LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - By nature, dogs have a heightened protective instinct. They also have a sense of smell 50 times greater than a human's. That's why, according to Little Rock K-9 Academy owner Tony Smith, they make the perfect companions, especially for police officers. But, the training it takes to go from canine to K-9 isn't easy.
"Our standards are pretty high," says Smith, "one out of every ten will not finish our training program."
Tony Smith has been training police dogs for more than 30 years. He started the K-9 Academy in 1983. Of the four training facilities in Arkansas, the Little Rock K-9 Academy is the largest. Every trainer is an award-winning officer and state certified instructor. They scout out dogs all over the country, then sell them to law enforcement agencies in five countries: the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Northern Mariana Island, and Iraq.
He buys most of his dogs from Holland and Mexico, each costing him up to $2,500 dollars to train from start to finish.
If a dog doesn't make the cut, Smith sends them back overseas to their trainer at a cost of $1,500.
Smith houses up to 15 dogs at a time, separated into three kennels depending on the purpose of their training. Labs are trained for scent detection, while German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are trained on Scent and Apprehension. All dogs carry the same predisposition:
"Dogs are instinctively trained to protect their herd," says Smith, "The dogs don't know the humans are their herd."
Each dog trains four hours a day, seven days a week in obedience, tracking, and narcotics. Many of the dogs tally up to 80 hours of work each week at the Academy.
The dogs are not the only ones who have to go through the program. The K-9 Academy holds courses for the handlers as well. The handler must learn how to discipline his dog. Once discipline is instilled, a dog can be trusted. For example, if there is ever an issue in public then the dog will listen to his handler if he starts to run toward the wrong person.
The intensive training program for the handler usually lasts a week. If a handler and K-9 do not work well together, they will be given new partners. However, Smith says this does not happen often. Usually the two are inseparable.
"The relationship between a person and a dog is just unreal," says Smith. "The dog is first and foremost a companion, a loyal friend. He needs just as much human attention as the human needs K-9 attention."
The work goes beyond the training in the field. Smith's crew works from morning until evening cleaning the cages, moving dogs from one location to the next, discussing new drills, and evaluating the dogs and their handlers.
Smith says, just like any officer, a K-9 eventually enjoys retirement too, about 7 years in. That's about half a century of work in dog years.
Their next K-9 handler's course will take place on June 2nd.
Right now, they are expecting six new dogs from Mexico. They are still scouring Europe for two more German Shepherds. They have to analyze videos sent in from trainers all across the globe. Right now they have their selections narrowed down to dogs in the Czech Republic, Germany, Amsterdam and Poland.
You can find out more about the Little Rock K-9 Academy on their website: www.lrk9.com