A DIARY OF A 'POLICE DOG INITIAL TRAINING COURSE'
The following is a record of my initial meeting and Training Course with Laser. It shows that even after having had the experience two Police dogs, a full time training course and expert tuition, dog training is not easy.
Name of dog: Jason
Date of birth: Not known - believed 13 months
Colour: Black and sable.
Gift dog from Gainsborough,
So was the description of a dog brought to the kennels as potential Police Dog material.
Having rejected a previous dog, 'Falco', I was now on the lookout for another dog for the impending course, only 6 weeks away.
Including Jason, three 'gift dogs' were available at this time, The other two did not appeal to me and looking at the new dog, Jason, my immediate reaction was, "Who the hell brought this in?".
The dog was cowering in the back of the kennel run. Emaciated to a degree I had never seen before, so much so that he looked more like a greyhound than a German Shepherd. With long legs, a long neck and all his ribs showing with a coat looking as though he had never had a brush or comb through it from the time of birth. All handlers who had seen him had given the same reaction. He was nick-named 'G.Raffe'. The dog, cowering in the far corner of the kennel, spitting and snarling at me through the wire, looked rather startled as I opened the gate. After spending some time sitting in the kennel I eventually won his confidence and he came to me.
From that moment I could sense the dog had character and looking at his visible skeleton I could visualise what he would look like with more meat and muscle.
Standing 28" at the shoulder, he started to win me over.
Still doing operational patrols with 'Ryan', I took the dog out with me and by the end of that shift he showed he could travel well and had also barked at strangers. I made it my job to look after the dog, now 'Laser', from that time onwards. That was, until the next day, when I was told the dog was to be returned to its previous owners due to his condition. Pleading for him to be given a chance, I was told he would be kept providing I could put weight on him and show he was worth the trouble.
Owing to his condition, no way did I dare take him home, Diane had already seen him in the kennels and took an instant dislike, due to his looks.
A week later, a bout of dysentery cleared and looking a little better, he started a nights week with myself and 'Ryan'. He was introduced to home during the daylight hours, making it easier for the transition and no sleepless nights for myself or the neighbours because of a howling dog, or so I thought!! Ryan was being left at the kennels and Laser, affectionately known by all as 'the hatrack' was settling down at home. At 4am, one morning, in an effort to make it easier for me to look after two dogs, I dropped Laser off at home, in the kennel. Before reaching the van Laser began making such a noise that I had to run back and take him with me.
'Laser' was a very apt name due his rangy build and his lightening reactions.
I had taken him into the Police Station but he was soon to show his wariness of strangers, readily barking and showing all his teeth. I had no doubt that given the slightest opportunity he would have bitten. He was, in my opinion, becoming a one man dog. He also proved to be exceptionally clean in the kennel, the complete opposite to Ryan. He also helped with the washing, endearing himself to Diane, by his antics of running away with things from the wash basket and jumping up at washing hanging on the line. His character was developing all the time, but not so his body. Still extremely thin, we had taken to giving him up to 6 meals a day.
Going out one evening we left Laser locked in the kennel but on our return 11/2 hours later I found him playing on the garden. On examination of the kennel I found a gaping hole in the chain link meshing of the door. The kennel was clean but there was a large mound on the lawn. Cleaning this mess up and repairing the door, Laser was put away. However, at 4.30am the following morning I heard an unusual noise outside. Taking a look, I saw Laser, once more, playing on the lawn and having emptied the dustbin. Another large pile on the lawn and a gaping hole in the kennel door showed just how clean Laser intended to be.
Taking a holiday, leaving Ryan and Laser in the Police Kennels, I returned, with only 4 days to go to the start of the course, to find Laser lame on his right hind leg. He had also bitten one handler on the hand and not allowed any others near him, except Dan Wallace (Dan had an affinity with dogs and all of my dogs had a liking for him). Such were Lasers' actions of retreating into his kennel barking and snarling that at the twelfth hour there was talk amongst the training staff of him being finished due to a 'suspect temperament'.
I collected Laser from the kennels and concerned for his lameness took him to the Vets. First diagnosis was that a major leg muscle had been torn and the dog would be lame for life. Painkilling tablets were given but on returning home I was convinced any injury was confined to his foot. A further diagnosis, after x-ray on the foot the following day confirmed there was no injury to the muscle or bone structure, but there was bruising. During this time, feeling amongst the training staff was such that Laser was to be finished. However, I was promised a start,
The short time I had been handling Laser we had already achieved respect for each other. He readily accepted me and was more than willing to learn. Adopting the principle of teaching nothing by compulsion, I showed him what I wanted, asked him to do it and he did it. This was easy, too easy!. Laser showed an intelligence greater than that of my other dogs', or was it that I had now developed a rapport in the art of training and found it easier to put across. I concluded it was a bit of both.
With some excitement my 3rd Initial Police Dog Training Course started on Monday 1st September 1986.
There were 4 teams, including myself.
The day started with a five mile walk, but due to Laser's recent injury we were excused boots. Occupying our time on the training field, until the return of the others, I practised the 'retrieve', at this stage 'Laser's only poor exercise.
Tracking - wondered how Laser would take to the harness - no need to worry, harnessed up as though he'd being doing it all his life.
100 yard track laid, using 'squeaky toy' aid, over short grass, no wind with very light rainfall. Allowed full length of tracking line, he took to it like a duck to water. For the first experience of his tracking ability I was over the moon. Once again I had a dog which would put his nose down and track. This exercise x3 then back to the training ground for criminal work. Laser already had an undeserved reputation because of his kennel antics i.e.. untrustworthy and biting through fear. Standing in a circle all the dogs were baited and allowed to bite a loose arm pad. Laser was going forward all the time, readily bit the pad and came off when told. The dogs were subsequently put in the down, finishing this exercise with Bob Vaughan, the instructor, making a point of going to each dog and giving a fuss. Showing the dogs had 'switched off'.
After the first day Laser had put all his critics in their place. I hoped!!
A testing day for criminal work.
Laser started by taking the sleeve without hesitation and using a full mouth. No baiting needed. Owing to the nature of the 'take', it followed that a short run would be all right. This gave the same result. Steve acting as criminal the exercise became a 30 yard straight chase. Laser with no hesitation took the arm, in full flight, taking Steve to the ground. The was more than 'Ryan' had done during the full time I had handled him. A later run gave the same result.
On being given the pad to tease the rather backward Jet, I made a mistake. I hadn't made sure that all the handlers had full control of their dogs. As I began, swinging a free pad, I heard a shout and turned and saw Sabre coming at me at full speed. I could clearly see the dog was intent on biting something and just managed to push the pad in his open mouth. A lesson learned!!
At the end of day 2 I could now see that Laser would undoubtedly make a good man-working dog. Comparing him with Rudi and Ryan, the main thing that Rudi and Laser had in common was their indifference to other dogs. Ryan was very much into other dogs, although not to the distraction of his tracking. Rudi would, if at close quarters, be aggressive towards other dogs whereas Laser will move away, not wishing their company or a fight. Both these dogs preferred human companionship. (A thought to ponder when choosing a dog for manwork, in the future).
Laser chasing 20 yards, off the lead and with full bite.
All dogs put to the gun - no problems.
A distinct drop in standard of heelwork by Laser - could this be due to 'criminal work'?. Excellent progress in tracking. Laser was tracking even before we got to the start, nose down on hard surface, a 'Scooby Do' action, nose and forelegs on the floor, behind in the air.
Now getting very possessive with retrieve article, from one extreme to the other.
Laser showed the first signs of stress on the 'training field', whilst being handled off the lead he ran off and then just wanted to play, or so it seemed. The training Sergeant, John Towlson, came to me at which Laser ran to him aggressively, standing out and barking, within an inch of biting him!. This had not happened before and why did it have to happen to the Sergeant.
Every exercise, apart from heelwork, was progressing too well. Something was bound to happen soon and it did! On the Thursday morning everything was going well until I tried a simple 'recall' exercise off the lead. Laser ran in the opposite direction to me and wouldn't come back for 10 minutes. No compulsion had been used and I could only put it down to the stress of training. Could it be his previous life coming through, he was adopting 'If I don't like it, I'll run off' attitude.
Whilst in the training van Laser, in his cage, kept showing aggression towards Steve. Bob in an effort to overcome the problem opened the cage door and made of fuss of Laser, inviting Steve to do the same. I was looking on all the time, Laser was well behaved and accepted Steve but as I turned my head away, loosing eye contact, Laser growled and bit Steve on the hand.
I again experienced Laser's reaction to stress. Whilst performing heelwork off the lead he broke away and ran out of sight. It took me 15 minutes to find him and when I did he reacted as though nothing had happened and greeted me with wagging tail. From the circumstances, on calling him as he initially broke away, I was sure that he was reacting to his previous life. Laser showed and increasing dislike for Steve (cause unknown)
A startling result on the first day. I had previously been having trouble with Laser retrieving a wooden dumbbell, but when I threw it, this day, he ran out picked it up, brought it back and sat in front, faultless! Once more on the training ground Laser showed apprehension to heelwork, but this time stopped with me. He showed the whites of his eyes each time I went to put the check around his neck. Was this the trigger?!
Tracking and criminal work progressing very well, he is now hurting through the leather protection pad.
Now using food as an incentive for Laser to stay with me whilst doing obedience heelwork.
We all had a discussion over the fact that if a dog had respect for his handler, he would not chase and bite his handler (neither Rudi or Ryan ever bit me, padded or otherwise).
All dogs were then put through the chase with Bob handling. Laser latched onto my right arm, although, from all accounts he did not make his normal determined chase. So much for that idea!, and I don't think it helped me the next day. Laser started playing about and wouldn't sit when told to, I pulled him into the sit using the lead at which he bit me nicely (although not too hard) on the left thigh. Apart from that, everything went well for the rest of the week.
It started again Monday afternoon, Laser didn't like heelwork and was going to have nothing to do with it. The first opportunity, without warning, he broke from my side and ran off. Getting him back, after a few minutes, I put this down to the Monday blues, as everything else went like clockwork, he loved searching, tracking and biting!
Tuesday, Bob was away and Sergeant Tindall took over the course. After tracking at Hucknall airfield the Sgt decided to see how good the heelwork was. Not wishing to disclose any problems, I kept quiet. "Leads and chains off", was the command followed by, "Forward". Laser hung back and as I turned to him he took off at speed, ignoring my shouts and not looking back. He disappeared out of sight. After searching for half an hour without any sighting, we decided to make a group search before making it official and declaring over the radio that a dog was loose. The Sgt found the dog half a mile away, at the edge of an industrial estate, but Laser would not respond to him and made off again. I went to the estate with the van and sat there with the rear cage doors open. Within seconds Laser appeared and dived into an empty cage. What was I going to do?. The Inspector and Sgt. tried to make the decision for me. They wanted rid of Laser. But why, he was such a good tracker and criminal work dog. I was given a further reprieve, but this problem had to be sorted. The rest of the week went without a hitch and Laser really excelled in tracking. He proved he was now the equal of my previous two dogs in this exercise
The second day, whilst holding Laser, I dropped to the ground with excruciating pain in my right calf muscle. I had torn the muscle, although I had to spend three days in hospital until it was diagnosed. They initially thought I had thrombosis. I rejoined the course on the ninth week.
Ninth week No problems.
The pressure was now on, as the end of course tests were now looming. I was still hitting the old problem. Laser was quite happy doing heelwork, but once I removed the check chain he would freeze, then off he would go again. My only answer, at this time, was to have a pocket full of cooked meat.
The end of course tests came with only one hitch. The heelwork was poor and everyone wondered why Laser, instead of having his head next to my left knee had his nose stuck in my left trouser pocket,
Laser subsequently represented the Police at Regional Police Dog Trials and Civilian Working Trials. His ability as a working Police Dog was never in doubt.