How to Train a German Shepherd for Police Work

Hard
8-12 Months
Work

Introduction

Since the domestication of the wolf, man has partnered with the dog for a number of different jobs throughout history. Dogs can act as protectors, herders, athletes, or simply companions. But there is no better example of humans and dogs working together than the police K9 unit: a team of both police officer and specially trained dog, which fill in one or multiple roles. They work together in tandem, utilizing the dog’s enhanced senses and prey drive while relying on the officer’s knowledge and experience.

While police dog breeds can vary somewhat, the tried and true breed that stands out as the ideal police dog is the German shepherd. With a powerful and athletic body, the German shepherd presents itself as an intelligent, loyal and steadfast companion, fit for police training.  

Defining Tasks

K9 training is multi-faceted, as some police dogs can be dual purpose. Work for a police dog can consist of attack and protection training as well as scent work in the form of tracking people or detecting explosives or narcotics. Most dogs will specialize in one particular area, but like their handlers, a police dog will need to be able to respond to a number of situations in the appropriate manner.

Training a German shepherd for police work typically begins at a very early age. Most K9 units will adopt a puppy after eight weeks and begin training almost immediately following a temperament test that dictates whether or not the dog is suited for police work to begin with. However, training can take up most if not all of the first year of the dog’s life, so while the possibility for “flunking” police dog training does exist, most dogs are in it for the long haul.

Getting Started

Before considering police work for your German shepherd, you must have him temperament tested. An anxious, nervous, or scared dog will not make a good police dog and should not be forced to endure the training required. Your dog should also be health tested and given a check to ensure that he is healthy enough to begin training and is free of any illness or injury.

Following both of those check ups, you should be prepared with a proper reward like treats or toys for good behavior. For tracking and attack training, you should have an experienced trainer to assist you. For detection training, you need to have the substance that you are training your dog to detect, or its scent. This may require permission from law enforcement or supervision from an officer or professional trainer, depending on the substance. Be aware of any laws in your area before beginning police dog training and find a professional to supervise any and all activity that may require the use of force or an illegal substance.

The Tracking Method

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Step
1
Hide and seek
Begin teaching tracking by showing your German shepherd an object and then hiding it nearby. Make it an object he wants to find like a toy or a treat.
Step
2
Find the scent
Next, use two items that smell similar. Show your dog one of the items and have him smell it, then hide the other item and let him search for it. Keep it close to enable him to be successful early in the training.
Step
3
Use a verbal command
Use a command such as ‘find it’ or ‘search’ whenever you require your German shepherd to look for something based on a scent.
Step
4
Start simple
Start indoors or in a small yard to begin your training. Keep objects or people you are searching for close by and only somewhat out of sight. Reward generously early on to convince your dog that he is playing a game and when he finds what he is looking for, he wins a prize.
Step
5
Go complex
Take the search out and into fields or out into the woods. Have more than one person hide. Increase the distance and length of searches over time. This should be a gradual increase over months. Reward, as always, for good progress and behavior.
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The Attack Method

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Get supervision
Attack training should always be supervised by a professional trainer. Do not attempt to train your dog to attack without consulting a trainer.
Step
2
Be protected
Attack training requires either a bodysuit or a sleeve protector for the person who is going to be the “victim”. Training without these protection items is dangerous and can cause serious injury. Also consider using a muzzle for your dog during this training.
Step
3
Use a unique command
Most police officers opt to use German commands to cut down on the possibility of someone else being able to command their dog. You may choose to use a unique word which means ‘attack’ for your dog.
Step
4
Encourage the use of teeth
Reward for the appropriate use of teeth. Have your helper in a bodysuit or protective sleeve hold their arm near your dog’s mouth to encourage the bite.
Step
5
Holding
Have your dog increase the amount of time that she must hold the bite. She should be able to hold it until you call her away.
Step
6
Release
The most important part of attack training is the ability to release effectively. Your German shepherd should have a release command, which should be another unique word that will call her away from the helper and back to your side.
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The Detection Method

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Familiarize the substance
Introduce your German shepherd to the substance you want him to regularly detect. This should only be one substance, as your dog is fully capable of detective multiple substances, but has no way to verbally communicate which one it may be to you. Cut down on the risk of accidental detection by only requiring him to be familiar with one.
Step
2
Hide the substance
Begin to hide the substance underneath a box, inside a tube, or any other item that can conceal it from view. Add more objects which have nothing inside or underneath them to present a small puzzle for your dog to solve.
Step
3
Reward for detection
Reward your German shepherd generously any time he detects the appropriate substance. This should occur every single time he detects it.
Step
4
Complicate the search
Start adding other substances or items into the mix. Always reward for proper detection of the one substance your dog is trained to find.
Step
5
Introduce distractions
Most detection dogs work in a busy environment such as an airport. Introduce people, nearby traffic, or other sights and sounds in order for your dog to adapt to these environments. Reward him for remaining focused and finding the substance you want him to detect.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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