During the past 19 years as a dog handler and now trainer, I have been asked many times “HOW MUCH TRAINING IS ENOUGH?” From the handler to the Chief of Police to the media to the Councilperson, they all want to know how long it takes to train a police dog and how many hours a week to keep the training up.
It is tough to compare times because all dogs are different and the jobs they are asked to do range from hard to very hard. Each dog needs a different amount of training based on the skills of the dog, handler, and trainer involved. The job that they are being trained to do will also determine how much training a dog needs. To make this easy we can take averages and industry standards to help answer the question.
Most Police Dogs are trained at Police K-9 Academies that require a minimum of 420 hours of basic training for the handler and the dog. There are some that are longer, and some that are shorter (although I would not recommend a shorter one no matter the level of the dog when the handler receives the dog), but it could be argued that the standard most observed would be 420 hours. This would produce a team trained in obedience, agility, basic tracking, evidence recovery, basic apprehension skills including the verbal out and recall, and building searches.
Next comes the training for drug detection, explosive detection, cadavers, and SAR. It could be argued that these dogs need an additional 250 hours of training. This would yield a dog trained to locate 4 odors and react in a specific way once locating these odors. Again, I am speaking in generalities because some dogs and handlers need more time and some less. It depends on the level and skill of the dog, handler, and trainer involved.
I get many questions from Chiefs about HOW MUCH IN-SERVICE TRAINING is enough. Speaking in generalities, the average would be 4 hours per week for patrol work, and 2 hours each week for additional disciplines such as drug detection. A cross trained Patrol Drug Dog therefore would need 24 hours each month at a minimum at a recognized K-9 training facility under the observance of a skilled trainer. This would not include the 15 minutes each day that the handler and dog practice away from the training academy.
Anything less could be considered deliberate indifference (City of Canton Ohio.1989) and would deviate from the industrial norm. The Working Dog Foundation with the advice from the K-9 Academy for Law Enforcement and the United States Police Canine Association has adopted that all Police K-9 Teams undergo a min of 420 hours of basic training, be evaluated on written standards by outside evaluators such as the United States Police Canine Association, and continue in-service training to average 4 hours per week for patrol dogs. Specialty dogs such as drug detection would require a min of 200 hours of training before evaluation by outside evaluators and then a minimum of 8 hours averaged per month of in-service work.
I need to get out from behind this desk and train now!