The DNR K9 unit consists of a mix of dogs that are either imported from European countries or rescued from shelters. After making the decision of what type of dog is needed to accomplish the tasks it will be required to perform, the DNR utilizes the vast knowledge of its experienced handlers and trainers and other law enforcement agency experts to locate a suitable dog for training and deployment. Patrol (dual purpose dogs) are generally imported due to the fact that there are more dogs available with the drives and characteristics necessary for a police dog. There are reputable police dog breeders in the United States, but a dog is usually tested for is ability to perform at approximately one to one and half years of age. It can be difficult to find dogs in that age range in the United States. Many breeders prefer to sell the dogs as puppies and it can be difficult at that age to determine if the dog will be suitable for police work.
Each DNR K9 is assigned their own handler. The dog lives with the handler and their family at the handler's home. The handler is responsible for the daily care and training necessary to ensure the dog excels at its tasks.
The dogs have indoor/outdoor kennels to ensure they are properly acclimated to seasonal temperatures, so they can work in those conditions. They are allowed inside the homes of the handlers and spend a great deal of time with the handler and their family. This helps to ensure the dog's social needs are also met.
The type of training that the handlers and the dogs receive depends on what type of work they will be required to perform. The DNR uses a combination of single purpose and dual purpose handler/dog teams. The dual purpose dogs are trained and certified in patrol work and can be used for handler protection and criminal apprehension. The patrol dogs can also be used to locate items or people the way a single purpose dog would be capable of. The single purpose dogs are trained to detect items and missing persons. Single purpose dogs are used as a locating tool to find various items and people that would otherwise not be located or go unnoticed.
The handlers and dual purpose dogs attend a 12 week police dog school. They are trained to the certification standards of the United States Police Canine Association. During this school the dogs are trained in various areas to include; tracking of persons, criminal apprehension, evidence searching/recovery, officer protection, obedience and agility.
DNR K9 handlers and dogs also attend 3 weeks of fish and wildlife detection training. This training develops the dog's abilities to locate specific scents to assist in our mission to protect the state's natural resources from poaching. After the formal training the dogs continue with annual certifications and ongoing training to maintain their proficiency.
The amount of time a dog is able to work depends largely on the health of the dog and it's ability to perform the tasks that it is trained to do. In general, a healthy dog can be expected to work until it reaches the age of 8-10 years old. The decision to retire a dog however is not based on age but on the dogs abilities and health. As the dog ages, they start to slow down and begin having difficulties in certifying every year, as required. Usually the handler starts to notice this when training for jumps and hurdles in the agility portion of the certification process. Once the decision is made by the DNR to retire the dog, the handler is normally given the opportunity to take ownership of the dog where it remains a part of the handler's family.