Local News

Trainer: K-9s respond better to positive methods

Posted April 30, 2008 5:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 30, 2008 6:21 p.m. EDT

— A veteran K-9 trainer said Wednesday that positive reinforcement is the best way to train police dogs.

"There has to be a balance. Strictly negative reinforcement is not productive," said Tracy Bowling, who has trained police dogs for 40 years and is K-9 instructor for the Wake County Sheriff's Office. "There's a relationship you obviously form with the dog and a bond, if you will, with the dog."

Bowling said he was puzzled when he saw a video clip showing former Highway Patrol Sgt. Charles Jones kicking his K-9, Ricoh, during a training session last summer.

"Why is it occurring? Why is it going on?" he said he thought when he saw the video. "It's not something that's easily discerned when you're watching the video."

The video shows Ricoh suspended by his leash from a railing while Jones repeatedly kicks at the dog's hind legs. Jones has said he was trying to get Ricoh to release a chew toy.

Bowling said force should be used only when a dog threatens its handler.

"Typically when you're doing that, you have the leash in hand, and it's not secured and tied to something else," he said.

Jones was fired last September and has sued to regain his job, saying he was denied due process.

Some troopers have supported Jones, saying he did what was necessary to train an aggressive dog. Bowling said he believes there were other ways to train Ricoh.

"We can use a second toy to kind of tease the dog, entice the dog with, so that he releases the toy. We give the release command," he said.

Because of testimony during the hearing on Jones' lawsuit, state officials on Wednesday suspended all Highway Patrol K-9 operations so training practices could be reviewed.