Life is a game of catch — be it a handgun, fugitive, missing child, hidden drug stash or a red rubber ball — for Deny the police dog.
The two-and-a-half-year-old German shepherd with the RCMP Police Dog Service in Red Deer is always on alert and ready for his next assignment.
“He’s an energetic dog. He wants to go, go, go. I always describe him as a bull in a china shop,” said RCMP Const. Peter Baxter as he holds tight to his canine partner’s leash as Deny strains to sniff the ground further and further away from his handler.
“He’s still young. He’s kind of puppish.”
The restless 38-kg dog, with a floppy left ear, is a multi-profile police dog who is called out for all kinds of searches, including criminal apprehensions.
While talking about Deny’s skills, Baxter keeps the police dog occupied with a red rubber ball and giving Deny commands.
“These dogs, when they’re out, they’re working. And he loves obedience, stuff like this. You can see how focused he is,” said Baxter as he holds out the rubber ball towards Deny.
“Down. Sit. Sit,” he instructed Deny, who stares at the ball while planting his behind on the ground. Tossed across the grass, Deny springs to snatch up the ball.
“The reward is his ball, as you can tell. When he does something good, he gets his ball.”
Baxter said since they started with the Red Deer detachment last fall, Deny has had a number of successful searches.
“Just yesterday he tracked a guy who stole a vehicle and ditched it. (Officers) didn’t know how long he’d been gone,” Baxter said.
After abandoning the vehicle in a field, the fugitive ran off. Deny found him hiding in bushes about 500 metres away.
“I think the guy thought he eluded us, but not old Deny,” he said giving Deny a proud pat. “It was one of my better tracks.”
“The guy just came out of the bush. It was like, ‘I don’t want to tangle with that,’ ” Baxter said referring to Deny.
“The guy gave up. He didn’t run. He didn’t fight. Which is the smart thing to do.”
Deny can easily track for three to five km.
Baxter said Deny already has a reputation for his speed.
“He starts out so quick. I’m at a full sprint for the first 400 metres. It’s just his personality. Some dogs are a little more relaxed. That’s just him. All dogs are different. We become experts in our own dogs and learn their behaviours.”
Baxter said one of Deny’s tells is his tail.
“His tail will be high in the air and wags around if someone is hiding in a bush. He will go in and get them. If it ends up being a bad guy and get all confrontational with him, well, that could be a problem. He’ll see that as a threat.”
He said Deny will only bite if someone is a threat to him, a threat to the handler or on command.
Dogs are also trained for friendly finds.
“If they’re not a threat to him, he’s not going to do anything. They’re not going to go out of control and bite people and maul anyone. He’s as friendly as they come.”
Baxter said Deny ultimately may be needed more to help people than to stop those involved in criminal activity.
Deny is one of four police dogs working out of Red Deer. They cover Central Alberta and participate in regular training in the area.
“The more we train, the better they are. And to help us train, we need the support of the public. You couldn’t train and expose him to different fences, and different lawns, and different terrain without the help of the people of Alberta and Red Deer.”
Baxter trained with Deny at the RCMP’s internationally-recognized Police Dog Service Training Centre, near Innisfail.
“Last year when I was on my course, there was a guy from Australia coming to check it out. I’d see people come up to look at it from the FBI, LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department),” Baxter said.
Deny is one of 157 RCMP dogs in Canada, all trained at the Innisfail training centre, the only RCMP facility of its kind in the country.
On average, 30 dogs are trained each year, the majority of them general profile dogs.
The national training centre has been in the same location for 49 years.
“We’re renowned for the work we do with police dogs. We have the breeding program, the imprinting program and the training program, and they all come together to produce the dogs that we have,” said RCMP Insp. André Lemyre, officer in charge of the Police Dog Service Training Centre.
Pups are raised by RCMP members who have an interest in joining the police dog section before the dogs return to the centre for training.
Lemyre said while the dogs are not raised like pets, they are imprinted through play and praise.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about play, a game. For them, they’re playing.”
He said the success of the centre’s police dogs says it all.
In addition to the standard police dog, a new pilot program to train RCMP ambassador dogs started last year.
As part of the pilot, a young German shepherd named Fern regularly visited Red Deer schools with an RCMP school resource officer.
Lemyre said while the public is not allowed to touch regular police dogs, Fern is the exception.
“She’s basically a dog who is being trained and socialized so she can be petted and kissed and hugged,” Lemyre said.
Taking Fern to a school automatically eases tension and makes it easier for children and youth to open up and start to talk, he said.
“The dog helps to achieve communication. The dog is seen as a protector and a comforter so they can trust the dog while they may not be willing to trust a person, especially if they’ve been hurt.”
So far, Fern is the only RCMP ambassador dog. The success of the program will be evaluated this summer.
“It’s a pilot project. We’ll see how it unfolds. We need to have the interest, too,” Lemyre said.
Between Victoria Day and Labour Day, weekly demonstrations at the Police Dog Service Training Centre are held Wednesday at 2 p.m. They run for about 45 minutes, rain or shine, to give the public a glimpse into RCMP dog training.
Lemyre said officers and their dogs in training at the centre take part in the demonstrations. If people visit early in the spring, in mid-summer, and near the end of the season, they will see how the skills of the dogs advance.
“When we start in May at the demonstration, we’re showing pretty basic training. By the time we’re in August, we’re showing the full profile of what they do.”
And of course no show would be complete without an appearance by a few of the adorable puppies born at the centre.
He said the demonstration is a draw for tourists throughout the summer, as well as a lot of people from Central Alberta.
“Two weeks ago, it was raining and cold and we had 250 people there. It speaks for itself,” Lemyre said.
Admission is free. Large groups are required to pre-book by contacting the centre either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 403-227-3346.
To catch the demonstration, take exit 365 off the Hwy 2 at Innisfail, travel east and follow the signs.
Last year, Deny and Baxter participated in the weekly demonstrations during their training. But the high-energy dog sometimes got too excited, forcing his performance to be cut short.
“Yeah, that was him,” Baxter laughed.
“Most of the shows he did last year he could only be in them for about 30 seconds before he’d get so wound up. He’s come a long way. Even to stay here like this is really good,” he said as Deny obediently sat by his handler’s side for a few short minutes before starting to squirm.