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Record Keeping

By: Steven D. Nicely
Owner and Founder
K9 Consultants of America
401 Little Texas Lane, #1720
Austin, Texas 78745

Tel: (512) 912-9743 or Cell (210) 710-8854
Email K9 Consultants of America

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Records, Why Keep Them?
"In United States v. Gonzalez Acosta, [2] the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit refused to authorize extensive defense requests for a drug detection dog's training records, veterinary records, alert reports, and other miscellaneous documents. The court allowed the defense to review only limited training records, stating: "We do not believe the documents were relevant because the dog was certified on the day in question and because the dog properly alerted to the presence of contraband.... Indeed, had the dog's records indicated it had false-alerted in the past, the defendant's ability to cross-examine would not have been enhanced because there is no doubt it correctly alerted in this instance."

This statement does not favor drug interdiction it favors the drug smuggler. When the court does not take a team's past into account and rule on the probability of finding drugs before the physical search begins they are allowing dogs that should not be on the street to remain on the street. When a drug detector dog team has a non productive response in the field it ties up resources that could be looking for burglars, rapist, murders, and robbers. It also allows vehicles carrying durg to pass on by. Just becuse drugs were found does not mean the dog detected and responded to them.

Based on records provided to consultants for the defense in well over 100 hundred cases the majority of dog teams are less than 50% accurate in field conditions. This is unacceptable. They could easily be raised to over 80% accuracy by requiring in-depth accurate training and utilization records, along with testing geared to determine if a dog will only respond to the intended target odor. The Supreme Court demands it.
The Supreme Court in Place states "a well trained dog will only reveal the presence of absence of drugs, a contraband item."

What Should Records Be Used For
  • Identify Deficiencies
  • Design Training to Eliminate Deficiencies
  • Design Tests to Ensure That the Deficiency is Eliminated

Identify Deficiencies
Some handlers are taught their dogs do not make mistakes. This is a mistake itself. All dog teams have deficiencies. The question that must be answered is does the deficiency inhibit safety, or the ability to provide probable cause?

Design Training to Eliminate Deficiencies
Once a deficiency or problem has been identified a plan of action to correct the problem should be outlined. Theses records should define the actions required by the dog, and handler. They should note if the corrective training is directed more toward the dog

Design Tests to Ensure That the Deficiency is Eliminated
Once the deficiency or problem seems to have been corrected in training it is time to test the team.

Correlating Observations
While training, you will make observations about the team's proficiency based upon your (human) experience, In doing so, you may make immeasurable statements concerning how the dog (an animal), is performing. There are several types of statements that will assist you in using the proper terminology.

Analytical Statement
An analytical statement is a proposition that is true by definition. Example: A dog is a panting animal.

Empirical Statement
This type of statement is one that is open to observation. It can be verified by some type of measuring device and can be proven to be true. An example of an empirical statement would be "My dog will actively sniff for 10 minutes and locate x amount of odor (A) contained (Y) when it has been present at least � hour."

Subjective Scoring
When recording a team�s performance avoid terms such as poor, fair, good, or excellent. The dog, handler, or teams was either successful the first attempt or failed. Without a clear and observable definition of one of the above terms they are left to the interpretation of the reader.

Training Records
The following is an outline of what should be recorded and why:

Who Handled the Dog?
Insures the correct dog team and handler(s) are being reviewed. There could be more than one handler assigned to the dog. The handler could also handle more than one dog.

Who Placed the Training Aids?
Persons who have placed training aids in the past can help support the accuracy of your training records. Also they can play a role in the team�s performance in both training and field conditions.

Who Designed the Training Problem
Training must have a purpose. If you are trying to correct a deficiency, the person who designed the training can help you articulate why that particular training was necessary and how the deficiency was eliminated. In some cases the person who designed the training may not be qualified and as a result problems are not recognized and become worst.

Location of Training
Provides an insight of the environments the team is exposed to during training. Training environments should mimic field conditions.

Times provide a host of critical information. Times can be used to support probable cause in search matters. Supervisors can use times to calculate resource deployment needs. Patrol dog handlers need to know how long their dog will effectively search for a suspect.

Time Aids Placed
Allows the handler and trainer to identify how long a particular amount of odor has been in a particular package.

Time Training Started and Ended
Provides a starting point to evaluate effective search and performance times of a team.

Time of Each Final Response
Recording the time of each correct and incorrect response can assist greatly in all training aspects. For detection work, recording these times is critical. Recording and knowing these times helps prevent incorrect responses based on time intervals. For example, if a handler or trainer places aids in a manner that the team encounters them at consistent time intervals, the dog may begin to respond at those time intervals, regardless of whether odor is present or not.
Likewise, if training aids are rarely placed at the beginning of a search, a dog may easily pass drugs that are present at or near the first presentation. By tracking these times, the handler or trainer can prevent false responses and misses caused by faulty application of the schedule of reinforcement.

Type of Training
Each training and work environment may affect the team differently. Practice in these areas helps insure proper performance in real searches.

Placement of Training Aids
Without recording the exact placement of training aids, to include suspects in patrol work, problems cannot be easily identified. For example, you may find the dog will not final respond to any training aid over six feet high although it exhibits behavior changes consistent with locating a target odor. Such information would allow training to be designed to correct the problem.

K-9�s Actions
This information will help determine the dog's strengths and weakness. The record should show:

The dog was assisted when it did not go to the final response or locate the odor source on its own.

Missed Aid In detection work missed aids occur for many reasons. A training aid is considered missed when the team encounters the area and the dog does not locate the aid.

False Response
In detection work, a false response is when the dogs exhibits its defined final response in an area where the target odor is not present.

Each entry other than the dog locating and responding to the target odor on its own should have a written explanation of what caused the deficiency (if known) and a planned course of action to correct the deficiency.

Handler's Actions
The handler's actions are equally as important as the dog's. Trends of ineffective search patterns, leash controls, cueing, and other deficiencies should be noted.

Handler Error
When using detector dogs, a handler must ensure the dog searches productive areas or common target areas. Failure to control the search pattern can cause the dog to miss the target.

Training aids missed because the handler failed to properly conduct the search must be identified. The action the handler failed to perform must be stated.

Listing the odors used will allow for evaluation of weaknesses in certain odors. It ensures that the dog is being trained on all odors.

Noting odor amount shows the dog can detect varying amounts of the target odor. It also shows what concentration levels the dog may fail to detect.

Some containers do not allow odor to escape as well as others. When we state one gram of cocaine was placed, we must also state how it was contained. Containers also produce odors. Dogs rewarded for the presence of container odors may associate the odor with reinforcement and respond to the container odor by itself.

Distracting Material
"[A] well-trained dog will only reveal the presence or absence of drug odor, or a contraband item." (United States v. Place, 462 US 696, 77 L Ed 2d 110, 103 S Ct 2637) Without testing on a regular basis for responses caused by odor association the handler or trainer cannot articulate to the courts that his or her dog will only reveal the presence or absence of drugs.

DEA�s "Guide to Canine Interdiction" also discusses placing distracting items in training problems to ensure that the dog has not begun to respond to them. Handlers have found themselves in embarrassing position while being crossed examined when they have not followed DEA�s suggested guidelines.

We do not know with absolute certainty which odor the dog chooses. It may choose an associate odor as the controlling stimulus or simply generalizes and responds to the associate odor.

Comments or Narrative
A summary of the training exercise should be recorded. This can include the handler or trainer�s opinions, problems, if discovered, and plans to correct deficiencies. If the dog worked a difficult problem exceptionally well, or had to work odor for a long time, describe the dog's actions. Note any unusual events such as sudden noises, or encounters with the unexpected.

Utilization Records
Proper utilization records are as important as training records. They dictate most of your training requirements. Problems that arise in the field can only be corrected during training. These records must be as accurate as the handler can record them. Utilization records like any other police report must include, who, what, where, when, how, and sometimes why. Without this information, your records will be of little use other that to impeach your credibility.

Everyone involved with the dispatch or mission should be recorded.

Handler�s Name
As in training ensure the right handler is being reviewed. In cases were two handlers are assigned to one dog the right handler can be identified.

K-9�s Name
Some handlers may handle more than one dog, or the department may use more than one dog.

Time and Date Notified and Arrived
Shows a reasonable attempt to arrive as promptly as possible to the scene. In drug dog cases the courts have ruled your response to a scene must be reasonable. They have not set a specific time period but suggested reasonableness would be decided on a case by case basis. For guidance see United States v. Place, 462 US 696, 77 L Ed 2d 110, 103 S Ct 2637.

What Was Searched
Provide a complete description of the area.
Was Search Used as Probable Cause
This portion of utilization is very important. You need to show the dog is not responding every time you are asked to search an item for the purpose of providing probable cause. Handlers can act differently during these searches than other searches or training. A handler can cue the dog during this search and the problem will not show up during regular training or testing.

Did the Dog Go to Final Response
This question is extremely important. You must answer yes or no. There are no half ways. You will learn quickly that dogs will give a host of responses when working an odor. When the dog works an odor that is of interest or similar to the target odor it often exhibits the same responses as if working the target odor. To say a dog is working one of its target odors absent the dog exhibiting the defined final response is speculation. Ask yourself this: what are you going to do when the court suddenly orders you to produce the dog for a demonstration. The person setting up the demonstration also has knowledge of dogs and places odors that commonly will cause a dog to exhibit behavior changes. You may find yourself a little embarrassed, to say the least. While in the field, if the dog does not go to final response on its own, leave.

Record Each Final Response
Some handlers only record responses were drugs are found and do not record those where nothing is found. Such a practice does not allow for meaningful training to be conducted, and prohibits the handler from accurately representing his dog�s reliability to the courts.
Some courts have taken the position that failure to record every response is intentional, deliberate and reckless omissions by the handler, and suppressed evidence because of it. Have your local legal counsel review Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1987).

Where the Dog Went to Final Response is Very Critical
Problems such as the dog not working to source can be detected with this information. It can reveal a more serious problem -- improper responses. A dog can be conditioned to respond to a particular type of area or item. Records of consistent responses to a particular type of area, or item would require validation testing to determine if a problem exists.
If you find your dog is responding to a particular type of area or item and you are sometime finding drugs there, it is hard to consider there may be a problem, but you must take that possibility into consideration.

Wind Direction in Relation to the Item Being Searched
Odor does not travel against the wind. For example: your dog responds to the trunk of a vehicle and drugs are found by officers under the hood, was the response caused by the drugs found under the hood? If the wind was blowing from the trunk to the front of the vehicle the answer would be no. Wind direction will support your articulation of why you worked your dog in a particular fashion, and help you explain the actions you took after the dog gave a final response.

First Behavior Change
Rarely will a dog suddenly go to final response on the target odor without exhibiting other behavioral changes. These behavioral changes in themselves are not probable cause, but they are usually lead to a final response.

When the Dog Responded
Dogs can be conditioned to respond based on time. If your training consistently allows the dog to make a find within the first two minutes of a search during training, it is very likely your dog will also respond within the first two minutes of an actual search.

K9's Actions
What were the dog�s actions prior to final response? The actions of the dog prior to its final response again are not probable cause, but they provide a picture of how the dog worked. This can support the officer in court, or help trainers' correct problems.

Non-Productive Responses
No one likes to think that his/her dog responded improperly, but dogs do from time to time. Does this make the dog unreliable? The action a handler, trainer, or supervisor takes following responses where nothing was seized will determine the reliability and creditability of the team.
Non-productive responses must not be taken lightly. Record all factors known as if the dog had made a productive response. Document who, what, where, when and how so that you can likely identify why. Once you have collected the data, have validation tests conducted. If the testing does not identify a problem then return to duty, but watch and review records for trends.

Steven D. Nicely, owner and founder of K9 Consultants of America, has over thirty years experience in the Police Service Dog Field. Mr. Nicely is recognized as an Expert in the Police Service Dog Field by many state and federal courts.

See Mr. Nicely's Profile on

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