How do I "maintenance" train?

What is Maintenance Training anyway?     

We see the term maintenance training a lot these days when it comes to police k9, and in the police field in general.  Lets talk about how to "Maintenance train" in police K9.  What is the definition of maintenance?   Webster defines the word "maintenance" as the act of keeping or continuing something, among other definitions.  What about the word "training'?  That word is defined as the activity of learning or teaching the skills and knowledge needed for a particular job or activity.  With the words together,  we are then implying that we are not only keeping our skills,   but IMPROVING those skills.   

The truth is,  its hard to continue to improve skills during training days,  especially when you have a good number of dogs in attendance.  I know the industry standard is 16 hours per month for training. 

Different departments do it differently.   Some have two 8-hour days,  some do 4 hour trainings every week and maybe other arrangements.   I’m sure most of us do training on duty as well.     With that in mind,  how do we ensure that we are not just “continuing” skills like the word maintenance implies?   Let’s make that 16 hours count.   How do we go about making sure that  we are doing more than just maintaining the dog’s skill?

When doing our training time,  how much time do we “train” for certifications?    I can tell you – back in the day we used to spend two months preparing for PDI trials.   We would get done with those trials and it seemed like we only had a couple more months before we had to start getting ready for detection trials.   That was ridiculous!    I’m not 100 percent sure why I felt like I needed to do that,  but it was silly!   Once I realized that the skills needed for a certification are what you learn in school,  and those skills are a minimum standard, (NOT STREET APPLICATIONS)  then it occurred to me that it is a waste of time to be doing certification stuff just to prepare for something that is by far easier than anything I should be working on in training for what we do on the street!    I started planning my training days to include scenarios and training that incorporates the certification work.   In other words,  if I can make the certification junk (yes,  I said junk) fit into a scenario somehow,  and do those things under pressure and have the dog perform them under pressure,  then doing an actual certification should be cake for the most part.  

Training days should be an opportunity to throw something at the dog that they have never done before.   Even if it is a small tweak to an existing skill.   Since we are not simply maintaining,  we need to actually TRAIN.   That means I want to put more skill into the performance of the dog.   I try to set out ideas on paper for future training days based on a few things:   I randomly picked what I thought were the most important things (or most prevalent) things that our dogs should be training on.    I came up with 5.   You may think this through and disagree,  which is the beauty of this – you can make this fit you and your training group.   You should first sit down like I did and try to come up with the MOST important things that you need to cover during maintenance training.    This is the list I came up with.

1.   Most important in my book -  Scenario and exercises.   Nothing beats a good exercise or scenario to find out where the weak spots are.    Make them hard,  make them easy – but make them worthwhile.   Don’t just set up a scenario without a plan of WHY you are doing that scenario. 

2.  Legal/Policy/Decision making -  2nd most important.   I almost think #1 and #2 are interchangeable.  It is important to cover legal decisions,  your policy and how all that effects your decision making on the street.  Nearly every scenario should include this discussion before running the scenario. 

3.   Core Competencies.    What the heck is this?   Well,  I would say that during every training day,  you need to make sure your dog is foundationally solid.    All those things he learned in training should be solid as a rock by now,  and if they are not,  then more work is needed.  You may discover this by running "certification" type exercises or your scenarios.  

4.    Problem Solving -  This would include any issues that occurred during any scenarios or exercises.   It also may include any problems that the handler has had at home,  during a deployment,  etc.    Anything that we need to address from the last training day is also included to make sure it has been corrected. 

5.    Last and kind of least -  Certification preparation.    I do very little of this unless it is in an actual mock trial as a test a couple weeks prior to testing.  Most of the skills within a certification should be solid if you throw them in as part of your scenario or core competencies.       

With these 5 things,  I make a simple chart.   



Core Competencies

Problem Solving

Certification work


















Now I start filling in the blocks with my days training: 



Core Competencies

Problem Solving

Certification Work

Home invasion -  3 suspects run from scene.   Locate articles and suspects









Scenario - Graham V. Connor factors,  policy factors,  planning deployment for this scenario


Kerr V. City of West Palm Beach review.


From scenario -  Tracking (getting a good start),   article find on the track,  officer safety on the track,  dog alert so suspects,   dog deployment and verb/physical release.  Continue track to other suspects.

*depending on the dog -  maybe work on the article alerts on tracks. 


*depending on the dogs -  maybe address verb outs



Article/evidence find


Verbal out



 As you can see by this,  every training day incorporates something from certification (but much harder) and something from each of the areas that I feel are important to document.   I add new things here and there,  but continue a theme,  utilizing the results of last training day to dictate where I go from here.     Sometimes I throw in something on a whim,  but frankly,  “lets just see what happens” doesn’t work for me.    I like to think through how the handler may react and how the dog may react.  I don’t LOVE a bunch of bite stuff.   Sometimes just alerts are more valuable to keeping the dog level headed.  It depends on what I am trying to accomplish.   But by following this,  month after month,  I continue to add drama to the dogs work,  making things harder and harder,  correcting things by utilizing successive repetition and compartmentalizing the small things.   (pull the things that go WRONG out,  and work them away from the scenario) 

This at least gives you a plan.  Its an easy form to print out and keep in a three ring binder or something.  Plus its easy to alter the plans based on the environment or weather.    But it keeps you on track with the important stuff and makes the most of that 16 hours!   








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