Certifications and the Use of Force Continuum was written by Executive Director, Russ Hess, in the later part of 2002. Spanning six pages, the 4,097 words describes the necessity of certification, the constant pursuit of excellence, and the never ending training required to maintain the level of professionalism essential for the protection of both law enforcement officer and their canine partner.

What are the requirements?

In any test not only the questions should be clear and the requirements written, but the faults and the less then passing faults specified. Some organizations will have a pass / fail evaluation and have no objective standard of performance on what is failure. Sure we all know what a pass is, but how many faults are failure? One certification test reported the recall would be done when the evaluator touches the shoulder of the handler with no requirement on distance covered, commands used or actions of the decoy. With only one evaluator it now becomes a Bob’s rule, Jim’s rule or Bill’s, whoever the evaluator is and not a mandated requirement. Pass / Fail is an easy way to obtain a certification and tells one nothing of the proficiency or how well the task was done.

Many who support the pass/ fail certification will be the first to select new dogs on the scores obtained in sports work as an indication of their ability. But when it comes to evaluation after training they are reluctant to be measured. As an administrator I had a professor who taught, “That which gets measured, gets done”, and that is a powerful truism. It does affect performance – just ask the first four-minute mile runner who strived not for passing but to be the best. Does it really matter if a dog sits straight, does not respond to a command or cannot be controlled off lead or without an electric collar? Who cares if my dog chews on the bite and inflicts multiple bites and major medical injury? If the performance is not evaluated (scored) who does care? If performance doesn’t count for anything but “Passing” who does care about the borderline or negligent responses and performance? No one does.

The USPCA is still the only association that believes in a measured evaluation. The certification is a certificate but the foundation is the evaluation. The performance is measured on written published performance requirements. Sure, they are artificially simulated tests but they have withstood the test of time and the test of the courts, have any others?

I am trying to recall just one area that is a pass/fail in today’s world. Everything I can think of is measured. From your first driver’s license test to your hiring and promotion, it is measured. Would you be an officer today if all applicants were rated the same? Why do we have pass/fail in canine evaluations? What motivation is there for officers to do better? What self-satisfaction can be found in meeting the bottom rung of the performance ladder?

What are the benefits?

In evaluating canine associations, one effective guideline would be to see how they support their certifications? Does the certification provide any assistance in court litigations in expert testimony? Does the association support with financial assistance litigation of K9 use? The USPCA has a legal defense fund that supports officers and cases to maintain the effectiveness and integrity of the police service dog. A chief judge that is also a trainer from outside the geographical area that has a certification sanctions that testing (cost paid for by us). The USPCA certifications are based on a team of evaluator’s objective evaluation (3 minimum) and not solely on one with a subjective opinion.

Certification under the USPCA guidelines offers a creditable test, that is not a simple pass or fail standard, but one, which actually measures the team’s efficiency. As a chief of police I wanted my officers to perform above a minimum level! I wanted my officers to excel and serve the citizens in the most professional way they could. As an administrator I understood motivation, just acceptable was not my goal – just acceptable stifles motivation. The USPCA certification assured me my teams were held at a highest standard. The USPCA certification showed I cared about my department’s performance and ability. It also showed I cared about the officers, their ability and safety. What else does certification do? Certification is a national level of recognized performance. It requires training, training and more training. It is my insurance as a handler that I have documentation on my abilities. I know it provides me with back up if those qualifications or my dog’s qualifications are ever questioned. It is my bulletproof vest against liability and my flashlight to guide me in my profession.

Why certify annually? I believe the above caption cases address this issue fully. The need to certify yearly is a standard for most certifications of performance; firearms and related job tasks mandate annual (or more) certifications and are standard. Certification for a patrol dog that exceeds one year is against a strict monitoring of performance standard that the previous Kerr case requires. To suggest that canine teams only need evaluation every two years is recommending a serious liability.

Certification should at a minimum be yearly, but training is never ending. The certification documents the teams’ performance on that given day; the training records document the training and performance that is the foundation for the certification.

In today’s society there are people who are not afraid of you, your gun or your dog. In a profession that propels you from complete boredom into the jaws of grave human conflict, you have only your training and your dog’s response to protect you. They both better be right.