by Andrea Arnold
Constable Kyle Stubbs, the newest member of the RCMP McBride Detachment, has known most of his life that he wanted to work with dogs. “When I was a kid, I’d take the family dog, a lab, outside and we’d work together like I was a dog handler,” he said. It was not always clear how this love was going to blend with work however. He did come to know he wanted to be an RCMP member, but that didn’t come to be until 2014.
Not long ago, within the last decade, Stubbs was a competitive downhill skier. In 2010, while competing, he broke his back. Near the end of his rehabilitation, Stubbs became a paramedic. He had hoped to go straight into the RCMP, but the physical aspects of the job combined with his recent injury did not allow for acceptance. In 2014 he was finally able to put on the RCMP uniform and begin the process of becoming a dog handler.
Stubbs thinks that his experiences as a paramedic helped with the transition into the RCMP. He had learned skills related to communicating to people in crisis, and found that to be very useful in his new position.
For an officer wanting to become a dog handler, the commitment is a big one. First, they must go into training with the dogs and be the quarry, or bite bait. These are the people who wear the big padded suits. They also aid in training by laying tracks, and hiding for the dogs to find, often a good distance away. Once the handlers working with the dogs (and quarry) feel the individual has learned enough to move on, they are recommended for the puppy course. Stubbs moved on to this step in 2016.
The puppy course begins with an intense week of training at the Police Dog Service Training Centre in Innisfail Alberta. At the conclusion of the week, the officer is given their first puppy to begin. The process of “imprinting” the puppies can be stressful. Most puppies come to their trainer at about 8 weeks old. They go everywhere, and do everything with the officer, however, the puppies are not treated as pets. The goal is to have a fully trained police dog, so there is a difference in their lifestyle. Puppies in training have all the same habits as pet puppies. They jump and nip too. The big difference is though, that puppies in training are not told no. These are not things that handlers want trained out of their dogs. In fact, as the dog advances through training, these skills will be used and built upon.
Currently, Stubbs is working with Logan. She is a one year old German Shepherd. “Everything I do with Logan has a purpose,” Stubbs said. “If you see me out with her and she’s holding onto her Kong, we are working on her bite.” It looks like play, and Logan seems to enjoy it, asking for more when the rope is dropped, but it is teaching her proper bite technique and how to effectively adjust her bite without letting go. Tracking is another skill the team will work to develop. Once a week, on one of his days off, Stubbs and Logan will be making the trip to Prince George to work with the dog handlers there.
There are four test sessions throughout the puppy imprinting months. At any point, the examiners may decide that a puppy doesn’t have the skills needed to be a successful police dog, and they will be sent to live a lovely life as a pet. The others, once they have passed the imprinting phase then go onto more advanced training and to meet their new two legged partner.
An officer will go though imprinting with approximately five puppies before reaching the opportunity to compete for a position as a dog handler. Out of 60 officers in the program each year, the top 20 travel back to Innisfail to compete for the available handler positions for that year. If successful, the handler must pass five to six months of training at the centre in Innisfail before they are sent back into service with their canine partner.
All the steps leading to this are volunteer on the part of the officers. The RCMP covers the costs of food and vet bills, but the officers’ only reward from the experience, aside from successful police dogs, is when they finally achieve the status of dog handler.
Stubbs loves to talk about dogs, and welcomes any questions people may have. There are a few words of caution he has for people who want to approach.
“Don’t approach Logan without me present,” he said. “If she is in her kennel in the truck, find me before making a move. Also, if we are out walking, and Logan is on leash, get my attention before coming close. If she is startled, Logan may go into a defensive mode.”
Stubbs anticipates having to pass Logan on by the end of the summer. He admits to that being the hardest part. “It’s hard to be excited meeting your new puppy while your old one looks on, not understanding what is going on.”
When the new puppy arrives in McBride, Stubbs encourages people to interact with it. That being said, people must keep in mind the statement that the pup will jump and nip, and not be scolded for it.
Stubbs, along with his wife Chelsie and their daughters Jane and Matilda have already experienced the benefits of McBride’s slower pace. He was stationed in Surrey previously. Before beginning his RCMP career however, they lived mostly on and around Vancouver Island, so they are no stranger to smaller centres and are looking forward to their time here.