“Lack of physical conditioning”

You might be asking “How can the lack of physical conditioning get me into trouble?” and I would reply with “If you have to ask, you probably don’t have a clue!”

You’ve probably read the surveys and studies and received training about why it’s important that officers, troopers and deputies be in good physical condition to properly do their jobs.  They must take care of themselves so they don’t fall over dead from a heart attack with or without provocation, they protect themselves from an attack or they don’t allow a fleeing suspect to leave them behind during a foot pursuit or track because the officer lacked the stamina and endurance to give a proper chase and make an arrest.

However, it’s just as important that your police dog be in good physical condition and it will not occur naturally if you don’t facilitate it and properly train and condition the dog to ensure it happens.  

“The working dog and the canine athlete require a different view medically than the normal companion canine. The tried and true methodologies of the past are often inadequate for establishing the levels of performance required by today’s standards.” 

One of the best “K9” presentations I ever attended didn’t deal with tactics or liability specifically – it dealt with “training and conditioning” for the high performance dog and was given by Dr. Robert Gillette.  Dr. Gillette is described as “a pioneer in the field of veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation.”

You’ve probably seen your dog or another handler’s dog dragging its ass and heavily panting with its tongue scraping the ground after a short-term search that maybe only lasted a few minutes and wondered why.  Aren’t patrol dogs naturally conditioned to search forever until they find someone or continue searching for the source until located if they are a detection dog? The simple answer is “No” and I don’t have the space within this format to fully explain.  But, you might have been told or heard something similar to this;  “If you train your dog to search for two to three minutes, it will usually search for only two to three minutes in a real-world situation.”

“The winning dog is the one that produces and maintains the highest energy output for the length of the performance event.”   ~Dr. Robert Gillette 

So, if you are tasked or may be tasked to do a lengthy building search in a large warehouse – instead of a small studio apartment – that could last 30 to 40 minutes or longer before a possible break if able to do so, or a long track through challenging terrain for several miles and a couple of hours, you should be conditioning your dog for those events.  According to Dr. Gillette, the moment fatigue sets in it will begin to diminish the level of the dog’s performance.  And you, as the handler, should be equal to the task of following and staying with your dog if necessary.  If you are both dragging ass at the end of a search or track and gasping for air, will you be ready to survive a potential physical encounter or ambush?

“Any amount of time away from a conditioning program will result in at least an equal amount of time of reconditioning.”  

Dr. Gillette recommends you consult with your veterinarian before beginning any form of exercise or conditioning program to be certain that your dog is healthy enough to handle the program – and this can be accomplished with your first or annual visits with your vet.  And, it would make sense to me that your trainer might also be knowledgeable about the situation and assist with these conditioning efforts and recommendations.

Dr. Gillette has presented at HITS and the CNCA Training Institute in California.  If you have a chance to hear him speak on this topic, don’t miss it!

As you might know, I’m a big advocate for physical fitness qualifications (PFQ) for K9 handlers.  I believe every officer, trooper and deputy – not just handlers and tactical operators – should be required to do an annual PFQ – even if it’s minimally the same one as required for the agency’s law enforcement applicants and recruits.  By requiring a PFQ for handlers, an agency might limit its liability, avoid trouble and encourage handlers to keep their dogs in shape while they do so themselves.

Take care, be safe and make sure you and your dog are in good physical condition…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on November 11, 2013