Although the ability of a dog to quickly and accurately identify an odor is a big draw, there are many pitfalls that you also need to be aware of with regard to K9 teams and their training.
The use of dogs to work with and for humans has been around for centuries. The U.S. military has used dogs dating back to the 1800s. World War II dramatically impacted the growth of working dog programs and the U.S. government now has more working dog teams than any other country.
|K9 Chucky and his handler Sabrina, of Springer Professional Home Services, Des Moines, Iowa, inspect for signs of an infestation near a bed. Photos: Springer Professional Home Services.
Just like many military applications, the working dog found its use in the civilian arena. New Jersey and New York K9 programs had a short run from 1907 through 1911, with 11 other states attempting to establish a K9 Program through the 1950s.
In 1940, a fully trained dog purchased from the kennel cost $1,000. Dog food, veterinary care and incidentals ran from $10 to $20 per month; several months of training was calculated at the rate of $40 per month. This would translate to roughly $16,000 for training alone in today’s economy, which isn’t too far off from the going rate.
Calculating the need for a working dog should be the first step to determine if the investment is even necessary. Why, exactly, are you pondering the idea of adding, replacing or starting the use of a K9 for your company? Contract requirements, advertising/curb appeal and keeping up with the competition are some reasons pest management professionals feel the need.
Cost Considerations. Here are some questions that can help determine if a K9 would be a good investment for your pest management company:
- Will there be enough work to sustain a full-time K9 team?
- What is the estimated revenue generated from a K9?
- What is the initial purchase cost of the K9?
- Where can we purchase a K9?
- Who will work the dog and are they the best candidate?
- Where will the K9 be housed?
- What are we missing?
Don’t make a knee-jerk reaction when you purchase a K9 (or drop your investment). Your competition having a K9 team doesn’t necessarily make it the right move for your company, nor is the right move to drop the program or handler because of ongoing issues.
|K9 Sonny and his handler, Brandon, together on an inspection. It’s important to remember that the K9 is still a living, breathing social creature. Photos: Springer Professional Home Services.
The going rate of a bed bug detection K9 can vary anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000. This includes the industry standard four-day training course for the human who will work the dog. This is just a drop in the bucket to what you are about to spend.
Travel to the training environment, room/board, salary of handler, incidentals, transportation for the new K9, food, housing and veterinary care can tack on an additional $18,000 — and that does not include the salary of the handler. There are many other variables that can inflate the initial cost — an investment of $10,000 to $15,000 can become closer to $50,000 to $63,000. What is your goal for recouping your investment?
Humans and Dogs. Understand that just because you purchased a trained K9 and had the best training available, the dog is not a machine. Even the best training in the world does not change the fact that you have a dog, which is still a living, breathing social creature with a human partner. The learning curve for new K9 teams varies dramatically and it isn’t practical to have a heavy workload waiting for them the moment they get back from training.
Working with a K9 is an art form that varies from dog to dog. And then there is the human factor. Generally, the dog learns much faster than the human; this means that the dog may begin to pick up on bad patterns. Once these problems start, they will only get worse.
It is likely that handlers will be overwhelmed with the task of being on their own with little to no experience to guide them through this time. The course they attended was designed to teach the basics. Information and skill does not develop automatically. Skill takes time and venues you are asking them to search might not be to a level they can comfortably handle yet.
The K9 Training Program. What is the most important aspect of a successful working dog? That’s a tough question to answer. Is it the breed, sex of the dog, skill of the trainer who you purchased the dog from, duration of training or maybe the handler? I believe the most important aspect of successful working dogs is the program established to support them.
A K9 program is a support network designed to guide managers, supervisors, handlers and co-workers in the ongoing needs of a successful working dog team. Think of your working dog as a professional athlete — lots of support is needed to keep that athlete at peak performance.
Instead of purchasing and investing in K9 training, the utilization of an independent or contracted K9 team may be a better choice for your firm. In this way, you can “test the waters.” There are many good teams to choose from, but just as many poor teams. Remember that regardless of whom you choose, they are representing your pest management company.
Proper education for the dog and handler is needed and will not be obtained through an initial training course. Ongoing training should be conducted daily and weekly to include documentation of both positive and negative results. Does your company have the ability and stability to support such ongoing needs? Dogs and handlers get sick or injured. You’ll need to have a plan in place to address these issues.
Final Thoughts. Most rookies don’t start their first season — they are a work in progress. Nor should your K9 team be thrust into a heavy workload until they are ready. Regardless of the length of the training course, your teams need time to develop. The learning curve for each K9 team varies.
There are many areas that need to be addressed before you consider starting a K9 in your company. The ability for a working dog to quickly and accurately identify an odor is a big draw. Be aware there are many pitfalls that may not be made clear until after your purchase.
The author is owner/operator at K9 Operations, Romulus, Mich. Learn more at www.K9operations.com.