Colin Spender Autobiography

Autobiography of Colin Spender, BA Hons

In September 1985 I become a serving police officer with my local police force; this was to be the beginning of the making of me without knowing it, making me who I am and what I enjoy doing on a daily basis, in particular with regards to dogs, and dog related matters. How I interrelate and view all the dogs that I come into contact with as a result of the experiences, knowledge and kindred friendship I have gained during my 34 years as a serving police officer (Retired: September 2015) 26 years working with Police dogs.

During my informative early years within the police service, I learnt many skills and abilities that have enabled me to become more knowledgeable and open minded about many issues in life, having had to deal with very traumatic incidents to very pleasurable moments throughout my whole working life within the police service, this has been an experience in its self.

Having completed my 2 year probationary period, during which time, I was always on knife edge not being sure if I was good enough to be a constable (through the eyes of the job) and working towards conformation. But I need not of worried as I was confirmed a constable in September in 1987. Which was a huge relief and a proud moment (it having taken me 5 years to get into the police service, through sheer determination and a lot of applications.) knowing that at that time I now had a job for life, (unless I did something stupid) which very quickly turned into a vocation for life.

I spent the next three years looking at various departments within the police service whilst pounding the beat on foot, for the majority of the time. As I did so I increasingly became aware of the dog section, and the specialist role the dogs and handlers performed. I was getting a good reputation as a thief taker and on many occasions I had to call for the assistance from dog handlers to be able to track offenders that had made off from me or various locations I was sent to attend. The more I called and worked alongside them the more I became interested in the role of dog handler. I spent many rest days attending training venues to watch how the handlers and dogs trained, and it fascinated me to observe what they were doing and talk with the handlers to get their perspective on police dog handling skills. I was also able to get close to the dogs in a good way, by offering my services to act as the stooge for the dogs to bite or hide up for. Little did I realise at this time how much the dogs would influence my life and my outlook on life as a direct result of the close link formed between them and me over the last 26 years.

In March 1991 I applied and was accepted to become a dog handler within the section and that is where my life changed for the better. I attended a regional police dog training establishment in the south coast area of England. The course was a basic 13 week initial introduction course. By the end of which I was expected to have a fully trained police dog ready to go operational on my return to my force. This I managed to achieve, which was not easy by any imagination, me being a green and novice dog handler did not help initially at the start of the training.

The dog I was presented with was handed to me only two weeks before attending the course; this was to enable me to bond with the dog. The dog I was allocated was a black German Shepherd male dog, which was gifted to the police by a couple whom had lost control of it, it had become very aggressive, was in your face and had little or no respect. He was what I would describe as a ‘latch key’ dog, let out in the morning and brought back in the evening.

His name was “Max” was about 12 months old, he was fed in the morning kicked out of the house to roam free, and do whatever he pleased. He would then returned back home in the afternoon to be fed. The husband use to play fight hard with the dog and this turned out to be a major problem for them, as the couple had a small baby after getting the dog and having the dog for 11 months. The dog became aggressive and started to display this toward the baby so the owners’ decided to get rid of the dog. Hence the Police being offered it, in the first instance, as a potential police dog.

Off I went, dog in tow, not knowing really what to expect just praying I would be able to get some control over and the skills to teach the dog and get him to a licensable standard so that I could come back home to my wife and child after having to spend three months away at the training school. The methodology used at this time, when I was first taught how I should handle Police dogs was based on methods developed and used in the First World War! (Unbeknown to me at the time the methodology was very much based on the 1910 classic work on dog training. Colonel Konrad Most, (Popular Dogs publishing Co. Ltd, London 1954)

I did as I was told and followed the instruction of the Instructors, (they were the experienced and knowledgeable ones, so I was informed!)But on occasions I felt uncomfortable with what was expected from me in the method of compulsion I was encouraged to use in some exercises, I did as I was told and passed out with my first operational working police dog. The dog met the grade and we both passed out from the training school as a team. What a relief!

 It was at this time that I begun to look more deeply into the manner and methods of other forms of dog training, looking at what can only be described at the time within the police service as “outside the box” to tried tested and established customs of then. This was how I got interested in finding out about a less harsh, more positive method of training, getting the dog to want to work with me rather than having to work for me. So begun my years of study, both practically with hands on experience with many dogs, and by researching up and coming methods, looking more into the psychology of the dog, how it could and would adapt in a more positive form of training which over time has assisted me with every single dog that I have come into contact with. The dogs are my teachers, I never stop learning from every single dog that I have and had the pleasure in coming into contact with.

After a couple of years of operational work with my first dog, I was asked if I wanted to dual train him for the search of Narcotic substances as a bolt on to his general patrol (GP) work. I jumped at the chance, giving me another specialism skill with him and another opportunity to learn even more skills myself. Never really having been in close contact with illegal drugs (apart from the ones seized from persons arrested as part of the job) or understanding the process and principles of training the dogs to find such substances, I felt honoured not just for me but for the dog as well, having been selected so early on in our career on the dog section. We spent four weeks bringing the dog on, teaching him to find the various substances that he was expected to indicate / locate.

The principle drugs at the time being, Cannabis (both Herbal & Resin,) Cocaine, Amphetamine, Heroin & Ecstasy, he loved this extra game we used to play and he excelled in his drugs work.

Having completed the course and worked with him within live operational environments, it sometimes had its down sides during drug searching with the shepherd of his size, both physically and psychologically, as he liked his bite work more than searching for the drugs, and when push came to shove, working him on some warrants and locations, (because if anybody kicked off) whilst he was drugs searching he would switch off from the search process and much rather deal with the aggressors, he would then be hard to work back into drugs search mode.

After four and half years of fantastic work, sadly he had to be euthanased, (well before his time) this was due to some serious medical problems that he had encountered, Epilepsy being the main issue. Having taken advice from our vets and senior vets at the Royal veterinary college, a hard choice had to be made, and at the time not an easy choice, but having seen and experienced the suffering he went through it was the only and right choice to make in the long run.

I was allowed to remain on the dog section and got another dog to train from the age of 11 months, so was able to use many of the techniques that I had been learning aside from the normal standard methods of training. So I was able to put into practice some of the different training ideologies that I was now using.

This different methodology of working, more than what I had been initially taught and had been practicing with my first dog paid dividends. The training time for my second dog was greatly reduced down, and at the same time impressed some of the old school trainers, once they saw the difference it made to the demeanour and willingness of my new dog to achieve; because he enjoyed the challenge rather than being forced to enjoy his work.

Within two years I was then able to take on a specialist narcotics detection dog to work alongside my second GP dog, instead of dual training the GSD. This itself paid dividends for both of my dogs as they both knew what was required of them in their own unique way. The more I learnt, the more they learnt, not just by hands on but by understanding the mind-set of the dogs cognizance, by understanding what they  were saying in dog language made the job in training them so much easier ,rewarding and more pleasurable. My second dog worked through to the end of his working life ( 9 years old when he retired)and my drugs dog worked on a further two years.

I then took on my third GSD, on the immediate retirement of my second GP dog, this was around about 14 years of being on the dog section, at this time I was taking a more active role within the dog section, not only working both operational dogs but being allowed to actively take training sessions with other handlers and their dogs, and was being mentored to potentially become a qualified Police dog Instructor. Big changes started to take place within the section, old boys within the dog section whom were traditionalist in old school methods were retiring, and both of the permanent Instructors retirements were imminent. This made life easier to be able to adopt a less coercive training regime within. At the same time as all this was going on I was studying for my teacher training qualification (Advanced Certificate of Education) as I believed and thought that it was very important that I understood, not only about how to train dogs, but how to educate and train the handlers more than what I had experienced over the years.

As luck would have it I was selected to attend and go on the Police dogs’ Instructors course to become a qualified Police dog Instructor, (2004) this I achieved and obtained a Higher Diploma in police dog instruction. (H.Dip, PDI) and at the same time completed my two years teacher training programme obtaining my Advanced Certificate in Education qualification. (Adv Cert Ed) (HE) with Canterbury Christ church university.

I returned back to force and continued to work my operational dogs, whilst running in-force training days. I then had to relinquish my GP dog as the training of other officers became more involved and time consuming detracting away from the operational work. Fortunately an experienced dog handler on the section required a replacement dog as her dog was to be retired off, as it was struggling to meet the grade. A good result for me and a good result for the dog as this enabled him to work out his full working life as an operational police dog and for me to help develop the dog section and the dogs that were now being brought on. We introduced a puppy programme and as such were able to select suitable dogs from the age of 4 weeks to come to us at 8 weeks of age. I was in heaven, bringing on puppies, and to be able to train them from a very early age, using their critical learning periods effectively, and reaping the benefits of retaining the ability and manner of their introduction to environments, learning stages and socialisation periods as they grew.

Eventually my drugs dog retired at the age of 9 years and I was very fortunate to find him a very loving home with an elderly couple that adored him. He lived to the good old age of 15 (Labrador).
In 2008 due to a nasty motoring accident I had to leave the dog section, so I spent a year away from the dog section and worked within the police teacher training unit, putting into practice my teacher training skills.

Looking towards my retirement from the police service (2015) I decided that I need to encompass all my learnt skills into a form of recognised qualifications so I studied with a recognised learning provider; this being the Cambridge Institute of Dog behaviour and Training (C.I.D.B.T ),(2008)

In 2009 I attended at Keston status dog unit, with the Metropolitan Police, to become a recognised and accredited Dog legislation officer (D.L.O.) successfully passing the course. Since that time and as a direct result I have become a recognised expert witness for the courts, within this field.

I spent 3 years studying with the C.I.D.B.T, which culminated in me achieving a BA Hons, (professional practice dog behaviour training and psychology) which is accredited by Middlesex University. During this time I also obtained my National Dog trainers Instructors certification, and became a full member of the Guild of Dog Trainers (GoDT) obtained my GoDT master trainer certification.

I then became a full member of the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association (CFBA) which then led on to me becoming a tutor for the CIDBT specialising in dog law in particular.

I then became a full member of the British Institute of Professional Dog trainers. (BIPDT), whom recognised and accredited my skills as a professional dog trainer, I have also given law seminars in association with Dr Simon Harding, from Middlesex University, whom is the senior law lecturer, for Criminology and Sociology with them.

In 2011 I co-authored The National Occupational standards for (approved by Lantra) dog behaviourists and trainers. (A National Occupational Standard (NOS) is a document that describes the Knowledge Skills and Understanding an individual needs to be competent at a job) and is recognised by the Kennel club. Its aims are to improve dog welfare, protect the public and develop the understanding of the dog/human bond.

Over the last 6 years I have dealt with hundreds of reported dog related incidents, where my skills and expertise have assisted many owners to keep their dogs in a much safer and controlled manner as a direct result of my intervention as a DLO, and as a professional trainer.

I own and continue to run my own dog related business within Dorset (UK) establishing it in 2011; I help owners with their problem dogs, getting owners to better understand their relationship/ communication with their dogs. Work on a 1-2-1 basis in basic training and do recommended veterinary referrals for all manner of behavioural problem dogs.

© Colin Spender BA Hons,

Colin Spender