Working Dogs Are Canine Elite
Prospective clients Fritz Botha and Ali Parek, made a 46-hour journey from Botswana to view Irene Howcroft's working dogs. The Botswana government contracted their security company to provide canine narcotics detection services. They were seeking to purchase 30 trained working dogs.
Ruidoso News | Ruidoso, NM
March 20, 2014
Capitan Resident Trains Malinois For Dangerous Jobs
Not all dogs are created equal. Just ask Irene Howcroft of Ruidoso Malinois, breeder and trainer of Belgian Malinois - a breed of German shepherd that is considered by many to be the elite in canine hierarchy. But Howcroft doesn't raise and train her dogs for fun. Hers are trained to work in some of the most dangerous capacities a dog can be called upon to perform in. Howcroft's dogs are working dogs.
"A working dog is the highest caliber of dog that there is in talent and ability," Howcroft said. "A working dog is very different than a show dog. They are used by law enforcement, the military, security companies and the marshal's office. These dogs are there to protect and serve. They will detect explosives, narcotics and they will track human beings."
Guest trainer Ron Ahrez, from Israel, demonstrates hunt drive in one of Howcroft's working dogs.
Howcroft operates a full program from breeding to fully trained working dogs and produces dogs for narcotics detection, explosives detection, patrol, personal protection and training.
Howcroft spent the day Tuesday demonstrating her proficiency in training the highly intelligent canines by showcasing her working dogs and their skills at her kennel, Ruidoso Malinois, in Capitan. Representatives of a security company hired by the Botswana government had made the 46-hour journey by air to view her operation - and more importantly - her dogs in action. The Botswana visitors were in need of 30 trained narcotics dogs to be used in customs and other capacities in their home country. After viewing operations in Holland, South Africa, England, Ireland and other European countries, Ali Parekh, managing director of Security Services Botswana Limited, and Fritz Botha, dog instructor for the company, said they were anxious to see how Howcroft's dogs performed at different levels of training.
"The right dogs are very difficult to find," said Botha. "And there is a huge shortage of dogs right now. All of the dogs are going to the East. But we are looking for something very specific. You can tell really fast by watching the dogs perform whether they're going to work."
The process of training a working dog is intense and focused. Howcroft demonstrated several aspects of the training in bite work, suspect apprehension and narcotics detection.
Bite dogs are trained for suspect apprehension and personal protection. The dogs are trained to release only on the command of their handler.
"We are demonstrating narcotics protocol so they can see how these dogs are developed through time," Howcroft said. Howcroft's narcotics dogs are trained to detect heroin, methamphetamines, marijuana and cocaine.
"You see, these dogs are highly intelligent and have a superior sense of smell," Howcroft said. "This breed is the Ferrari of canines. The dogs are trained to search and locate the hidden narcotics with precision and focus, sometimes being asked to find something as small as a toothpick whose tip has been dipped in heroin."
During the demonstration, Howcroft's dogs were spot on, quickly and systematically locating the hidden drugs.
"My experience includes training and detection," Howcroft said. "If something has an odor, I can train the dog to detect it."
Guest trainer Ron Ahrez was a special forces canine handler, trainer and commander in Israel. Here he demonstrates a training technique for bite work.
Howcroft also demonstrated what's called suspect apprehension.
"If there is a bad guy and a police officer told them to stop and the suspect does not stop, he will send the dog to bite and apprehend that man," Howcroft said. "This is used only if the canine handler is at risk. There are very tight protocols for the protection of the handler, the dog, the suspect and community at large."
Guest trainer from Israel, Ron Ahraz, has been at the kennel for two weeks. Girded in protective clothing, Ahraz portrayed the enemy. When given the command, Killa, one of Howcroft's most intense and highly prized dogs, attacked. The dogs are trained to bite-hold a suspect until commanded to release.
A working dog's training is started when the dog is very young. Those dogs that show a propensity for bite work continue their training in suspect apprehension and personal protection.
"To them, this is play," Botha said. "They love this. To us, they are working but to them they are playing."
"That is a genetic trait," Howcroft said. "Either a dog has it or not. If they cower when you approach them or let go and lose interest when they're young, you can see that they are not right for bite work."
And the propensity for play is something that helps breeders and trainers size up the potential of a dog.
"Their play drive and their hunt drive speaks volumes about an animal," Botha said. "If they become uninterested quickly or are easily distracted or scare easily, they are not going to make a good working dog."
Narcotics protocol is one of Howcroft's specialties. "If it has an odor, I can teach the dog to detect it," she said. Here, one of Howcroft's working dogs alerts on hidden narcotics.
A Life Of Working With Dogs
Howcroft, whose father imported and trained German working dogs in South Africa, has a great love and dedication for each of her dogs. "I've been working with them in one form or another my whole life. Every dog has its own special value," she said.
"To train them properly, you must look at everything from the dogs point of view."
Howcroft started working with the dogs at a young age.
"I look back on it and I could not understand why my friends didn't want to come visit me," she said. "Then I realized it was because the dogs were terrifying looking."
Howcroft got her first handlers certificate when she was 12 years old. Her family left South Africa during apartheid and, as an adult, she eventually settled on Lincoln County as her home.
"I was looking for a place relatively free of natural disasters - no tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes - and I needed a workable climate year round - one that was not too hot and not too cold."
Howcroft is a certified master trainer and developed and instructed the first international canine program after being contracted by the U.S. State Department.
"Mexico sent 10 of their best instructors to study under me," Howcroft said. "At the time of graduation, the undersecretary of State was there along with 63 dignitaries from Mexico. It was a great honor."
Her dogs can be found in police departments all over the United States and internationally. The sultan of Malasia has one of her dogs for personal protection. The Department of Defense in Mauritania in the sub-Sahara of Africa has some of her dogs and Howcroft currently is in negotiations with Fiji to provide dogs for its government.
The cost for a working dog, said Botha, can range anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 per dog.
"The price depends on the age, the breed and the purpose," Botha said. "How many substances they're expected to smell, how they initiate and alert. A dog with working experience is far better off than a dog that's just been trained."
Botha and Parekh were impressed with Howcroft's knowledge, expertise and more importantly the performance of her dogs. If given the contract, a handler will be sent from Botswana in three months - the time allotted to have 30 dogs trained and ready to work - when the handler will attend an intensive residential training with the working dogs. "There is a huge difference between a handler and an instructor," Botha said.
Howcroft is both.
Even after a lifetime of working with and training the canine elite, she does not claim to know it all.
"Part of being a trainer is the willingness to learn from every dog. Every dog is my teacher and every trainer I encounter I can learn from. I will never believe I know everything or even enough."
Citizens' Academy Students Meet Four-Legged Backup
Leo, A 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, is the partner of Lynn Childers, who's been a police officer for 17 years and has spent nine of those years with four-legged backup. Photo courtesy Charlottesville Police Department.
For Charlottesville's Police
The Daily Progress | Charlottesville, VA
October 9, 2013
Students in Charlottesville's annual citizens' police academy have spent the past six weeks learning about officers' tools of the trade.
In a recent class, they learned about the department's furriest tool: Leo.
Leo, 5, is a Belgian Malinois, a breed of shepherd that's become increasingly popular for police officers in the last 25 years or so, said Irene Howcroft, owner of a Malinois kennel.
Leo is the partner of Lynn Childers, who's been a police officer for 17 years and has spent nine of those years with four-legged backup.
Howcroft, who has owned the Ruidoso Malinois kennel in Captain, N.M., for about 15 years, said the dogs'popularity is growing because of their spirit, athleticism, intelligence, courage and loyalty.
Leo is one of two dogs the department currently owns. Ringo is a new, young dog, and is attending a 16-week training course in Norfolk that will last until December.
Childers spoke about the importance of police dogs like Leo before letting him show off his skills of detecting drugs and personal items.
She hid a packet of marijuana inside a drink vending machine in the courtyard of Charlottesville High School. Leo excitedly sniffed around the perimeter of the courtyard, tail wagging, before scratching at the vending machine, his sign that he had located the drugs. As a reward, Childers played tug of war with him with a towel.
Childers explained that Leo, who is cross-trained for patrol and for searching for narcotics, has different cues for his different functions. He wears different harnesses, which help him know what he's going to be asked to do. And he gets different toys as rewards for completing tasks.
When Leo found Childers' watch in the grass of the courtyard in an example of how he finds items with human scent, he laid down, and was rewarded with a ball on a cord.
As most police dogs come from European countries where working dogs are bred for sport, Childers said they often don't understand commands in English. Using different cues and rewards can help in training, she said.
On the job, Leo rides in the back of Childers' patrol car, which has been converted into a dog crate. Childers has a heat sensor installed in the vehicle that alerts her if it becomes too hot, and she has a remote release for Leo's door, in case she needs him to spring suddenly into action.
She said Leo is trained to bite and hold, not to bite multiple times. And she said he only bites if he's asked to.
Childers said that many times Leo can be a deterrent. "People are usually pretty quick to give it up," she said. "Once they know the dog is there, they usually call it a day."
Childers, a dog-lover, has two non-working dogs at home, along with a retired German shepherd who was her partner before Leo. Leo also lives with Childers. "He is with me more than any other creature," she said.
Officers whose Belgian Malinois are their partners are some of the only homes suited for the breed, Howcroft said. She said that, in general, the dogs are much too high-energy and serious to become family dogs, and she said that, in her opinion, German shepherds are no longer as good as they were in the past at being police dogs because they've been bred to become calmer for families.
Childers said she takes Leo for daily runs and helps him keep his nose sharp by practicing different sniffing techniques. "I try to make it fun," she said. "I treat him like the athlete he is."
Howcroft summed up Leo's breed as a sports-car kind of dog.
"They are the Ferrari of the K-9 world," she said. "They make everything else look big, slow and stupid."
Childers said working with dogs is exactly what she wants to do with her career as a police officer.
"He makes my job much more enjoyable," she said. "I've spent 17 years on the street, and the reason I do it is because I get to work with the dog. I get to combine two things I love very much."
||SAR Team Adds Canine Members
The Times | Pryor Creek, OK
Melissa McClendon, Staff Reporter
March 3, 2011
Two new members have been added to the Mayes County Search and Rescue team. Xabon and Mandrax are 2-year-old Malinois dogs, that have been trained by the Ruidoso, N.M. facility, Ruidoso Malinois, to find missing persons.
The dogs are now in Oklahoma and working with their handlers daily toward becoming master level search teams.
For now, the handlers Brandon Hawkins, Mayes County 911, and Steve Smith, Mayes Emergency Service Trust Authority, have been certified in the fundamentals of search and rescue. To receive the certificuation, the team had to learn different wilderness survival skills, including building a fire and using a compass. The training also included survival support and search and rescue based in a rural and/or wilderness environment.
The Mayes County SAR team formed last year, but discussion of forming the group began several years ago. Along with an SAR team, citizens felt there was a need for rescue dogs. Once the SAR team was established, Smith began to do research on the dogs. He did Internet searches and asked other agencies how and where to find rescue dogs.
Once Smith found a facility that trained the dogs, work began to find the right dogs for the handlers. The dogs are tested for drive and search, aggression, social and other temperament tests before they are trained so that each animal is used to its best ability. Some dogs are suitable for search while some are suited to more aggressive roles.
Xabon and Mandrax are for SAR only, so they do not show any aggression. A contract was signed with the New Mexico facility in July and the dogs' training began. The dogs later arrived in Oklahoma on Feb. 3.
Now that the dogs are here, it's up to the handlers to keep their skills honed. The handlers and dogs work about three hours a day on obedience, tracking and socializing. Dog and handler are together 24 hours a day. When the handlers are at work, the dogs are kenneled at the MESTA station. When the handlers are off duty, the dogs go home with them.
"I'm with him more than I am my wife," Smith said.
The relationship with the handler and dog is important. The teams could be together for be years and need to capable of working at a moment's notice.
Hawkins said the dogs will be key to finding missing persons like Alzheimer patients that may have walked away or a child that may have wandered off.
Young live-find dogs, like Xabon and Mandrax, can trail a scent for 30 minutes to an hour consistently. Smith said live find dogs can also find a body within the first six hours after death. When the dogs are at a master level, they will be expected to track scents of up to 24 to 30 hours.
Hawkins recommended family members with Alzheimer patients might consider putting a recently worn article of clothing or pillow case in a plastic bag and store it in the freezer. If the patient should walk away and the dogs can not get a strong scent from something else, the stored item could help locate the person.
He said socks, under clothes, t-shirts and pillow cases are all items that would work. He also recommended changing out the item in the freezer once a week to keep the scent fresh.
"As a backup some of the nursing homes are doing it," Hawkins said.
Donations from Oklahoma Ordnance Works Authority and Grand River Dam Authority helped fund the purchase of the dogs and Hawkins and Smith think the dogs are a good investment for the community.
There have been other businesses have helped with the expense of getting the dogs. Hamill Metals, Tractor Supply, Pryor Lumber, Mike Sizemore and Four Feet and Feathers have donated to help with supplies and other needs for the dogs.
"If they find one missing person, it's been worth it," Smith said. "That goes for ... the whole search and rescue team."
||Los Lunas Police Welcomes First K-9 Officer To The Force
Valencia County News Bulletin | Belen, NM
November 18, 2009
K-9 Officer, 'Ricky Luna,' Will Be Trained To Search For Narcotics And Track Lost Persons
Los Lunas K-9 Officer Horacio De Anda stands with his partner Ricky Luna. Ricky is a black German Shepard that will assist in a variety of tasks.
The Los Lunas Police Department wanted to give its new K-9 officer a tie with the community, so they named him Ricky Luna, after the founding family of Los Lunas.
"We thought it would be an honor," said Chief Roy Melnick.
The police department purchased Ricky from Irene Howcroft, the owner of Ruidoso Malinos Kennel, located in Nogal, N.M. The kennel is noted for supplying excellent canines to the Department of State, the Army, Navy, Air Force, the Department of Defense and other law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.
He said Ricky is a German Shepard and came from Germany.
New Mexico Corrections Department K-9 Master Trainer Anthony Ramon evaluated Ricky with Los Lunas Police Department's newly named canine officer Horacio DeAnda before selecting Ricky as Los Lunas's first canine officer.
"Ricky met all the specifications we were looking for in a canine," Melnick said of the German Shepard. "Ricky is confident, obedient, and sociable, with a friendly temperament and disposition."
De Anda has been bonding with Ricky since the department picked him up.
"He's doing great," De Anda said, adding that the trainer thinks Ricky "is going to be awesome."
He said Ricky seems to be getting used to his new digs, is good with kids and has already received some training in holding dangerous suspects.
The two have been, and will continue, to study under a master dog trainer from the New Mexico Department of Corrections for about eight weeks.
Ricky goes home with De Anda after his 10-hour shift, but they have set up a kennel at the department as well.
Horacio and Ricky's training will include New Mexico narcotics case laws, drug searches, building searches, tracking for lost persons, suspect tracking, tactical room searches, while still retaining his friendly disposition for community events, supporting both patrol operations and criminal investigations.
Melnick hopes to have Ricky on active duty by March.
De Anda said he has been taking Ricky out on his regular patrol duties in order to acclimate him to life as a police dog. He said when Ricky is at home, however, he is a pet.
Melnick said the department has set up a fund to help pay for Ricky's equipment, including a bullet proof vest, collars, leashes, a training sleeve, medical costs and food. Anyone interested in helping out can send donations to the department, 660 Main Street, in care of Melnick or De Anda.
"He's going to be an all around great dog," Melnick said.