Elvis the barking police dog could hardly wait to sink his teeth into trainer Jason Giso on Tuesday.
The large, excited German shepherd leapt up on Giso and locked his strong jaw around his padded forearm.
Despite some struggle, Elvis wouldn’t let go — which is exactly how police dog handlers wanted it at the three-day Canadian Police Canine Association’s Spring Seminar. It wrapped up Wednesday in Red Deer and Springbrook.
Const. Ian Vernon, of Calgary Police Service, said the “bite-and-hold technique” keeps suspects from getting away, while minimizing injury.
“You try to get the dogs to bite once, and then to bite down deeper,” said Vernon, since this effectively holds the suspect while causing only three or four puncture wounds that can be cleaned and might not require stitches.
It’s better than having the dog bite multiple times, causing numerous wounds, or even taking a chunk of flesh, added Vernon. “Part of this is injury prevention.”
This training exercise was repeated with members of 24 police dog teams from across Canada in Springbrook on Tuesday afternoon. The dogs were taught to restrain suspects inside an empty building at the former army base, as well as on the lawn outside, so they get used to different environments, said Const. Peter Baxter of the Red Deer RCMP.
The working canines can get uncomfortable if they aren’t exposed to all situations, he added. But a well-trained police dog always knows which person to go after.
“They know uniforms are off-limits, and the bad guy is usually in the centre (of the action). They take a second to look around, then they go after the suspect.”
Police officers also tend to get more respect having a dog by their side. In his three years of working with Deny, a Red Deer RCMP German Shepherd, Baxter has noticed that most suspects don’t try to outrun a police dog.
“You say, ‘Police dog service!’ and they stop…. You don’t have to release the Kraken,” he joked.
Whenever suspects run, they try to hide — “which presents a risk to the public because we don’t know if they have weapons,” said Baxter. Police dogs are, therefore, trained to look for exposed body parts, such as a leg sticking out from under a table.
Giso, of Calgary Police Service, said some dogs need to be taught to bite down on a human leg, because it doesn’t come naturally. In a training exercise, he waves a leg pad in front of a dog to get him to bite it. Eventually, the pad is strapped to his own leg so the dog gets used to a new sensation.
Seminar organizer Cpl. Daniel Block, of Red Deer RCMP, has attended training sessions like this across Canada because they are useful for learning different tips and approaches from other police departments.
“We gain more knowledge all the time of what police dogs can do.”