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October 2023

Breeding and training dogs for detection dog programs can be an intimidating feat.  Add the stress of having someone else evaluate those same dogs…well, it can be downright overwhelming! Recently, a group of Patriotic Puppy Program participants attended a hands-on seminar at K2 Solutions in Jackson Springs, NC to learn how K2 evaluates dogs, as well as to work one-on-one with K2’s training staff.

The original goal for the first of AKC’s in-person training seminars was to add new “tools” to the training toolboxes of PPP trainers and breeders.  K2 added another goal: Evaluate PPP participant canines currently in training to develop long-term relationships with these participants as vendors who could provide quality dogs for K2’s training programs.

The agenda was set.  Day 1 would focus on evaluating PPP participant dogs, along with demos of some of K2’s finest.  Day 2 would focus on providing feedback on how PPP participants could address observed weaknesses in their dogs through different approaches to training as well as early puppy development strategies demonstrated using young puppies from K2’s breeding program. As the event grew near, the question on everyone’s mind was; How well PPP participants’ dogs would meet or exceed expectations for K2’s evaluation standards?  The pups had traveled from various parts of the country, many with trainers who had very different levels of experience.

Day 1 started with an open area test in a grassy field.  K2’s staff handled each dog to see how each responded to new people, new training areas, and the distraction of not having “their” trainer at the end of the leash.  Some performed extremely well; others didn’t meet their trainer’s expectations.  Feedback for each dog was given by K2 training staff to the group of PPP participants and K2’s staff answered specific questions for owners of each dog.

The next testing area was indoors in K2’s environmental training and testing area.  Again, some performed exceptionally well while others struggled in certain situations.  Instead, of the usual response many evaluators would give when an obvious weakness was identified, K2’s training staff began looking for ways to help each dog be more successful.  After all, this was a training seminar.  Feedback was given again for each dog and discussions regarding recovery for the dogs who were better the second time they saw a novel item in their working environment.

Lunch was full of lively discussions about the dogs, the testing, unexpected performances, and how valuable working directly with K2’s trainers was for PPP participants’ development as trainers.  Excited participants discussed K2s the environmental training areas and how they could implement something similar in their own training areas at home.

That afternoon, the third test involved an indoor, multiple room search for the dog’s favorite toy.  Each trainer was allowed to observe their own dog’s work alongside K2 trainers, while the rest of the group watched the room-by-room search outside the area on K2’s video system. Lively discussions in the observation area were just as valuable as the one-on-one training time with the training staff working through the series of rooms.  Again, training staff gave feedback for each dog, provided an overview of the day and discussed the plan for Day2.

Participants and AKC’s staff members met for dinner, providing an opportunity to socialize with each other as well as discuss the day’s events.  Everyone headed home early to get ready for an early morning of training.

At the beginning of Day 2, behind the scenes discussions with K2 procurement staff were that they had a serious interest in 4 of the pups evaluated the previous day, with possible interest in 2-3 others, depending how they performed in training on Day 2.  Participants were advised that K2 wanted to move forward with medical testing on the first 4 dogs while training staff continued to evaluate the remaining pups!

Several of these participants had never sold a detection dog and now were hearing their pup had been selected to move forward in the formal evaluation process!   Excitement filled the air and grew throughout the day with each additional dog passing selection.  Medical evaluations went well and soon AKC’s Patriotic Puppy Program now had dogs moving on to start advanced training programs as K2 detection dogs.

By the end of the day, 6 out of 10 dogs had made it through the selection process, and a seventh would be kept on consignment to see if a little extra time would result in a dog that could perform in K2’s training program. (Thirty days later and word came in that #7 would also be staying at K2).

The last event of the day was a Q&A session with K2 CEO Lane Kjellsen. Kjellson answered participant questions and invited them to continue to work with K2 in the future.  PPP participants took advantage of this opportunity and soon after, additional deliveries were scheduled by participants.

The PPP’s first hands-on training program was an extraordinary success.  Beating even professional standards, an unheard of 7 out of 10 dogs evaluated were ultimately accepted for advanced training. This new generation of detection dogs comes from AKC breeder/ trainers from diverse backgrounds, with very diverse levels of experience who all share a common commitment to excellence. The breeds too were diverse: Labrador Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointers and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The hours of effort, the many discussions about training, the hours participating in monthly meetings with AKC staff, and careful training records as a Patriotic Puppy Program participant, had all paid off!

Experience tells us that the hardest part of training and selling “green” detection dogs into advanced training programs often revolves around having a full understanding of the testing environment, how the dogs will be evaluated, and what the standard is that needs to be met.  Communication, fairness, and an eye for future success by K2’s training staff was invaluable to all who attended this event.  Opportunities continue to grow for PPP participants and the dogs they breed and train that go on to careers keeping America safe.