Vernon RCMP general duty constables Clay Fixsen

Prospective canines go through training

All four, one day, hope to be members of the RCMP’s police service dog units.

Frieda, at five months old, is bounding, full of energy, sniffing everyone and everything she sees.

Fergi, on the other hand, only 10 weeks old, is unsure of her surroundings.

Frieda and Fergi are both German shepherd puppies in the care of, respectively, Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP general duty constables Matt Taylor and Clay Fixsen. All four, one day, hope to be members of the RCMP’s police service dog units.

“We train the puppy for up to a year and if she makes all the benchmarks, she’ll be teamed up with a handler team,” said Fixsen. “She’ll go to Innisfail (Alberta, where the RCMP breed dogs for service) for five months, polish up her training and hopefully go into the field as a police dog.”

Fergi comes from a line of other police dogs. Black with brown markings on her feet, she lives with Fixsen and has been in training since right after her birth.

“We do a lot of tracking and introduce them to a lot of people,” said Fixsen. “We want them to be comfortable around people, comfortable on a lot of different surfaces and heights. Right now, the dogs are curious. They want to do well.”

Frieda lives with Taylor and his family and is full of energy, one of the traits the RCMP look for in a potential police service dog.

“Right now, she doesn’t really have any manners,” smiled Taylor.

“We want them that way because they have to climb on everyone. They can’t be afraid to jump on everyone or anything.”

The puppies are tested at six-, nine- and 12-month intervals by the RCMP. If they pass all of those hurdles, they will be taken to Innisfail and paired with a chosen dog handler.

Currently, the Vernon-North Okanagan detachment has three police service dogs and handlers, including constables Kevin Rutten and Marc Jones. Fixsen and Taylor hope to join their ranks some day.

“Right now, their jobs are to raise the dogs and put the basics into the dogs,” said Rutten of Fixsen and Taylor, who work with the pups on their days off.

“They teach them the basics of tracking, criminal apprehension work and familiarize and socialize the dogs.

“The goal is to raise a confident dog and really develop their drives to develop the best possible product you can to enter training as a police service dog.”

Only about 70 per cent of potential police service dogs make the final cut. Some will be used in drug work, some will become search and rescue dogs, some will join city police forces.

Added Jones: “There are 135 dog positions in Canada, and this could be a three-to-10-year venture. There might only be one or two that make it. These guys will raise a number of pups before going into training themselves. They have to be dedicated to dogs.”

The public will be given a chance to work with a police service dog and handler.

The RCMP are again offering as a silent auction item at the upcoming Raise the Woof fundraiser for the Okanagan Humane Society and HugABull Rescue and Advocacy Society a chance for a lucky bidder to spend a day working with a police dog crew.

“We did this last year and there was such a great response,” said Marti Giroux with the Okanagan Humane Society.

“The people who won had a blast.”

Pooch Partners presents Raise the Woof, a night full of stand-up comedians, at the Powerhouse Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 23. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m.

“This is our main fundraiser for the year,” said Giroux.


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