Not long ago, I came across a story about a highly successful drug sniffing police dog in Columbia, South America. It seems Sombra’s nose has led to numerous narcotics seizures and arrests in the country’s airports and ports. Due to her achievements, this gentle, friendly German Shepherd now has a bounty on her cute little head. Fortunately, extra security measures are in place to protect this valuable Columbian National Police asset.
Dave Taylor has been training canines for law enforcement, military, and private use for over 40 years. After a long stint training weapons and explosive search dogs and instructing handlers for the Department of Defense at Auburn University’s Vet School, he is now happily settled in Ashland City, TN. Living a short drive from Nashville, Dave and his wife share their peaceful, sprawling farm with a large assortment of dogs-in-training and two miniature horses.
When I assume the 80 or so dogs on his 90-acre farm are all German Shepherds, Dave quickly corrects me. Although the large percentage of dogs he trains are German Shepherds and Labs, any breed can meet his strict requirements.
Fondly, he remembers the mixed breed from an animal shelter, trained as a bomb dog, who did six tours of combat duty in Afghanistan. The truly hard part of his job is to find dogs who will succeed at tracking down criminals, sniffing out explosives, and detecting drugs.
After training 4000 canines for working assignments since 1978, this dog whisperer with the charming Southern drawl possesses a sixth sense as to which dogs will succeed in Federal Protective Service organizations. Give him a single day, and he can determine a dog’s social, environmental, and searching skills.
A dog working in a war zone, train station, or airport needs to be good with people and comfortable in crowds. Dave looks for dogs who will enter any type of building, walk on any surface, and not hesitate at stairs or elevators. Noises can’t frighten them and gunshots can’t distract them. “I look for a dog who brings a tennis ball back to you every time you throw it,” says Dave. “Or I might like one who is super possessive and never puts it down – it stays in his mouth as he walks or even goes to the potty,” he continues.
In the woods adjoining his property, Dave teaches his pups the skills to track a criminal or a lost child or a dementia patient. And the smart canines don’t need a piece of clothing to pick up an individual’s scent. According to Dave, “as humans walk, our bodies shed and crush the ground and change the vegetation.” Not wanting to give away all his secrets(!), Dave teaches his criminal apprehension and search and rescue dogs to pick up the scents and the clues. Upon finding their target person, they bark and bark and bark – until the police arrive and the dogs gladly get the reward they deserve.
Dogs, all of them, have an incredible scent discrimination ability. “Humans enter a house and smell stew cooking,” Dave explains. Amazingly, dogs smell each individual part of the stew – carrots, potatoes, onions, broth. With a complicated, yet effective, training system in place, the dogs learn when they locate the source of an odor (dynamite, for example) their reward appears. “You eventually get them so schooled,” Dave explains, “when you show them the toy, they automatically begin looking for the dynamite.”
Like people, dogs like to learn and be challenged. “Once a dog learns the odor/reward principle, you are almost unlimited what you can teach them,” Dave points out. With his head up, sniffing the air, a vapor wake pup can sniff out someone wearing or carrying a bomb in a crowd of thousands.
Demonstrating one of his short, frequent training sessions, I am surprised to watch Dave feed the pup from his hands. This young German Shepherd doesn’t get food out of a bowl. Feeding her from the stash in his pocket, she “works” for her meals and is food rewarded. Dave maintains constant eye contact with his trainee and never says her name without rewarding her.
Dave introduces me to a German Shepherd he is currently “training on peanut oil.” When he rejoins his family, with a young child fatally allergic to peanuts, this lovable dog will be able to detect peanut butter, peanut oil, any trace of peanuts. Wondering if the family will take him to restaurants, Dave’s response is immediate. “Once I teach the parents how to handle the dog, they can take him anywhere.”
Besides canines, Dave trains the folks who will handle the dogs. Former Marines, Green Berets, and Army Rangers have done military tours and later return to combat as dog handlers. With decoys wearing explosive devices, he instructs TSA agents how to work the dogs in airports.
As Luna, the couple’s sweet pet, retrieves the balls I throw to her, Dave says he devotes a lot of time nowadays to managing his breeding program. Preparing and selling highly-trained protection dogs to upscale clients and organizations keep him busy. And, he laughs, “there is never a shortage of disobedient and ill-behaved dogs clients want me to tame!”
Tags: Cedar Valley Canine, Dave Taylor, dogs
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