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Ask Anything: 10 questions with Cary police K-9 Handler Jeremy Burgin

Cary police K-9 Handler Jeremy Burgin answers your questions about training his dog Max, bullet-proof vests for dogs and much more. Plus, WRAL Anchor Debra Morgan is now taking your questions.
Posted 2008-07-01T09:37:50+00:00 - Updated 2018-07-13T18:03:24+00:00

What kind of training does it require to become a K-9 dog? – Bob Smith, Cary

Outstanding question to start with, Bob, as training is the most important part of any K9 unit. As a Handler, your ability to testify in Court to anything your partner does while working all relates to how well you train – although admittedly, most of the training is for the Handler as our dogs pick up on the tasks significantly faster than we do as Handlers.

Specifically to your question, Max and I went through three and one half months of Basic Canine Training where we went to school five days a week, eight hours a day and learned the job together. Max came to the United States from the Czech Republic with very little training, so we learned as a team from Day One. However, Basic Canine Training is just that – basic – so we return to training twice a month for In-Service training as well as train on-duty when not busy with calls for service. For reference, the average K9 team spends 20 to 25 percent of their time training.

Does Max have a bullet-proof vest? And if so, how often does he wear it? – Renee Westich, Apex

We were fortunate, Renee, to have two groups in Cary ask to donate the money to purchase a vest for Max (along with numerous other groups and organizations who donated for our startup). When we started the Unit in 2005, Danny’s Bar-B-Que and the Cary Chapter of Teen Korp graciously donated $350 each to purchase the vest. It’s encouraging to know that the community would give us that kind of support in our formative years as a unit.

As a general rule, Max does not wear his vest everyday like I do, the main reason being it is too hot for Max to wear his vest for extended periods of time. However, knowing a vest is readily available if the situation presents itself is invaluable and has proved as much during those times where Max has worn his vest. I’d much rather have a vest for Max and not need it than need it and not have it.

What are your thoughts about the highway patrol officer who was fired for the way he disciplined his dog? – Gavin, Raleigh

Gavin, certainly the story was extremely disturbing. I hope, however, that you understand that it really isn’t appropriate for me to comment too much on the specific issue since I’m not aware of all the facts.

I think the bigger picture here is how K9 training is handled within North Carolina. There is no standard for K9 training, so each agency is responsible for training their unit as they see fit. In fact, an agency could purchase a canine, assign the dog to a Handler with no training, and call themselves a canine unit. That’s not a healthy situation for the community, the Handler, or the dog.

In Cary (as with many other local agencies) we voluntarily abide by the rules and regulations of the United States Police Canine Association. The USPCA is the largest and oldest active organization of its kind and provides agencies with standards that can be used to govern their unit. By training to those standards (or the standards of any similar association), everyone within the agency (and the community it represents) knows what is appropriate when it comes to training and applications of each canine, thereby avoiding any confusion about how to train or use your partner.

The USPCA will be conducting it’s National Field Trials in Raleigh from Sept. 14-19, 2008, and I welcome everyone to come out and watch the best of the best participate in the regions first ever National Police Dog trials. Max and Axle (Cary’s newest member of the K9 unit) will be participating as well as other dogs from the area and all across the United States. You can go to www.uspcak9.com for more information about the organization and the National trials.

Where do the dogs go when they retire? Do they remain with the handler? – Donna Gerepka, Timberlake

Well, Donna, I’m happy to say that when Max reaches retirement, the Town of Cary has established a program that will allow him to spend those relaxing days with my family. Most agencies locally have the same arrangement and I don’t know of any Handler who would want it any other way. We spend all of our on-duty time with our partner, and I can’t imagine having him work so hard with and for me for all those years just to have him go elsewhere at retirement. Right now, however, Max is healthy and young and won’t be retiring any time soon.

How much did your dog cost? – John, Chapel Hill

In 2005, the Town of Cary purchased Max from Orchard Knoll Kennels for $4,800. That included a guarantee that Max would be physically capable of completing training. It’s important to remember that Max came with very little pre-training, so the Town of Cary purchased a “green” dog for that price. Agencies can spend significantly more if they purchase a dog that is already trained and will have a shorter turnaround time to train the Handler with the dog. Additionally, Agencies can accept donations of qualified dogs, as is the case with our partner in the unit – Seth Everett and his K9 partner Axle. Axle was donated to Seth by a Cary citizen for use in Law Enforcement, so the cost for the dog was eliminated in Axle’s case. As you can see, John, depending on the situation, many agencies are able to find a dog within their price range with a little creative planning.

What do you like best about working with Max, and what do you find most challenging about having a dog for a partner? – Todd, Cary

Without question the most enjoyable part of working with Max is having him find something or someone that would not have been found without using a police K9. There are times where we as police officers have very little information at a scene and by simply utilizing Max we gather enough information or evidence to help solve the case.

The real challenge as a Handler, Todd, is to believe what Max is telling me. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but as human beings we always try and “think” where something should be hidden or what makes “sense” or where someone may be hiding. The benefit of police K9’s is that they don’t have pre-conceived ideas, so they follow their noses, training and instinct without hesitation. There’s a phrase in Police K9 that says "Read him, don’t lead him," referring to the idea that if I as a Handler simply watch my partner instead of directing him, we will be successful in whatever we are doing. As you can see Todd, the challenges aren’t with Max, they are with me as a Handler.

I was wondering how old the dogs are when they start training. How do you know if they are going to be a great police dog? Be careful & go get them Max. – Rhonda Morgan, Laurel Hill

Max was born in October of 2003 and we started training in February of 2005. Fifteen months was a touch on the juvenile side (and trust me, he showed his youth everyday) but it’s not too young to start training. Most “green” dogs begin their Basic Canine training between 1 ½ and 2 years old.

Although Max started young, you can begin the evaluation process much younger, Rhonda, generally around the 6 month range. For Law Enforcement duties, we look for a confident puppy with high drive. If the puppy chases and retrieves a toy for long periods of time, chances are he/she has the makings to be a good police dog. There are still difficulties that may arise in training (unable to work on slick floors for example) that may eliminate the dog as a candidate for police K9, but without the “ball drive” needed for rewards, he/she may be better suited as a family pet.

Other than providing water and rest for your dog during the day, what else do you need to take into consideration that your average officer does not? – Tamsin McLeod, Garner

One of the biggest considerations while working with a police K9 is our partner’s health and well being. That goes along with the water and rest portion of your question, Tamsin, but the environments we work in aren’t always the safest, even those that we control. For example, when training for narcotics detection, we as Handlers have to be careful the “hide” can’t be retrieved or our dogs may accidentally ingest some of the narcotics. Of course, anything ingested that’s not for eating can cause trouble.

Do you agree with (The Dog Whisperer) Cesar Millan's approach to creating a "balanced, happy" dog? – Meredith Blair, Cary

Meredith, I must admit, I had to go to Mr. Millan’s Web site to get the proper reference for your question as I haven’t watched his show before. So, just based on a very brief look, I did see that he speaks of his “fulfillment formula” that can readily be applied to police canine: Exercise, Discipline, and Affection.

Exercise and training are interchangeable and as I mentioned in Bob’s question above (#1), training is the key element to a successful team. Discipline is the product of quality training because if you and your partner are receiving proper and quality training, obedience will most assuredly follow. Obedience is the basis for a successful team and good teams always start out with a solid foundation in obedience.

In terms of affection, I praise Max every opportunity I get to reinforce the behaviors I want (and need) repeated. Removing a toy, treat, etc. from the training exercise and withholding that reward until the proper behavior is achieved can be as powerful if not more so than a negative correction.

I think the best part about Mr. Millan’s approach is that he understands that the human part of the relationship needs the training, while the dog needs the rehabilitation.

Again, I can’t say that I endorse his methods since I really don’t know them, but what I’ve mentioned here is certainly applicable to me and Max.

When off duty, is the dog part of the family, lying around with you all in the living room, sleeping with you and just generally hanging out with the family? – Luanne Jones, Rocky Mount

Max is most definitely a part of my family, but we also limit to a great degree what he does when he’s home. Max is an outdoor dog for the most part (we bring him inside during extreme weather conditions) but he’d much prefer that as he can run around with our other two dogs and get some additional exercise. Max does enjoy the beach, Luanne, as we take Max more often than not when we go to the Outer Banks in the fall. Max is truly a different dog when I’m not in uniform and we aren’t riding in our patrol car, which is something I prefer as it allows him an opportunity to be a dog when we are both off duty.

Thank you all for the fantastic questions and feel free to email me with any additional questions you may have: jeremy.burgin@townofcary.org

WRAL Anchor Debra Morgan is now taking your questions. Click here to ask her anything!