Gennady Rotaru serves in border police as a senior dog trainer for 10 years. He deals with dogs all of his work time. Even during his leisure. Just this year he had trained 200 tailed “students”. Why the police need dogs, how dogs are trained and when they retire, — let’s speak with Gennady.
How and where service dogs are trained?
Puppies are trained when they are three months old. This is the most important age when a dog character is formed. At this age the dog easily grasps new things and accepts the rules of living with a human. We don’t have a special training school for dogs yet, where we could have group dogs and then assign them to police officers. Now in the border police, the dog is trained together with the future owner.
Border police is a single organization in Moldova where so many service dogs are trained and employed. Now we have 52 dogs. But soon there will have even more. Dog trainers are waiting for puppies from Romania, with whom they will immediately start training.
The training program is a basic one. Dogs communicate using body language just like we use words. They construct the whole phrases in which the look stands for one word, the position of the body – for the second, and the facial expression — for the third. A dog trainer teaches you to understand each other and helps create a hierarchical relationship between the dog and the owner.
A puppy must learn who is the leader at the very beginning, learn to listen to him and respect decisions of the owner. And trust him, of course. This is the main thing for a successful team work. After this course, dogs undergo a test and are sent to their subdivision. There they continue to learn in place.
What do the dogs do in police?
All dogs have instincts that a person can make use of. There are only three basic ones –instinct of reproduction, self-preservation and the hunting instinct. For police work, the last two are important.
In the police, dogs are used to find drugs or cigarettes, explosives and to detain criminals. Each of these requires its own training methodology.
If the dog is being trained for the drugs search, the dog trainer focuses on hunting instinct. Here the self-preservation instinct is, on the contrary, suppressed. That is because dogs often have to work in crowded places and unnecessary aggression is not required.
For example, we go to the airport for inspection. There any child can pat the dog. Thus, the dog should react normally to this. I try to anticipate any situation. It is still an animal. The instincts we suppress don’t go away. They are just asleep.
When a dog works at a border post the trainers, on the contrary, focus their attention on aggression. It is necessary for detention. Finding explosives is the hardest part. The dog must find it and mark the place without unnecessary movements and sounds. If you make noise, any vibrations can kill both the dog and the police officer.
Now my service dogs are trained to find drugs. I’ve experimented a lot with the approach. Me and my colleagues often argue whether we can use the same dog to search for drugs and cigarettes. I think yes. Dog’s smell sensors can distinguish 35 million of odors. If we add nicotine to the six positions of narcotic substances, the dog will cope.
Talent or instinct. Which is more important in training?
Gennady has two dogs — Lucky, a Belgian Shepherd, and Emmy, a Border Collie. Emmy was taken just as a home pet, but she turned out to be a very talented student. At her two years old she is as brilliant as the experienced Lucky. Now Gennady is preparing her for the service.
Dogs have full working day. Every morning they go with Gennady to the service. They train there, have lunch and wait for a mission call– most often these are security checks at the airport. They return home in the evening. The tie between the owner and the service dog must not be broken.
This working schedule is mostly for the owner. The dogs should be ready to work whenever is needed. Both physically and psychologically.
I try to be rational. When I see that the dog needs to rest, I give it some time. If it was just running around and is physically tired, usually 20 minutes is enough to recover. With psychological fatigue, you need more time to rest.”
Psychologically, a dog gets tired after, for example, sitting in ambush. It has no contact with the world. It perceives sounds, but does not see their source. It stresses much the dog. During the mission this stress can last for several hours. To recover a dog needs just the same time.
Breed, size, and even gender is not important for a service dog. All of them have the same instincts. And instincts should be always trained.
Your dog can’t smell out your favorite toy, and Lucky finds a bag of drugs in ten trucks. When it’s lunch time, I hide a plate of food somewhere in the landfill. He has 15 minutes to smell the food and find it. If he fails – he will remain hungry until the next meal. But he always finds it.
When a dog is registered as a police officer, it passes its first test and the qualifying standards. The exam is repeated every year. If the dog passes it, it goes to the next year of service.
This happens until the dog loses its abilities due to age. Most often, dogs work up to 7-8 years. Although with good care and nutrition, they can serve up to 10 years.
Usually, dogs spend retirement with the person with whom they worked. But sometimes the owner, for various reasons, gives it to another person. This stresses the dog so much that it can even die.
The dog knows only your body language, understands just what you say, and sees the world through your eyes. A new person at this age for a dog is a huge shock. Its reality is ruining. Dogs have a great memory. They remember every emotion they have once experienced. Both negative and positive. So, it will continue to think about you. Some do not survive parting with their owner…
How to become a dog trainer in Moldova?
Unfortunately, there is no school for training dog handlers in Moldova. And there are very few good specialists. Enthusiasts like Gennady get diplomas and improve their skills in other countries.
Gennady, for example, has 35 years of experience working with dogs, serious techniques, his own achievements and even books. Therefore, he needs all these papers just formally. Far from everybody who wants to acquire good knowledge could afford financially to go abroad and study.
However, as Gennady says, the most important thing for a dog handler is practice. If you have the desire and talent, you can learn a lot on your own. Patience, perseverance, and observation. In training, it is important to notice what others can’t see.
When I walk around the city and see a pack of dogs, I always stop and watch. How they communicate, who is in charge, what they are trying to say to each other. It’s like listening to a foreigners’ talk when you know the language.
Learning dog’s language from childhood is a great plus for a dog trainer. Gennady got his first dog when he was six. He says that it was the moment when he decided what he would do in life.
Me and Lucky often make shows for kids. I can see their admiration. Many of these interested children could become talented trainers. Therefore, a school for young dog handlers would be a very good and necessary project for Moldova.
Text and photo: Axinia Galkina
Translation: Alisa Drozdova