For over a decade, Ted Summers has worked with the toughest police dogs in the United States, training K9s in everything from patrol and decoy work to detection while simultaneously educating handlers and running camps for military special operations.
The co-founder, director, and lead police K-9 instructor at Torchlight K-9 in Oklahoma, Summers has spent the past 12 years training super agile Belgian Malinois dogs for the US police force and while he’s passionate about the work he does, he admits it’s not always smooth sailing.
“I jokingly say that I teach dogs to find stuff and bite people,” he explains. “These dogs bite people for a living, that’s what they do - I can’t count the number of times I’ve been bit.”
Summers and his team at Torchlight start working with puppies as soon as they’re able to ensure they’re ready for a life in law enforcement. “We breed them and raise them from the time they’re puppies, at about eight weeks old, we start preparing them for the job.”
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While the company breeds and trains both Dutch and German Shepherds, they focus mainly on the Belgian Malinois because of their smart, confident, and hardworking natures. “They’re extremely fast and powerful,” says Summers but goes on to stress that while their hyperactive and sometimes aggressive temperament allows them to excel as police dogs, they don’t make great pets.
“The things that make them great working dogs, and make them great at what they do, make them terrible pets - they tend to be a little extra than your average pet,” warns Summers.
After years in the industry, Summers has developed a keen eye for the qualities a dog needs to work in high-risk areas of law enforcement, focusing on sociability, environmental stability in dark rooms with loud noises, and health when making his selection. “If we have a dog that doesn’t meet the standards, and if they don’t possess the drive, we’ll place them in pet homes where they can hang out in people’s backyards,” he explains.
The animal rights debate over K-9 safety has ramped up in recent years with activists concerned about the long-term ramifications to their physical and mental health. While many are keen to see machines developed that can replace these dogs in detecting contraband, narcotics, explosives, and people, Summers isn’t sure it can be done.
“The government has spent a bazillion dollars on trying to make a machine that does it and they still can’t beat the dog’s nose,” he says. “Our goal is to motivate the dog to learn and perform, to build confidence within the team, through success with human, consistent, interactive training.”
Although some activists are concerned about dogs being forced into police work, Summers is clear that Torchlight has a different approach. “Each dog is an active willing participant that is taught, not forced. Our combined base of knowledge on animal behavior allows us to make the dog a willing student and partner in the process of training, learning, and working.”
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