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The Working Pooch

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Raising two dogs of my own, I’ve come to appreciate a well obedient dog when I come across one. The typical "sit, stay, come" commands are appropriate for the normal housedog. If you have a hunting dog, its retrieving skills may require more intense training. But they’re nothing compared to a working dog. When I come across a Seeing Eye dog or a police K-9 dog, I’m always amazed by how obedient and smart they are. Which made me wonder, how are these big active dogs trained?

From my research, I’ve found that a working dog can’t just be any dog; there are specific breeds that the police and other agencies use. Police K-9s are usually German shepherd dogs, Belgian Malinois, Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, or Doberman Pinschers. Seeing Eye dogs are usually German shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers. Occasionally, they provide Boxers to students who are allergic to long-haired dogs. Generally, the dogs are bred at their own facilities as well.

After the puppies have reached eight weeks and can be taken away from their mothers, they are placed in the home of a voluntary puppy-raiser, where they're taught basic obedience and socialization and given lots of love. Police dogs are trained in obedience just like other working dogs during this period, but are not given as much socialization and love as the seeing-eye dogs, for obvious reasons. When they're about eighteen months old, the dogs return to either the Seeing Eye or Police Academy and begin a four-month course of training with a (sighted) instructor.

During this phase the K-9s choose a specialty and the Seeing Eye dogs learn about their surroundings and are trained in extreme obedience. The working police dogs are introduced to their specialties early and focused that way for the duration of their training: missing-person trackers, bomb dogs, drug dogs, etc. Using a muzzle is a very common and efficient way of training K-9s. Since various specialties require them to attack, muzzles are helpful because they allow the dog jaw and neck motion as in a real attack.

Then the Seeing Eye dog is matched with a blind person. The two train together in a 27-day session together with a sighted instructor. Finally the two are sent off into the world. It is common for the instructor to go with the pair for the first week. The average working life for a seeing eye dog is seven to eight years, though many have lived and worked for ten or eleven. Retired dogs may be kept as pets or returned to the Seeing Eye Academy.

Training a K-9 is a never-ending process. The dog is commonly put through short training sessions even in its older years to keep its senses and skills sharp. The most important thing about the working police dog is its relationship with its handler. The dog cannot be moved from person to person. It is stuck with the same handler for the rest of its working life. The same goes for a Seeing Eye dog.

With both types of working dogs, the greatest difficulty users encounter is public interference, which confuses not only the dog but the handler as well. The dogs are meant to be working, and little kids or adults distracting or interfering ruins their work and their purpose. Someone grabbing a Seeing Eye dog's harness would distract either the dog or its owner and would be like grabbing the steering wheel of a car from the driver. A K-9 dog is trained to suspect people and be on alert, so grabbing for one could lead to an attack or injury and further confuse the K-9.

Only dogs trained by The Seeing Eye Inc. are properly called Seeing Eye dogs. There are various other dog schools that train guide dogs, but the official Seeing Eye dogs are from The Seeing Eye Inc. K-9s are trained in numerous areas around the country. There are specific schools for different specialties located in different areas as well.

I looked into the process of how working dogs are trained because I’d heard that people can adopt doggie school dropouts – dogs that turn out not to be up to the job. A person can look into adopting a K-9 dropout at any local police station. Since there are numerous locations for K-9 training, one can find doggie school dropouts all over the country.

Since people have begun to adopt young trained dogs, numerous different dog jobs have arisen and become useful to different types of people. These days there are working dogs that can smell when a diabetic’s blood sugar is low. There are even developments concerning dogs that can smell cancer. Beyond than the original purpose of these large dogs (hunting, herding, etc.), scientists are pushing the limits of the canine’s abilities.

From adorable little fluffy dogs that fit into a purse, to K-9s destined to stop criminals and dogs helping diabetics with their blood levels, these dogs make one wonder: have these dogs been this intelligent this whole time? Fifty years from now, what will dogs be able to do? Will canines be the cure to early detection of cancer? It would certainly be cheaper than the monthly MRI. I am looking forward to seeing what science and these lovable dogs have in store. Maybe when I’m old and grey, dogs will be able to answer the door and bring me my meds.

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  • Robert Jones

    I am always fascinated and amazed by working dogs. I have owned, trained, and raised hunting dogs for many years, and believe that I do a fair job with them. Then I witness a seeing eye dog, K9 Police Dog or any other fine working dog in action, and I become instantly humbled. What a wonderful article and tribute to the many working dogs that help us each and every day.