They are the only members of the police service who get to grow up knowing their future working partners.
Still, the canine police weren’t sure what to expect when seven police puppies from the D litter travelled from Cumuto to the Mounted and Canine Branch headquarters in St James to meet the police horses for the second time on November 3.
Head trainer Cpl Shane Chase explained, “I wanted the puppies to meet the horses while they are still young so they can get used to them, because the dogs and horses will have to work together at times like Carnival.”
Police dogs and horses are eventually trained to work together in crowd control.
Chase had a plan for that second meeting, but he didn’t know exactly how the six-month-old puppies would react to the horses. Would they approach animals that look like giants next to them, or would they shy away from the horses?
When the puppies arrived in the horses’ training paddock, Dana, Dja, Drago, Desi, Dera, Diesel and Drea barked nonstop, demanding to escape their plastic kennels in the police vehicles. Police puppy trainer PC Leon Lopez delivered the instructions to canine officers.
“Let them walk around. If a puppy shies away from the horses, don’t pull them towards the horses. Don’t force them. No petting.”
Dana paired up with Lopez.
“She did well last visit,” he said.
Cpl Premnath Maharaj walked Dja in the direction of a horse.
Next, the puppies explored the carpark. When Dana drank from the horses' water trough, the other puppies rushed to drink and explore ways to climb inside the trough. The puppies ran over the grass and posed on the steps police officers use for mounting the horses. They walked along the horses’ stalls.
The ferrier, who was fitting horseshoes on a horse, smiled at the puppies and said, “Open the bottom half of that horse’s stall.”
Johannesburg, a grey gelding from Holland, poked his head through the opening and strained his neck to touch the puppies. He nudged Maharaj’s back as Maharaj studied Dja for a reaction.
When the puppies approached a horse, the officers pressed a clicker and the puppies received a few kernels of puppy food as their reward for their boldness and tenacity.
On their first visit, Drago, Dja, Dana and Diesel proved to be the most inquisitive about the horses. All the puppies felt more comfortable in the horses’ environment on the second try.
At this stage in the puppies’ training, canine officers walk a fine line between nurturing and training the D puppies with emphasis on obedience and socialisation – meeting new people and animals. These are the puppies that come under the care of WPC Tekisha Hamilton-Figuero, and PC Simon Jacob Jr and Dwayne Johnson.
When Hamilton-Figuero arrives at work each morning, she feels excited to see the Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd mixed puppies of the D litter.
“I tell myself I am going to see my children,” she said. All the canine officers call her the “puppy’s mother.” She knows each puppy’s personality and quirks.
“Dana is laid back but obedient; Dja is sprightly and outgoing, has a high hunt drive and tenacity for searching. Diesel has the highest hunt drive; Drago is everything you can think about in a police puppy. Diesel and Drago have the same playful and outgoing personalities, and they are very close as brothers.
“Dera depends on the pack the most and Drea is all-rounded. Desi has so much energy, she has to be calmed down sometimes.”
To work with puppies, Hamilton-Figuero said a canine officer must possess “a stress-free personality. You have to be open-minded and have a good work ethic, because puppies are a lot of work.”
Lopez said they also need to be knowledgeable about dog training and have patience.
“Canine officers have to find the balance between objectivity and love for the puppies. We encourage officers not to have that emotional connection with the puppies, but striking a balance is tricky. You must have that balance, or you’ll spoil the dog, and you have to be able to correct them in training.”
Unlike the three surly tactical officers sitting in the carpark with scowls on their faces, canine officers always need to bring their upbeat personalities and positive energy to work.
“The puppies feed off of your positive energy,” said Lopez.
“And they lift your spirits even higher, no matter how positive you are,” said Hamilton-Figuero. “Coming to work is therapy. The puppies are always excited to see you.”
Next month, the D litter will begin imprint training by searching for balls in PVC elbow pipes in a training room in Cumuto. Officers switch around the pipe holding the ball and the puppies search for the balls, which they love. Then their reward will be playing tug of war with the ball.
The puppies’ personalities will then determine if they will be narcotic or explosion detection dogs, cadaver dogs – or currency dogs, a new discipline requested by former police commissioner Gary Griffith. The currency dog will search for large amounts of US or TT cash.
When the D puppies reach the next stage of their training, Hamilton-Figuero’s contact with them will decrease dramatically. She will take over the obedience and socialisation training of the E puppies, Belgian Malinois, who will come out of quarantine about the same time the D puppies, enter their next stage of training.
“I will miss the D puppies, but I am excited about stepping in with the E puppies,” she said.
For now, Hamilton-Figuero beams proudly as her D puppies come closer and closer to the horses.
In the end, Diesel and Drago touched noses with Johannesburg, much to his delight. Johannesburg nodded his head and whinnied softly.
The canine officers smiled. They will repeat the excursions to the Mounted Branch until the dogs feel perfectly comfortable with the horses, their future police partners.