Every little thing has a purpose when you’re raising a puppy to one day be a police dog.
Playing tug-of-war, going for a walk, even quiet time in a crate, all has a reason behind it.
“Our end goal is to make sure that this puppy experiences everything and has direction towards what we want from them,” DPD Const. Sarb Singh told the Reporter. “With a police dog, we want them to be able to track and apprehend offenders and not be distracted.”
Singh, a five-year member of the Delta Police Department, is a volunteer “imprinter,” meaning he takes on potential police dogs and raises them for first year to 18 months of their lives, drawing out the various drives needed to make them successful in law enforcement.
|Meet Maya, an 18-week-old German Shepherd puppy the DPD Const. Sarb Singh is raising to one day become a full-fledged police dog. (James Smith photo)|
In addition to his duties as a member of the DPD’s patrol support section, Singh is currently working with Maya (pronounced May-ah), an 18-week old German shepherd. Maya is with Singh 24 hours a day, seven days a week, going with him to work and living with him at home. They train every day, with every walk and every game, in the hope that she will make the cut and one day become a full-fledged police dog.
As one might expect, it’s a little different from training a pet pooch.
“With a pet puppy, if it bites you for example, you’re initial reaction is ‘No,’ and you try to correct that behavior. Now turn that upside down and that’s what imprinting is,” Singh explained. “When a potential police K9 puppy bites you, you encourage that behaviour because eventually our goal is to have this dog be comfortable biting people, understanding that that’s not a bad thing, and then we can control it afterwards.
“Same thing with jumping up on things. You want them to be able to jump up on things and be curious. A pet you would discourage that because it’s not what you want. But with a working dog, say you’re in a house and somebody’s hiding above a cabinet or something, this dog needs to get up on to the cabinet to get there. If it was a pet, they’ve been taught all their lives that jumping up on things is a negative. But we need this dog to work and be comfortable in that environment.”
Getting Maya comfortable means bringing her on calls so she gets used to the sound of sirens and the flashing of police lights. It means encouraging her to climb up the slides at playgrounds or walk across railroad tracks and sewer grates.
Eventually, Singh will take her to a skating rinks so she can experience walking on ice, and at some point he’ll probably take her to a farm where she can meet horses or cows or chickens. Anything so she isn’t surprised by something she might see on the job later on.
It also means bring her around the office (Singh is based out of the North Delta Public Safety Building) and to community events so she can get used to being around different people.
“The idea there is that as she grows older she trusts people. And the more she trusts, the more likely she’s going to want to play with them,” Singh said.
|DPD Const. Sarb Singh plays with Maya by having her bite and pull on a glove. Play such as this is an important part of her training to one day become a full-fledged police dog. (James Smith photo)|
Play is big part of Maya’s training. Singh will have her bite and pull on toys, similar to how one does with a pet puppy, and sometimes hides or has her chase him.
“And that’s all working on her prey drive, to want to chase things that are moving and want to bite onto things,” he said. “The more she plays with me and associates biting as a good thing, and the more she’s around people that are also good to her and treating her well, the more comfortable she’ll be. So when she does actually bite somebody [on the job], in her mind, she’s having fun and she’s playing and it’s with people. Whereas if the dog was uncomfortable and not very social, her bite wouldn’t be as good because she’d be uncomfortable, she’d be biting because I’m telling her to.”
Maya is Singh’s second future police dog. His previous puppy, Luther, spent 10 months training with him before graduating in early May and being sent to Innisfail, Alta., to join the RCMP police dog training program. About a week later, Singh was sent Maya. (Both Luther and Maya were born in Innisfail as part of the RCMP’s police dog breeding program.)
A supervisor from the RCMP police dog training centre will come out and test periodically to see how Maya’s progressing, and if she and Singh are successful, she’ll follow in Luthor’s footsteps and return to Innisfail to continue her training.
Singh got involved with imprinting police dogs after Const. Chris Cottrill, who trained Singh when he was a recruit, asked if he’d be interested in helping him train with his police dog, Garner.
Cottrill, a 10-year member of the department, is currently three years into his first stint with the Lower Mainland District Integrated Police Dog Service (LMDIPDS) and is one of three Delta police officers attached to the unit as a full-time dog handler.
The LMDIPDS is made up of around 40 dog-and-handler teams and covers a vast area from Hope to Whistler. Const. Cottrill and Garner are tasked with responding to high-priority calls south of the Fraser River from Richmond to the Abbotsford border.
“He was somebody I always kind of looked up to,” Singh said. “So when Chris came out of training with his dog he was looking for assistance and guys that are interested in helping him train with his dog, and … I thought yeah, of course I’ll help you out.”
Singh volunteered to act as a quarry for Garner, laying tracks for him to follow and hiding for him find, even taking bites (with the appropriate safety gear on, of course). Working with Cottrill and the other handlers and seeing all the amazing things the dogs are capable of doing awakened in Singh a passion for dog work.
|DPD Const. Sarb Singh is raising Maya, an 18-week-old German Shepherd puppy, and training her to one day become a full-fledged police dog. (James Smith photo)|
“It wasn’t really something I thought about when I started policing, wasn’t a direction I noticed. It caught me by surprise, and I’m glad it did,” he said.
“You see what these dogs are capable of. You take an eight-week-old dog, just taken from mom and it doesn’t know anything. And within two weeks you see her now understanding commands, jumping up on things, approaching people, biting, and doing all these things within such a short period of time. And then you know that if this continues and you continue to develop those skills, this dog can eventually learn to track a bad guy or find a missing child who’s left their house and bring them back to their parents. When you see the bigger picture there it’s just a, to me, there’s no bigger reward than that.”
“It’s amazing what these dogs can do. It’s just mind blowing,” Cottrill added. “[Singh]’s not teaching the dog to sit on command kind of thing and that’s it. He’s teaching the dog to be a critical thinker. Because when we’re out there and the dog’s at the end of our 20-foot line, he’s got to know, okay, this is the good guy, this is the bad guy. This is who I’m looking for, this isn’t who I’m looking for. You’re teaching the dog to be a critical thinker and it’s amazing to watch these dogs develop into that.
“And then to develop the skill set they have where they can find a bullet casing in an open field, it blows your mind what these dogs can do. I’ve had tracks that were four kilometres long in an area like [North Delta]. Four kilometres over fences, through yards, all kinds of stuff, and then we found the person. That person would never have been found or caught or been brought to justice otherwise.
“And it’s all because of this dog that somebody like [Singh] put hours a day into.”