Police Dog Training Seminar

Now that I’m back at home, I can share with you where I’ve been for the past week.

Once each spring, the Canadian Police Canine Association (CPCA) holds a police dog training seminar hosted by a different Canadian city.  This year our nation’s capitol hosted and forty police and military dog handlers descended on Ottawa, Ontario.

This was the first time the CPCA Seminar had been hosted by an Eastern province, so the four other Vancouver handlers and I opted to fly to the event.  This is easier than it sounds, as each of us brought our canine counterparts – yes, Hondo got to go for a plane ride.  As did Knight, Blix, Jet and Blade. It’s a lot of work getting five big dogs and all their gear onto a plane.

Training started early Tuesday morning on the military base located just outside of Ottawa.  It looked to be an excellent week, and it all started with the CPCA IRON DOG competition (not to be confused by the snowmobile race of the same name), hosted by one of the main suppliers of K9 equipment for police/military dogs, K9 Storm.

As it was the first annual CPCA IRON DOG competition, the entire event was shrouded in a touch of mystery.  We were told to muster at 1300 hrs in a gravel parking lot on the east side of the base with the instructions to “bring your dog, a twenty foot leash and wear your working uniform pants, a t-shirt and appropriate footwear.”

Oh dear.

1300 hrs, after a very light lunch, found us all parked in the above mentioned lot.  The road to the lot had led past the base’s obstacle course, so we knew we were in for a bit of a ride. 

During the IRON DOG briefing it was explained that each of us would negotiate the obstacle course at five minute intervals.  Our dogs were to be on a maximum twenty foot leash, of which we were to have a hold of for the entire time.  A few of the stations were not included in the race as they were not ‘dog friendly’, but it was the very first obstacle, in full view of everyone watching and waiting, that caused most of the handlers to take pause.

A body of water.  With the choice of two methods of passage – swim or try to transverse the V shaped wire bridge that stretched across to the other side. 

In the twenty minutes leading up to the start of the race, a debate could be heard among all the handlers about the best way to go across.  Have your dog swim while you crossed on the wire.  Balance your dog on your shoulders and try to cross on the wire without going arse over tea-kettle into the water.  Bite the bullet and both of you swim.  All in the name of competition, we were trying to figure out the fastest way across. 

One of the military guys told us the right side was shallower, maybe four feet deep.  Perfect.  One of our Vancouver handler’s was the first competitor, and at 6’4″, he was going to try wading across with his dog at his side.  

The race master yelled, ‘GO!”. and our Vancouver handler and his dog sprinted down the slope to the water.  His dog started to swim across as the handler forged his way into the creek/river/moat.  The water came up to his knees, then his waist, chest and neck.  By half way across the only thing visible above the water were the handler’s eyeballs.  He went under for a moment and then broke the surface in a front crawl, made it to the other side, climbed out and disappeared into the bush. 

We looked back at the military guy and saw he was busting a gut.  But then again, the rest of the group was too – us included.  He got us a good one.

By the time it was my turn, only one handler had attempted to cross on the wire bridge.  His dog had paddled around underneath him, entangling the leash and forcing the handler to drop it – automatic disqualification.  I opted to swim.  Once we were out the other side, we faced off the rest of the course.  Remember, the dog had to go through the same obstacles:

  • slog through 50′ of calf-deep water
  • up a set of stairs with 3 ft risers
  • belly crawl through a tunnel
  • over a 6 ft wall
  • up another set of 3 ft stairs
  • under the 18″ gap at the bottom of another wall
  • through an under/over course
  • through a zig zag course
  • belly crawl under an 18″ wire course
  • through an opening set 6′ up in a wall
  • drop into a 5′ pit and climb out the other side
  • send the dog on a quarry  (one of two times you could drop the leash)
  • collect your dog
  • run around a small lake to the firing range
  • place you dog in a ‘down’, fire 5 rounds at a target (second time you could drop the leash), collect your dog
  • run to the finish 

Everyone coming across the finish soaking wet and covered in mud – much like we are after a real working track. In the end, only the military handlers were able to cross on the wire bridge with their dogs swimming across – an obstacle they obviously practice for, but it was still very impressive to watch.  The military handler who won the event has my complete respect for making it looked effortless.

The rest of the week was spent going through various training syndicates as they relate to police and military applications for working dogs.  The biggest benefit to this type of seminar is meeting handlers and trainers from across the country – the information sharing, the camaraderie, and the expansion on our understanding of working dogs.  We are better dog handlers for having had this training opportunity, and I recommend all handler’s should make the effort to attend these types of events.

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