“We’ve developed best practice guidelines that are based on the current state of the scientific literature and what the experts in the field believe are best practices,” Furton says. “We talk to scientists, academics, attorneys, administrators, federal agencies, canine handlers, veterinary professors, and so forth. We get everyone together and develop recommendations on what kind of protocols should be followed and try to get certification organizations to adopt these best practices.”
The organization issues guidelines for training, certification, and documentation of canines and handlers in everything from detecting human remains and insects to tracking down people lost in the wilderness or avalanches. Each field has a specific set of best practices that emphasizes rigorous training and certifications.
For example, the issued best practices for explosives-detection canines states that dogs must detect certain explosive substances during a double-blind test with distractors present. It also recommends regular, varied maintenance training.
Hank Nolin, the founder and CEO of Sun State Specialty K9s, a Florida-based canine detection program that deploys explosives-detection dogs at ports, supports that type of standard. He says that anyone searching for a canine detection training program should ask trainers how the dogs were certified. The dogs should be able to pass a double-blind test conducted by a third party—not the person or company who trained the dog originally. Neither the tester nor handler should know where the substances were placed, he says.
SWGDOG is having an impact. Furton says he’s seen a trend in the industry towards more standardized and rigorous protocols in training. As many as 50 local, federal, and international organizations and agencies he’s visited with have incorporated SWGDOG’s best practices into their programs, he says. Organizations such as the North American Police Work Dog Association, a member of SWGDOG, often offer certification programs based on SWGDOG’s guidelines. Handler/dog teams can sign up for the program to become certified. But there are still many programs that are not doing that. SWGDOG’s goal is to have the best practices applied to every program across the board, including all federal agencies, which currently are not consistent in their training.