Bravo Working Dog Rescue
Our latest Guest Blog is by Animal Behaviourist Debbie Connolly, the founder of Bravo Working Dog Rescue, who offer rescue to working dogs which face an uncertain future when their service life has ended.
Bravo was created in 2012 after increasing requests to help retiring Police and Security dogs. I am Debbie Connolly, a behaviourist with 30 years experience and a love for German Shepherds which is how I came to first run my own rescue 20 years ago.
At one time, retiring working dogs mainly stayed with their handlers. These days, with increasing financial pressures and operational changes, far less do and it is very different between forces. These dogs have given a lifetime of service and whether you like dogs or not, they keep your world safe.
There is a misapprehension that the bite work dogs are aggressive. They are certainly bold, fond of barking and high energy. Training is done as a game, with a toy as the ultimate goal. They will react to a raised hand or object, or people running, or overt threats. In rehab, we work on desensitising this down to a lower reaction to make rehoming safer.
The search dogs are mainly gun breeds and collies. These breeds are also high drive and find rest and switching off difficult sometimes. Rehab works on focussing their abilities into more games, changing foods to lower energy ones and rewarding rest time.
Finding the right homes is essential. Some people think these dogs are trained robots and they will be adopting a dog that is never going to disobey. This is not true. They are still just dogs and used to working most days and lots of stimulation. They are not for people who won’t follow a handover plan or think that they are perfect. It is a big responsibility to adopt a bite trained dog and understand how to live safely with one.
Good training makes it all a game. Starting with hidden objects, lots of toys for the search dogs, gradually introducing scents where the indication of the object found is rewarded with the special toy. The toy becomes the whole focus of the point of the work. The GP (bite work) dogs use a bite sleeve as a toy, pulling and ragging it, rewarded with their own toy when they bite correctly and also release.
Several years ago, after a police dog was killed in training, most forces signed up to new codes of conduct. This meant no more used of shock collars and a lay scheme where lay people could come in at any time, inspect dogs and training records and ensure training was done humanely. You should check your own force’s policies to see if they did this.
The private security sector used to be highly problematic. Macho men with untrained aggressive dogs were common. This meant a lot of dangerous dogs around. The Guard Dogs Act should have put a stop to dogs being left to guard scrap yards and similar as it is illegal for a “guard dog” to be without the control of a handler, but it still happens. These days, organisations like NASDU offer high quality training for private security dogs and handlers and accredit companies. Having stewarded at national trials, I can say that the trained handlers are on a par with police. Sadly there is no law to make employers use only qualified handlers and dogs, so the old version is still occasionally seen, but I hope the move towards safety and quality continues.
In some cases we also take failed dogs. The police are under time and financial constraints and sometimes a dog isn’t suitable because the time it needs to bond or to develop isn’t something they can accommodate. Some of these dogs do go on to a working home, the private sector can have more time to develop a dog and thanks to some great help, so can we.
Our rescue ethics are the highest they should be. Dogs leave neutered, vaccinated and chipped. Homes are checked, dogs assessed and contracts signed. Our dogs would come back to us at any time if they can’e stay in a home, but we expect adopters to intend to keep them for ever.
These dogs catch criminals, find drugs and explosives, stop terrorist attacks and keep our workplaces safe. They deserve to be safe at the end of their career, not put to sleep, sold or worse. You can find out more about our work on our website http://www.bravodogrescue.org.uk/ or follow us on twitter https://twitter.com/bravodogrescue
You can support us with donations, bedding, home checking, fostering and helping at shows. You could also ask your local force if they know of us and if they have spoken to us about helping their dogs. Our thanks to all our current fosterers, fundraisers, helpers and post sharers for everything they do. Special thanks to Five Mile Media for their amazing work on our website and their continued fundraising.