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TIM TIEKEN ON THE COMPETITIVE K9
By Moc Klinkam

Tim Tieken has been training police dogs for over thirty years. He is the retired Training Master for Seattle Police K9 Unit and founded the Washington State Police Canine Association (WSPCA), the certifying agency for the State of Washington. He has judged police dog trials, administrated certification tests, and was recognized by the WSPCA as a Master Trainer in the categories of Police Dog Generalist, Narcotics Detection Dog and Explosive Detection Dog. He is the Master K9 Trainer for Northwest K9 in Buckley, Washington. Tim was in Reno to cover the 1999 International Police Dog Championships for the '99 Nationals web site. I seized the opportunity to interview Tim as he was awaiting his flight home at the Reno Airport following the weekend's events.


What are your overall impressions of the Reno Police Dog Championships tracking conditions and challenges?

My thoughts on the tracking are two-fold. First let me describe the fields. The tracking fields were in high desert, about 4000 foot elevation, with dry freshly plowed soft dirt. In one field you were sinking in four and a half to five inches, and in another you were sinking in up to three or four inches. Some of the dogs were sinking into their hocks, and when they withdrew their foot it would cast a cloud of dust all the way up to their noses.
This presented a two fold problem: One, that the track was visually apparent to the dogs. A visually oriented dog would have no problem whatsoever following the track. The second problem was the extreme amount of dust and the physical problems of sinking into the dirt made a scent-oriented dog have a difficult time.

You have commented on the scent-oriented dog and the visual-oriented dog. We know that in Schutzhund the dog is trained nose to the ground for scentwork. Why might a police dog be more visually oriented?

This question leaves a broad area to speak to. I don't want to be guilty of over-simplification. Making a direct comparison between Schutzhund-style tracking and police style tracking is complicated. Police dog work is diverse and the term "tracking" itself has a broad definition. I would say that the Schutzhund style of tracking is the "purist" form of tracking, in that the dog is nose-down, is going footstep to footstep, and is definitely using its nose and not its eyes. The dog is not in just a random search, but is using his nose to follow a trail of scent. However, there is a deficit to this style of tracking in that the dog can become oriented to the ground disturbance scent rather than discriminating a particular human scent. One should take care so that the dog uses more than just the orientation of the ground scent. He uses the ground scent, but he also uses other scent evidence available to him.

When you consider police work, the Schutzhund type of track should be the basis and the dog should have a good underlying foundation of this purist tracking. However, in many instances it's not practical to do this type of tracking.
The dog also must be a strong trailing dog so that he uses all of the evidence that is available to him. In many cases the track will be disrupted by vehicular traffic, heavily contaminated surfaces, and the like. If the dog can't roam and search out bits of human scent that have collected here and there in what I would call "scent pools," he'll be lost because he's going to lose that pure track.

Can you speak a little bit to the difference between "tracking" and "trailing"?

The classic definition of a tracking dog elicits a picture of the dog tail high and nose down, and he is following footstep to footstep, staying in the exact place on the earth where the tracklayer has been. A trailing dog is not as heavily oriented toward this ground-borne scent, but rather uses a combination of airborne scent and ground-borne scent or scent that is collected on other objects that the tracklayer has passed by. This dog would typically be seen with his nose just a little lower than his normal carriage, and would be much quicker in pace than the ground-oriented dog. The ground oriented dog would be moving at a reasonably slow pace and would probably be faulted for going at a higher pace. The trailing dog's speed would probably be double or three times that of the tracking dog and would not be staying right where the tracklayer had been. It would be working air currents and finding patches of scent that the air has carried hither and yon as well as using the ground disturbance scent to help him along his way.

You arrived at the WPO tracking fields about 7AM. Can you please describe how the the climate and topography influenced the police dog competition tracking?

When I arrived at the tracking field in the morning, the temperature was near freezing, just slightly above. I don't believe that the ground had frosted at that time. There was however a little bit of condensation from the atmosphere on the ground that dampened the dust just enough so that it was not clouding badly. In the first field, the looseness of the soil went to a deeper depth than the conditions encountered by the dogs working later in the day.

This presented two different problems: The dogs that worked the first field early in the day had to work through deeper dirt; it was physically more difficult for them. But they had the advantage that the condensation was still holding the dust cloud down so their noses were not taking in so much dust. Their ability of olfaction was not decreased by the dust, nor were they hampered by the itching sensations or the physical dust getting into their nostrils and eyes -- irritations that would distract them psychologically from the track.

As the sun warmed the soil and the moisture evaporated, the dogs in the second field had a difficult time because there was a cloud of dust present and each time they brought a rear leg out of the soil, the cloud of dust would go as far as their noses. This made it difficult for these dogs.

One of the German officers told me that the big difference that he encountered was that the soil was much softer than what he had ever worked in. This was a dramatic change for the dog; these officers had not had an opportunity to practice in the conditions under which they would be competing in Reno. However, I have to give them credit for their training, for the dogs worked extremely well under conditions that were foreign to them.

It is that aspect of it being foreign that presented the biggest challenge to someone coming to this area for tracking. However, that element was also present for most of the other competitors who were not from this region of the country. Most of the competitors were accustomed to greener fields, tracking on grass or in residential neighborhoods where the conditions are much more favorable for the dogs.

This was really a test of the quality of these dogs. We didn't see many failures in this exercise. I look at that as a real credit to this particular group of dogs. They really are the cream of the crop. If we had seen a lot of less experienced SchH1 and SchH2 dogs out there, we would have seen a high percentage of failures. And for those officers who had not trained their dogs in real purist tracking where the dog was ground-oriented -- speaking of those officers who are doing mostly trailing -- I think those officers would have had a much more difficult time and we would have seen more failures.

On Sunday we saw a police dog score that was not passing. What happened?

I observed this at quite some distance, on flat ground, and I wasn't elevated where I could get a good depth perception on the event. What I could see was that the dog had missed a corner and was doing some circling; I believe he had taken the 270 degree route to get back to the corner rather than the 90 degree route, and had inadvertently gone onto a crosstralk. Well, that was the speculation. When the handler came in and he and the tracklayer talked about it, it was determined that a fisherman from the nearby river had walked across the area and had laid a track that coincided with this corner. It was believed that the dog in making this corner had inadvertently gone onto this fisherman's track. Such a scent discrimination problem under the dry, dusty conditions is thoroughly understandable. However, the judge, as directed by the rules, did not grant a new track and the officer was eliminated from the competition.

This year's international police dog competition saw an unprecedented field of entries. What are the pros and cons of entering a working patrol dog in a competitive event?

I believe that the largest determining factors are the handler and his attitude. If he is caught up in the competition to the point where he focuses only on winning competitions, he is probably going to detract from the dog's ability. However, if he is a well-rounded handler and uses the events that he is training for to enhance the dog's all around skills, then he can use Schutzhund or police competition to expand the dog's overall abilities. That computes at the end of the year into more captured suspects.

The only other problem I see with entering working police dogs in competitive events is that dogs have their bad days, and they sometimes end up failing. And attorneys, especially in the United States, can point to these failures and create doubt in the dog's working ability. Which in my mind is a bunch of hooey -- but they are the facts of the world we live in.

What issues do you see in the working K9 officer who cross-trains his dog in Schutzhund?

My previous answer focused primarily on the effects of tracking. I believe here you are asking me to look at Schutzhund as a whole. One consideration when working Schutzhund as a whole is that, once again, if the officer is so caught in the competition that he is training to succeed in the competition as opposed to training to succeed in the real life capture of criminals, there is a deficit. In the protection and in the obedience phase, I think that Schutzhund is so precise that it may create a handler dependent dog. Many dogs are strong enough that they are not at all hurt by this. But other dogs that are required to demonstrate this much precision may become dependent on the handler. This can detract from their overall working ability to range out and concentrate on finding the bad guy. They are using some of their energy -- that could otherwise be spent on catching the bad guy -- to keep track of the handler and worry about pleasing the handler.

At this weekend's competition, we saw ten police teams compete in all three phases. What qualities, skills and abilities in these dogs reflect those that you seek when evaluating and selecting candidates for K9?

I'm thinking you are asking me to judge the dog flesh that I saw in this trial of police dogs. My overall impression is that there is not one of these dogs that I would not put to work myself. This is an excellent batch of dogs -- the cream of the crop.
Their training is varied from what I would undertake, because these officers are training for their own situations, their own sets of policies, terrain and climate. Those are the only differences I see. I can't compliment them highly enough.

What are the differences in the environments in which the German K9 teams work as compared to the typical environment in which the American officers work their dogs?

One of the German officers mentioned that they just have one police authority. They are independent and have a large area both in land size and influence. I think that helps them in that they have one set of policies that they can follow. They are not so fragmented and don't have as many overlying jurisdictions as we do in the United States. I think that police dogs by and large are much more accepted by the German public than what the K9 officers typically encounter here in the States.

Here in North America, we have to tread on thin ice and we have to be very cognizant of public relations. Not that the Germans are not careful of public relations -- there is just more understanding by their public. I believe that the biggest difference is in the legal atmosphere that we operate in. Our legal system is hostile toward the use of police dogs by and large. Everything has to be justified; people are scrutinizing very heavily. The methods in which you can apply the dog are very different here. I don't think that the German officers work under near the constraints that we do here.

My impression was that the officers were physically fit, they were on top of their game, and they were serious in their training and their work. What are some of your observations of the individual Police Dog Championship competitors?

You've answered the question for me. They were professional -- certainly in their dog training and handling. Their demeanor throughout the competition was impeccable. They were a friendly group of fellows and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. I was really pleased to see them here, and I hope that they will return and that they will bring with them even more of their working K9 teams.

What do you foresee for North American K9 teams going to Germany to compete in Police Dog championships?

As we looked at the reviewing stand for this competition on Sunday, we saw a good mix of German and American officers at the podium. I think that this is a good indication that there are teams here who are competing straight across with the Germans. I believe that the judge for this event was fair and impartial. Our USA police dogs performed beautifully at the German BSP earlier this year, and our dogs scored up with the German dogs in Reno this past weekend. We have come a long way in the past two decades.

How much influence from Germany is there on current K9 training in America?

By and large I think that the greater influence has come from Germany when applied to Police Dogs in the United States, especially in the protection and obedience realm. However, in the past few decades we have come much further in scentwork; there is the one place where we have been able to set a little higher standard and be more diverse in the methods that we use.

What has contributed to North American developments in the scentwork?

We had some good reseachers and pioneers starting out in the search and rescue realm that set the stage for us. Some pioneers really set an example to follow. Many early police officers picked up on this expertise and applied it to police dog work, and the successes that they achieved set a standard that is something to be envied.

The greatest research that was done and started people thinking in a wider range would have been Jean and Bill Syrotuck and the search dog group that they started in Pierce County, Washington 25 years ago, which I believe was called SARDA -- Search and Rescue Dog Association. One of the members of that association back then was a fellow by the name of Jack McDonald. He started at Pierce County Sheriff's office. He began applying some of the methods that they had used in SARDA to police work and was very successful. In Vancouver, BC in the early 1960s, they started free tracking with their dogs up there and developed it into a true art form. Their arrest-to-application ratio was very high. Seattle took off following their example. A fellow named Larry Franklin who had a history of training national championship bird dogs applied his dog knowledge to what he learned in Vancouver and made the Seattle program successful. There were some people in Pennsylvania area doing bloodhound work, and also some gentlemen from the Deep South who taught us a few things.

You referenced "free tracking." Can you explain that term?

By "free" I meant free from the constraints of the lead and not requiring the dog to following only groundborne scent, but allowing the dog lateral movement to search out all scent evidence and to follow it to its source.

We saw some outstanding obedience work on the Schutzhund field, and equally outstanding obedience work on the WPO field. Can you summarize the goal of the police dog obedience phase, and what is intended to be demonstrated by the different Police Dog trial exercises?

The main intent of the obedience segment is to show that the dog is under the control of the handler. Each phase in the obedience demonstrates how thorough that training has been and how thorough the obedience to the handler is. It also demonstrates the level of expertise that the team has achieved.

You mentioned earlier that extreme precision in training might lead to some dependence on the handler. How does the police dog handler achieve that balance between control and over-dependence?

The dog's temperament plays a big part in this. The dog needs to be well-chosen and must have a stable central nervous system. Beyond that, the whole life experience of the dog will play heavily in this. If the dog has been the victim of a lot of compulsion and has been made to be very precise before he has truly learned what is wanted of him, or if fear has been employed to manage the dog's behavior, then the dog will be afraid. He will be too attuned to what the handler is doing and will not be paying attention to the overall job or feeling comfortable with what he is required to do. He is always fearful that the handler is going to come down on him. This creates a divided mind in the dog and he doesn't work as well as he could if he were calmer. It's this area right here that requires a very strong dog, mentally. A dog with good temperament. If he is what is described as hectic, or nervous, or near panic when he is working, he will not be a good working dog. He will not perform well. He will only perform on the trial field and under a certain set of circumstances. When you get into more complex scenting in control situations, the behaviors will break down.

Speaking of what would or wouldn't be a good working dog -- can you share what you would look for in a 4- to 6-month old puppy, to determine if they had the potential for being a successful K9?

I would look for a puppy that is outgoing, cheerful in his attitude and his body language. A dog that readily approaches people and interacts. I would be looking for a dog that is looking to play. Not a dog that is extremely hyper, but one that is active, wants to be with people, and is not afraid of new things coming into its environment. For example, one of the many tests that I use is to throw an object into the pen of puppies and see how they react to a new object coming upon them quickly. If they shy away or are slow to approach it, then I eliminate them. What I am looking for is the puppy that is aware that the object is there -- but he is not attacking it, and he advances to it to check it out and see what it is. The promising candidate is wary enough to protect himself, but still approaches nonetheless.

Copyright 1999 Moc Klinkam; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


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