your family, as I said earlier.

However, it’s not optional. You have to train. And most times that’s going to be on your off day. So just be mindful of that jumping into this. You don’t just get to put this on the shelf once you get it. And once you do go through basic training, you don’t get to just, okay, well, I’m trained, I’m done like most other law enforcement courses, you know, you go to basic mandate, you go to, uh, interviews and interrogation class, you’re done after that class is done, but with a dog, you got to have continual training with that dog to make sure your skill sets, both [00:20:00] your dog skill sets and your skill sets and.

Your skill sets together remain at the highest level, because if not, the tool or the purpose of you being a canine handler is going to fail because your deployments will suffer if you don’t train. The 3rd point that I’ll make is that remember you’re going to respond to higher risk and more critical calls than anybody else.

It’s inevitable. K9 goes to all these critical calls. You’re directly involved in drug activity. encounter drug activity. You’re involved in search warrants. You’re going to be involved in going to violent crimes or tracking violent people. If you’re a tracking team, if you’re a patrol team, you’re going to go out to barricaded suspects.

I mean, there’s a wide range of calls you’re going to go to that you [00:21:00] would never go to if you weren’t K 9. But on top of that, you’re going to go to all of them. You don’t get to pick and choose which ones you go to. And inherently, that’s a higher risk. Because you go to more high risk calls, statistically speaking, you’re going to put yourself at a higher risk of being injured, hurt, or facing trauma. That could be physical or mental. Is that something you’re willing to do? Is that something you can handle? Because again, being a K9 handler is cool when you’re on the outside looking in.

Because you only get to see a small caption of what that team really does. That’s the 98 percent culminating in the 2 percent that they use their dog in a situation. And that’s [00:22:00] what most people see. They don’t get to see the other 98 percent when they’re dealing with trauma from a high risk event.

They’re dealing with heartache of their dog being injured or hurt. The training that they’re going through on and off duty and the classes that they’re going to for continual training, the report writing that they have to do on top of going to all these, the documentation that they have to do for every piece and second of training that they do, taking care of that dog off duty, all these things that a handler has to deal with on a day to day basis.

giving up all their free time because remember their time is no longer their time. They no longer have the free time that they’re going to have because they have [00:23:00] a dog to take care of now. The things they have to coordinate and oftentimes this is off duty. So guys before you jump into it please consider all these things and the other piece of advice I gave you was to check with your family and cover these things with them before jumping into this.

Because it’s going to save you a lot of time in the future if it’s not right for you. And it’s okay. K 9 is not for everybody. It’s only for the elite.

Just be mindful of that.

So before we check off the handler side of this, we wanted to give you a few things to consider and some reasons why The top three reasons why we found that people leave canine and don’t fulfill their entire career as canine. You [00:24:00] know, I was one that once I got into canine, I knew there was nothing else for me.

I stayed in it. My entire career and now even as I’ve left law enforcement, I stayed in canine because I knew that’s where I should be. There was no doubt about that. But if you’re iffy and shaky on some things, it just may not be for you. So some people get dogs and they end up leaving canine, which again, from my perspective, I can’t understand that.

But also understanding the realism behind what we do every single day and the grind and all these things is hard and some people have different directions in their careers or other things like I wouldn’t even take a supervisor position per se, because I didn’t want to give up my dog. I was great at where I was, and even today I do these [00:25:00] podcasts because I love training.

I love teaching and because of that, I gravitate towards this, put it in a lot of time, even now to do this, but I also had the support of my family. And I know I’ve said that a couple of times because I can’t stress the importance of it because on the flip side, I’ve had trainers. I’ve had people that I’ve sent overseas to work contracts that just can’t deal with it.

And most of the time it’s the family aspect, being away from their family or their spouse and their spouse not being able to accept. That type of lifestyle, which I get, it’s not a problem, but you should know going into it, what you’re going to have to give up to make this all work. So let’s talk about three things really quick.

Let’s [00:26:00] touch on them on why people leave canine. First and foremost, people leave canine. So they say it because of a lack of support from their administration. Or, and it may not just be support from them. It may be the financial support that goes into this. And that’s why I thought that it was important to touch on the department side of this so that our department understands what they’re getting into when they bring on the canine team or what it takes to really support them.

And I’m going to compare that with departments that I see that thrive. So again, lack of support is the first reason why people leave K 9. That could be financial support or administrative support. Okay, the second reason that people leave is because of a change of administration. Okay, new leadership comes in.

They have a different vision for the department. They don’t [00:27:00] see the benefits to their canine unit. So, they decide to disband the canine unit. Some of that’s financial. Some of that again. And I had a department tell me this, a chief that was really in support of a canine unit.

But he said, why should I keep a canine unit when I’m not getting any return on my investment? And he’s absolutely right. Why would he? Why would any leader pour into something? That they don’t reap the benefits of I wouldn’t. I don’t think you should either. So again, we talk about being a handler. I think it’s important that we talk about the pressure of being a handler as well because that pressure is going to come from many different areas, peer pressure and administrative pressure.

And what I mean by that is, is peer pressure, people expect you to be successful every single [00:28:00] time because they don’t understand how dogs work, they don’t understand the effects of the environment on our dog’s productivity, um, and there’s just things sometimes that are outside of our control. But I always tell handlers this, you’re only going to be known for your last deployment.

If you catch somebody or your dog alerts on a car and you guys find a big load of dope, you’re the best handler anybody’s ever seen. People are going to be talking about you, how great you are and how great that dog is you mess around and don’t catch somebody or you don’t alert on a car that they think something’s in there.

You’re the worst piece of crap ever. You’re the suckiest handler. Your dog sucks. And guys, it’s just nature of the beast. You got to be able to push that stuff to the side and keep moving and keep doing what you do to become better every single day, for whatever reason. Everybody expects [00:29:00] dogs to be perfect, and unfortunately, we know that we’re not.

There’s some things beyond our control, and there’s some things that we just haven’t prepared for in training yet. And yes, it gives us revelations on things that we need to work on. We’re not the catch all, and a lot of people think that. But that’s a lot of pressure also. When your peers are talking about you or when your peers are trying to downplay you and especially in our industry and while in law enforcement, it’s we’re, we’re alpha people because of that, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and on each other to perform and, uh, to really be the best that we can be, but when that breaks down and that fails, we’re also our worst critics.

So that’s a lot of pressure for somebody to handle, but from administrative side, [00:30:00] when we’re talking about return on your investment and a new administration comes in, or it could be a current administration, and they’re not seeing that return on investment. You’re not catching people. You’re not finding drugs and money.

You’re not fighting crime with that tool. They’re not going to want to keep it. And that’s a huge complaint that I hear from administrators is that. Yeah. My team’s just not productive and there’s a lot of excuses out there on why not, and there’s always two sides to every story, but that is an overarching complaint that I get from administrators is that they just don’t do anything.

They’re always training and I’m going to talk about that here in just a little bit to try to give some clarity with that. All right, and so last thing is, is, or the last reason people give up a canine position is because of time constraints. They feel like they’re always working, they feel [00:31:00] like they have no family time, and it’s a lot, it’s a demand, and it’s just hard.

So, the three main reasons people give those things, give up a canine position after they accept it. Lack of support or what they feel is lack of support from the administration or financial changing of administrations new administration comes in and I get rid of the canine unit. And then lastly, because of time constraints all very viable, right?

Because if I’m a canine handling, I don’t have the support of my administration. Why am I doing this job? And that comes both financially and just from support on what we’re doing. But I always say there’s two sides to this as well. Sometimes we need to sit down and assess if we’re really putting in the effort, putting in the stats that [00:32:00] justifies our position, because you will do a lot of training and when administration only sees the training and doesn’t see the outcome of that training.

They’re going to begin to question it. So it’s our jobs to produce as well. Again, that goes back to the pressure that’s on us as well. And that may not be for everybody. But it’s something to consider as you think about taking this position as a K 9 handler. So important. But let’s jump right into the department side because that’s another important facet.

Of this entire equation. It’s not just handler and it’s not just on you. If you’re thinking about becoming a handler, there’s other considerations.

So, as you take on this canine handler role or position, we got to have the department that makes some considerations as well. And the 1st [00:33:00] consideration that a department needs to make is a consideration of training time. Because there’s just no way around training time and a lot of departments think that they can just cut training time out.

And still achieve the same results. Maybe you can, because maybe your team is not producing. Maybe they’re making excuses. Maybe they’re not doing the things they should, and maybe they’re only focusing on training. And so statistically, there’s no way to justify what they’re doing, because if you’re giving them the training time and their numbers are not going up, I can very much see the complaint there.

I can very much support the fact that, there’s no return on investment. However, let me give you this in and out this analogy. A business that cuts out [00:34:00] budgeting is like an administration that cuts out training for a handler. And what I mean by that is you have to invest in training to reap the rewards.

A team that doesn’t train will not produce. They will fail more times than they succeed on the flip side team. That’s getting the support and training and has the training time should be producing. And I say should because the training should lend to them becoming a better team, which then puts them in a position to be successful more because they’re well prepared.

A SEAL team is successful because they train, and then they do their operations, and their operations are successful because they put in the time and training. K9 team is very much the same, but I will agree absolutely [00:35:00] wholeheartedly that your team has to produce as well. And statistically, we should be seeing the results of that.

Captures, fines, deterrent criminal activity, demos, all those things go into this team being A team that we’re going to continue to invest in as an administrator. So I get that, but administrators, please understand cutting training is not going to help the situation at all. So if your team’s not being proactive or they’re not producing, cutting training is not going to help them become productive is not going to save your return on your investment.

So from a handler perspective in a, in a department perspective, you just want a dog to say you have a canine unit. and a handler. Don’t invest all the money in training. Get him a companion dog that he can ride around with in the back of his car [00:36:00] or her because that’s where your investment is going. It’s going to nothing.

But if you really truly want this to be successful, you have to invest in training, continual training. So it’s not just them going to school and getting their basic training. It’s also continuing training that are continual training that they need. The next thing is supporting them financially. So you have to make a financial investment.

I see departments do this all the time where they’re trying to shortcut starting a unit or shortcut supporting a unit financially. And you just can’t do that. We cannot get them what they need, allow them to have the training that they need. The continual training and maybe even some advanced training and you put them in the best spot to be, um, productive [00:37:00] and a great asset for your department because you also have to think about things from a different perspective when people in your agency see that there’s growth potential, especially for specialized units, the retention rate for people is higher.

People leave because they want other opportunities. So when you create opportunities within your department for people to make lateral changes or advancements, they’re more likely to stay with a department that has that and that offers that. So I’m not saying that’s the only way, but that’s one way to deposit in making your department an advantageous place to work.

Why not go to the county over or the city over? They have a canine unit, they have these other specialized units, their administration supports them and really pushes them to be better, where here [00:38:00] we’re not getting that. And I’m not saying that’s every situation, I’m saying in my experience that I’ve seen that, where we start a dog program, but the dog program is just a checkbox to say we have a dog program.

You’re not fully invested in it. On the flip side, I’ve seen departments that have went through turmoil, they’ve lost handlers shortly after coming to training, um, they’ve had maybe some bad deployments, or not so great deployments, but because they supported their unit or their K 9 teams, they moved past those very quickly, and their unit has prospered.

So sometimes you’re going to reach those rocky areas. Or those storms, if you will, but you’ve got to push through those with the dedication you have for what you’ve invested in and that initial investment and such, [00:39:00] you will come out on the other end. So again, from a departmental standpoint, you got to prioritize training.

You got to hold them to that standard. You got to check on that standard. And as a result, you should see an increase in success from that. Okay. I understand the cost of that is high. I really do. But you have to invest in that quality training. It will truly help your department. It will truly reap the benefits for your city or for your county.

If you do that. Okay, and then the last thing I’m going to talk about is selection of the right handler, utilizing resources like this for a person that applies for a canine handler position, giving them the opportunity to thoroughly understand what they’re getting into, not just a loss of time. [00:40:00] Again, guys, I talked about that.

I talked about the pressure from their peers and from you guys on the need for them to produce and you’re going to hold them to that standard. Of their production, they need, they need to have a well rounded understanding and a thorough understanding of that before they jump into it. So selecting the right handler is paramount.

Selecting the right dog and the right training for your department. I know everybody, at least from a handler’s perspective, most of them want patrol dogs, or they want this type of dog, or they want, I’ve gotten people that call us and said, Hey, I want this bad dog. And you know, these are people that don’t have even have an understanding of what.

A bad dog is, and you know, they just have these illusions in their head, but as a department, it’s on, it’s [00:41:00] really important that you understand what you need for your department, what fits into your department. I would always recommend a department. That is a smaller department, not to get a patrol dog, and it’s not because of the liability, believe it or not, it’s because of the need of training and the amount of resources that has to go into a patrol dog, getting the adequate training that it needs without depending on somebody else, because a lot of departments will depend on another agency to help them with training.

And just in my experience, It becomes a hardship and it doesn’t always work out. So then now the handler has a has an excuse. Not to do training because they have to depend on somebody else. And if those relationships are severed or not the best, it’s easy for that department to say, no, we can’t help you, or we don’t have time to train with you or whatever the case may [00:42:00] be.

So it’s important that a department has their own resources for their, for their handler. So for a patrol dog to go to a small agency that maybe only has one dog, to me, it just doesn’t make sense. Because now you got to have a decoy. You got to buy additional equipment to support that training, take on additional liability.

What if your decoy gets hurt? Now that’s 25 percent of your work force that’s out because they got hurt because they got bit by a dog or they twisted their ankle or turn their knee. I’m not saying I’m against it. I’m just saying that it doesn’t make sense to do that for a small agency until maybe they grow their unit after a few years.

And I’ve seen the agency be very. Successful from that standpoint and more success came, came through growth of building a unit through a few years. And then their, their second round of dogs, [00:43:00] when their first dogs began to retire, they were big enough to support patrol dogs. So what they did was the next round of dogs, they begin to buy patrol dogs.

And as the patrol dogs began to phase in the single purpose dogs began to phase out. And I’ve seen great transitions made that way because of that. But with more disciplines comes more training. So selecting the right handler, selecting the right dog and selecting the right disciplines that you need for your department is very important.

Let me touch on just a little bit. About selecting the right handler. And I won’t dig too deep into this because we teach classes that go into how to select handlers and the processes behind that and the thinking behind it. Um, which look at our canine [00:44:00] resources. We have those things that are available, , to help you with that.

If you’re, if you need some guidance and obviously you can always call us and we’ll give you. whatever help that we can give you or at least point you in the right direction to get the help. But selecting the handler, it’s not always the best option to pick the person that puts in the most work to get the unit started.

Now don’t take this the wrong way, right? If somebody wants to start a K9 unit, they have to be willing to To step back and say, maybe I’m not the right person for the job. Maybe I’m not the best person to start this unit just because they did the legwork to get it started. Doesn’t mean that they’re the best handler choice.

And that’s why we’re a huge advocate on having a handler selection, a full scale selection, where they go through testing, they go through examinations. [00:45:00] They go through a board and the best candidate is selected. That’s not the foolproof and it’s not to say the person that put in all the work to get the unit started It’s not the best choice either.

I’m just saying that’s not the automatic choice or shouldn’t be the automatic choice Consideration needs to be made in all facets. If you want to make this this thing successful so going into it There’s a lot of legwork to even get it started Both through selection, time, writing policies, and the department has to be willing to put in that time and that effort to make it a success.

Because those things are also what holds handlers accountable for doing the right thing as well and adhering to the expectations of the unit. The worst thing a department can do is not have clear expectations of what their handler does. And I, and I hear this often. Well, they’re not doing anything. Or they’re not meeting [00:46:00] our expectations.

And the 1st question I ask is, what is your expectations? Define your expectations to me exactly how you want them laid out. And if you don’t mind, let me see your policy that states that. Or your directive that states what those standards are and most administrators that say that. And say that the handler is not meeting expectations, or they don’t do anything, or they don’t fulfill the return on investment.

And I asked him that question to show me their standards. Each one of them say the same thing. Well, I mean, they know what they should be doing. Really? Well, they’re the K 9 handler. They know what they should be doing. I get that perspective, but they don’t. Most times they think they’re doing the right thing.

They don’t really thoroughly understand where they’re not meeting expectations. So, as administrators, especially [00:47:00] 9 unit, we have to be very clear on what their expectations are. And if they’re not meeting expectations, be willing to find a replacement that will meet those expectations.

Knowing all these things before you jump into it is very important. I get that it’s a lot of work. I understand that. But once you get it set up and get it rolling, people begin to learn the expectations. It becomes elite and people want. To become the elite. And when you have a demand to become the elite, it’s easy to fill positions.

It’s easy to retain people that feel like they have a place to go and they’re not going to be stuck on patrol for the rest of their career. They have a standard that they can be proud of, and sometimes they don’t like it, but when they really look at it and look at everybody else around them, they’re proud to know that they have the standards that they [00:48:00] have.

And they’re proud to know that they’re being held to a higher standard and being held to that standard because they thrive in those types of environments. If you pick the right handlers. They thrive in that type of environment and they’re really going to produce for you. If you haven’t, they’re going to complain, but then you really know that they’re not the right choice for you.

And you probably need to look at getting a new handler because of that. But this is not a podcast on getting rid of people or anything like this. It’s really about informing you on what it really takes to be a canine handler and what it really takes. To have a canine unit or canine handler working for you, because I really want those two to really marry up and really be informed on what they should be doing or what the, what I see as a whole, you know, [00:49:00] being blessed to have many different departments that we deal with on a daily or weekly basis and being able to hear various perspectives and not just from handlers.

I mean, obviously I talk to chiefs and sheriffs and administrators all the time. I have really good relationships with a lot of our departments and their, their chiefs and their sheriffs, deputy chiefs or assistant chiefs, like, we really build those relationships. With that, I get the inside knowledge of what they’re struggling with and things that they need help with.

Because we’re able to talk openly about that. And then on the flip side, we stay in communication with our handlers. So I hear it from their side. What’s, you know, what their struggles are and what they’re dealing with after they leave school and how they feel it can be made better, and that’s not always the, you know, Oh, it has to be this way because there’s sometimes we will tell handlers [00:50:00] up front, you’re crying about something that doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter what department you go to, it’s going to be the same, right? So quit crying about that and do your job. But at the same time, there’s some that have valid points to what they’re saying. And if a couple of those things can work out, it would be a better relationship.

They would probably thrive a little bit more and produce better stats, but it is a two way relationship. It’s not just the department giving everything to the handler. And I never tell you that. And from a handler’s perspective, it’s not the handler giving everything to the department. Got to go into it 50 50, but at the same time, the handler has to produce, at the same time, the department has to give that support, if you will.

So just thank you. Think through those points that I made, you know, it’s not the catch all. It’s not the only way I’m just teaching from [00:51:00] my experience when I see these things and the, the availability of, and the perspective of being in their shoes, being someone that operated a canine unit at one point as well.

And then also now being in touch with both sides of this relationship and hearing the pros and cons from both. I’m going to recap those really quick from a handler’s perspective. Some things you need to know. First and foremost, your dogs are not only tools.

And guys, if you want to write this down, if you want to stop, because I’m at the meat of what these points are now, write them down, stop what you’re doing, because I know you’re probably multitasking first, from a handler’s perspective, what you need to really know before you take this handler’s position is this.

Dogs are not just tools. You’re going to build a bond with a dog. And sometimes that bond [00:52:00] gets in a way from clear thinking, but also may hurt your feelings within your career. Okay, for one reason or another. So just be mindful of that. It’s not your dog. It’s the department’s dog, period. And I know a lot of handlers don’t like to hear that, but it’s the truth.

It does not belong to you. So that could lead to you losing the dog one day. Hopefully you work a long career with your dog, but it’s inevitable. More than likely that one day you’ll lose that dog. And I want you to be prepared for that and understand that it hurts no matter which way you turn it, it’s going to hurt.

So be mindful of that. You’re going to build a great bond with this dog. The second point that I made. Is your free time is no longer your free time. You’re losing all that your dog becomes your world. Training days are not optional, rain, sleet, snow, [00:53:00] hot. It doesn’t matter. You got to put in that work. Okay. The other point that I made was that you’re going to respond to more high risk calls, which could have a physical and mental effect on you. You gotta be able to handle that because of that, it turns into more court time, more paperwork.

than anybody else. It turns into dealing with a lot more than your normal patrol officer or other officers that are not in a canine position. And then the last point that I made for you was the fact that there’s a lot of pressure to being a canine handler, both from your peers and from your administration. You got to be able to handle that pressure. Okay. So just be mindful of that. Those are the points that I made For K 9 handlers, the most important points that you should know before you take a K 9 handler [00:54:00] position.

Okay, for an agency, here are some things and some points that I made that you should know. First and foremost, remember that most people that lead K 9 is their number one reason, not saying it’s right, but their number one reason is because of lack of support from their agency. And that could be Lack of support from the administration and what they’re doing or lack of financial support from the agency.

All right. So it’s important that we address those as a, as an agency. If we want to keep our people happy, if we want to be successful, the next thing to be mindful of from a department standpoint, it does take financial investment to make this run. And that’s ongoing. Also, it takes investment in training from the agency.

[00:55:00] You can’t rip training away thinking you’re going to fix problems. Training is one of those things you have to invest in, in order to at least put them in a best position to reap the rewards of that tool that they’re working. Ongoing training is necessary.

They have to train to stay at the highest level of potential. Now save potential because it still takes that handler to go out and be proactive in order to be successful. If they’re not getting the dog out of the car, if they’re not being proactive, of course they won’t be successful. There’s no way possible.

The last point that I made for agencies and selection, the correct selection of the right handlers. The right dogs and getting the right dogs that fit their department and having the right training. That’s so important because without that foundation, you’re missing a [00:56:00] probably one of the most important pieces to this equation a square box doesn’t fit in a round hole, it’s just not going to work.

And again, that proper selection of those handlers puts you in the best position to win or to get the return on your investment. So spending a lot of time on selection versus just picking somebody is not the way to go. Spend the time on proper selection. You can even have neighboring agencies come in and help you to sit on your boards or help you to select handlers.

There’s a lot of people that have a lot of experience that may have been doing it longer than you have that can help you to do that. Just don’t pick the person that’s available. Because that may not be your right choice. It could work out, but more often than not, it doesn’t. So just be mindful of that.

So those are the points that I went over for [00:57:00] departments to be mindful of when selecting your canine handler and to be accepting of because I want you to be well informed as well and what you’re really getting into. There’s an ongoing of support, uh, to produce what you’re really envisioning that your unit produces for you and your department and be clear on those standards. Clarity is the best rule because nobody can argue the clarity between what those standards really are.

Now,

I’ve packed this podcast with a ton of information. I think my point behind this was to really give that perspective on really what it is to be a canine handler because it’s hard. It’s hard to put in words. Because there’s so many intangibles between a department and a handler and having a K 9 unit or K 9 teams in general.

But I hope I gave a little bit of clarity to those that are considering this. , and really to drive home the point that it’s [00:58:00] not as easy as what it appears to be a lot of times. There’s so much work that goes into it. I have people that show up for training. They worked all night, they get an hour or two of sleep, and then they’re into training for the rest of the day.

 It’s important that you understand before jumping into this that it takes a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice before that one deployment where they were successful comes about. So many hours and time put in before you ever get to that point, but the great man once said, I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.

That was the great Muhammad Ali that said that. And that’s so true. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion, he says. And that’s through training. So the investment of training through a handler and through A [00:59:00] department in support of that training is so vital in living as a champion.

 I hope you enjoyed this podcast. Learning one thing. Remember on Tuesdays, we have our short sets within 15 minutes. I’m going to give you some training advice. I’m going to pour into you a little bit on some things you can think through, through the week, and hopefully it carries you through the week.

In a different perspective of training to inspire you to do something different outside the box. Then of course, every Friday, we’re giving you our various perspectives of what we do and what we’re involved in every single day.

Guys, enjoy the rest of your week, have a safe weekend, and I look to see you back on, or I hope to see you back on Tuesday. See you on our next short set.

Interested in making a guest appearance? Have a topic you want us to discuss? Send us a message!

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[00:00:00] Hi, everybody. Hey, this is the first podcast for 2024 that we are recording. I'm excited about it. I know we had a couple of episodes that have already played to start off 2024, but 100 percent I'm excited about this podcast today where we...

Choosing a Dog Trainer & What Clients Are Looking For – with AJ & Mia

get ready to roll. Cause we're about to go live in five, four, three, two, one. Here we go. Hey, I like to welcome everybody to the source podcast where we talk everything working dogs. And this is a subject that I'm excited about. Not that I'm just...

Choosing a Veterinarian

How to Choose a Good Veterinarian for Your Dog   Owning a dog is a big responsibility. As a pet owner, you are responsible for the health and well-being of your furry friend. One of the most important decisions you will make as a dog owner is choosing a reliable...

How to Be a Good Kennel Manager

How to Be a Good Kennel Manager   Working as a kennel manager is both challenging and rewarding. As a leader in a team of kennel technicians and dog care takers, it’s your responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of the dogs under your care. You also need...
New Year, New Beginnings with the CCU Team: SOURCE

New Year, New Beginnings with the CCU Team: SOURCE

[00:00:00] Hi, everybody. Hey, this is the first podcast for 2024 that we are recording. I'm excited about it. I know we had a couple of episodes that have already played to start off 2024, but 100 percent I'm excited about this podcast today where we...

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Grooming a Working Dog: The Do’s and Don’t’s

Grooming a Working Dog: The Do’s and Don’t’s

  Welcome to this week's short set. I'm excited to bring you just a small snippet for you to get your short set in for this week. And I'm excited to talk a little bit about tracking. Probably one of the hardest things we do in the working dog...

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