“Carnac the Police Dog”

Some of you may not be old enough to remember a recurring comedic-role played by Johnny Carson on television’s “The Tonight Show” (before Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon).  One of Carson’s most well-known characters was a “mystic from the East” called “Carnac the Magnificent” who could psychically “divine” unknown answers to unseen questions.  (Google it later for a few good laughs.)  “Carnac the Police Dog” doesn’t exist and to expect it is a reason we get in trouble.

Have you ever deployed your dog on a mission or commanded action and a short time later the dog looks at you with a slightly tilted head and eyes that question you as if to say “WTF?!?!”  Dogs aren’t like Carnac – they can’t predict your intent and perform as you intend unless you properly “let them know ” (command and direct) what you intend at the time it is expected or an action expected a short time afterward.  They are not psychics.  They can’t perform an action (properly) until commanded to do so nor they should not be expected to do so on their own.

Handlers often “expect” their dogs to know what they mean or want from them.  I’ve seen it happen often in training and real world deployments.  A few examples;  1) A handler releases the dog without giving a “search” command because they expect the dog to search, 2) A handler releases the dog on decoy agitating without giving the “bite” command because they expect the dog to bite, and 3) A handler releases the dog without any command expecting results known only to the handler.  And, when the dog doesn’t perform as expected, the handler will punish or over correct for behavior that is most easily explained as the dog not understanding what the handler expected.  

These repetitive negative actions can damage the bond and create fear and avoidance in the dog that can ultimately result in failure in the field.  K9 trainer Darryl DiSanto insists handlers must be fair to the dog.  According to DiSanto, to be fair to the dog to avoid these situations before a handler can consider it a refusal that requires corrective action;

  • The dog has to understand what you want.
  • The dog has had to have been showed what you want.
  • The dog has had to perform the behavior on its own.

How many times as a trainer or supervisor have you given what you believed were simple directions for a training exercise or scenario to a handler because you assumed the handler would understand what you wanted and the handler didn’t respond as you intended?  Later, the handler will attempt to explain or justify with something like “I thought that’s what you wanted me to do.” Who failed?  Who gets the correction?  The same practice applies to police dogs.

Take care, be safe and make every day a training day……

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was first shared on April 17, 2017.

“The best time to get out of trouble is before it happens.”

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?