Portage RCMP detachment's Police Dog Jolt just turned 8 years old Monday, March 4.

She's had a long career since she was a pup when she was immediately put into a series of training. 

Her handler outlines how Jolt's career first started.

"It all started at our training facility in Alberta in Innisfail," he says. "She was born there and we have a breeding program there. When she was seven weeks old, she was then sent to me where I raised and trained her to become a police dog. We get them at seven weeks old and that's when their training begins. When she was a little over a year and a half, we went into training together as a team in Innisfail for five and a half months. From there, we've been posted throughout Canada, and now we're in Manitoba."

Jolt has been here for four years now and her career has been a long one. He notes officers with a police service dog are classified as a full general-duty team, meaning that they do several things.

"One, being tracking and, two, searching for missing people. Three; apprehension of criminals. We also search for articles that could be anything from firearms or discarded clothes. For instance, if a suspect committed a robbery, ran away, and threw some other clothes away, the dogs are trained to indicate on fresh articles like that. They can also search for drugs or explosives, but never both. It's either one or the other. Aside from that, Jolt's also trained in the marine profile. She also loves repelling, so you may or may not seen pictures of her repelling down from the side of the hospital during the children's community event. She's trained to be in helicopters. You kind of name it, the dogs do it."

He notes some highlights in Jolt's career include finding a few missing people. 

"Especially in Cranbrook, I could note one missing person that she found and saved who was there, just due to the weather conditions and how everything was deteriorating," he continues. "That's kind of our bread and butter -- missing people. That takes all priority, especially missing children. We tend to not have a lot of those files, but we train hard for those calls that come in because they're so important."

Jolt 2

He explains police dogs play such an important role in policing, not only for keeping members safe, but also people in the public. 

"For instance, dogs, basically, see through their noses when they're tracking someone. They follow the scent and are trained a specific way. Our dogs can follow the scent. If a missing person who goes from the house, and no one sees where that missing person is, the dog is able to indicate where that person was and then track from point A to point B. It's pretty spectacular when you're behind them, watching them work. They have the drive and motivation to do that. All that they want to do is work, they enjoy it so much. They get so much out of it. I count on Jolt to keep me safe when I'm working. She's always with me, almost 24/7, and our main function is to support frontline members."

If the frontline officers can't locate a suspect or evidence, Jolt is in her element. The handler notes they're credited for not just saving lives, but finding key evidence, whether that be in homicide files or large, large drug investigation files.

"The stuff that we can get our dogs to do is unimaginable, because we have only honed in on a small portion of their capabilities. It's almost endless what we can train these dogs to do, and we use them a lot now in our tactical settings. For our ERT call-outs (which is stands for Emergency Response Team), anything where there's an elevated high risk and a tactical response is needed, Jolt is trained for that. You need a dog that can work well with everyone, and still think of what to do. Think of if -- you have a group of guys in a room; the dog's just looking solely at the handler, which is me, for one direction. They methodically do that and then come right back to you. So, it's amazing what they can do."

He outlined examples where dogs are trained to detect low sugar in a diabetic person and an impending heart attack in somebody.

The handler explains she's just getting close to her retirement.

"She's eight years old now. We try to retire our dogs anywhere from seven to nine years old. There is the odd working dog out there that's a little bit older. It all depends on the location and how much they're working. The tracking and the running takes a toll on the dogs just like it does the handlers, or anyone else when you're active. Around this time, we start looking at retiring them. So, Jolt lives with me. She goes to work with me. She goes on holidays with me. She's always with me. So, when it comes time to retire, Jolt will become a house dog and a pet. When they're at our house right now, there are still certain rules that you have with working dogs. She has a very large kennel at our house. It's outside and inside. It's heated and she'll go back and forth. That is their oasis. They work so hard that when they come home, they need their own rest time. They're not bothered. They just go and hang out there. I'll let her out and we still go and walks, since they're such active dogs, even when we're on our days off. You need to be active with them."

He notes this includes hiking and walking, and when she retires, she'll just hang around the house and enjoy life.

"I will then, in turn, go back to training with a new dog, and then come back out with that dog and then we will continue working. So, it might be a little bit of an adjustment for Jolt; sitting at home just like anyone. But they kind of look forward to it. They like laying around the house. It's just something they don't get to do. But you have to train them for that, as well, because they're so used to working in a specific way. When you convert them to a pet, you have to teach them normal things that a pet would do. It's not jumping up on our dogs. They like to explore and put their paws on things and jump up because that's what we require them when they're working, whether that be jumping fences, or jumping on boats. They're quite accustomed to that, so to break those habits is necessary. That'll come up this year."

He says Jolt will have some company when a new dog begins training and comes home, too.

"I'll still bring Jolt on shift with me once in a while, as well. She'll have a little, specific spot in the truck. She gets to share the back with the other dogs."

He adds a person joins the police force as a general duty member working on the watch. If working with a dog interests you, approach a dog handler and indicate your interest, and then enter an imprinting phase. 

"It took me eight and a half years to get into this program," he continues. "I had to volunteer my time on days off to go and train with the dog handler. And what that entails are things like laying tracks for them, taking bites for them, you're putting out certain searches, whether that be drug or firearms, or articles of clothing. You're learning how to be a dog handler, per se. I did that for a year and then I went on a course to learn how to raise police pups and how to train them. Then they give you a police pup. You come back beneath the supervision of that dog handler. Then you begin raising that pup, and it's usually around seven weeks when you get it. You're teaching the dog socialization and different environments that you can get them around which is anything from floors to graded stairs, to anything that we think these dogs will encounter in the real world. We need to socialize them to that. What we can't have is a police dog that comes into an unknown environment and doesn't know how to react because they've never been in it."

This requires increased sessions of work just to get these dogs in all of these different environments. It's mostly done on the officer's days off. 

"I would work my normal schedule, and then on my days off, or my time off there, I would start training these dogs. After that, once they get to just a little over a year old, for example, I'm now in need of a new dog, and an imprinter would then imprint these dogs to a certain age and begin to teach them how to track in a straight line until the dogs understand what that is. They would then turn them over to a handler like me, who would then take over and continue training them at Innisfail, and then come up and work."

Jolt 3

He explains he's trained seven dogs so far. 

"Jolt's the eighth one that I went into training with. It took me roughly eight to eight-and-a-half years of studying to get into this profession. It's a grind, and unfortunately, the retention rate of imprinters is hard. It's hard to keep because of the commitment that is required to do this job. Not only is it physically demanding, but the time that it takes to spend away from your family with these dogs is significant.  It's not the easiest job to get into that demands a lot, but I think it's the best job that we have in the RCMP."

He adds a dog like Jolt is a great partner to have.

"They're always looking for your best interest. It's nice having that working bond with the dogs. It surely is a demanding job, but I wouldn't trade it for anything."