Dog Section to Dog School!

by Helen Kay // August 2017

Dog Section to Dog School!

Hi everyone! My name is Helen, I am the Head Coach at Dog School Darlington and in August 2016 I made the biggest decision of my working career...

That decision saw me leave the Police as a professional Dog Handler and join the Dogs Trust Dog School as a pet dog trainer. I am happy to say that although I left an amazing team when I left the police I have now joined another amazing team here at Dog School!

I have to admit that I do miss working with the Police dogs as I loved working with their natural instincts. To see a dog successfully tracking across a field following a scent, sometimes 3 hours old, using their incredible sense of smell still fascinates me to this day! How do they do that?! My love for these working breeds has found me with 2 very lively, pretty crazy Belgian Shepherds of my own which I now compete in Agility with.

Working with these breeds has made me appreciate that dogs have instinctive behaviours and some breeds were bred to do specific jobs. When we understand this about our dogs we can provide the specific stimulation they sometimes require to avoid them becoming frustrated. German Shepherds and Border Collies were bred to herd which means they sometimes have a desire to chase more so than other breeds. This is one reason why some German Shepherds make good Police Dogs!

Ever seen a Border collie trying to chase passing cars or bikes? This is their chase instinct being displayed. It is important to understand why some dogs can show these behaviours and to give these dogs an outlet and channel to exercise these instinctive behaviours without it becoming problematic to us. …what about encouraging them to chase a ball in the park instead of chasing cars!

Talking about Border Collies….I was fortunate to see my dog handling career through with my fantastic Border Collie dog named Jet who searched and indicated on narcotics, cash and weapons. Again the ability for a dog to be able to find something as small as a spring out of a weapon never ceases to amaze me! Jet is now retired and lives with me.

He’s a very special dog who I have an amazing bond with and I am very proud to have worked with him. We achieved some fantastic results…. far too many to mention and remember!!….. Our deployments included finding narcotics hidden within panels of vehicles and finding weapons in open fields in super quick time! It’s so important that we know what is rewarding for our dogs and then we can use that to motivate, train and reward them. For Jet it’s his tennis ball, every time! – positive reward based training at its best!

Police dogs have a full and varied life. They are very much part of the family and live at home with their owners, though whilst at work they experience lots of different environments and situations. Whilst working with my police dogs I have attended incidents in woods, farmland, housing and industrial estates, often during hours of darkness. Also city centres, Train Stations, insecure buildings such as schools and factories. It is important that the dogs have the confidence and prior exposure to these different environments so that they are able to protect me and be deployed as and when necessary. Much of the police work is varied and unpredictable so it’s important that a Police dog is confident in dealing with this.

It is really important that all puppies are well socialised and get used to being in lots of different environments so that they grow into confident adults that do not show concern or fearful reactions to new and novel situations. When working with Police puppies this was always a priority to ensure they developed into confident and motivated work dogs.

What was also lovely is that whilst working with the Police I also met our Dog School Coach Abby. She was a puppy walker in the police and during this time we worked together training with a young Belgian Shepherd dog. To be working with someone so young (yes I’m beginning to feel my age!) with so much love and passion for working with dogs is a great feeling! We now work together with Jess who is our Senior Coach and make a pretty good team even if I do say so myself!!

Any regrets with my career change? Well I miss climbing trees and hiding in the smallest places whilst police dog training and I now go to bed at night instead of going to work! I guess I will always remember the police caution and the number 392 will always have great meaning to me though no regrets!

I now thoroughly enjoy my new role and however much you think you know about dogs there is always something new to learn! It’s great to work with such a wide variety of breeds and to help the owners on their training journey with their furry friends!! In fact… it is a little bit of a secret so please keep it to yourself..…..  I am a bit of a lover of the small, old dogs in our rescue centre… especially the cheeky terriers and crossbreeds!