K.G. trainer adds bite to police dogs’ barks
Police officers train for all kinds of situations, hoping to be prepared for whatever the bad guys throw at them.
Paul Ludwig and Sam Edmonds believe police dogs should be put through the same rigorous preparation.
But after 24 years as a policeman—including 16 as a K–9 handler in Washington—Ludwig knows that some dogs on patrol aren’t ready for the streets.
Some years ago, he was responding to a burglary at a women’s shelter in D.C. when the suspect took off running. Ludwig sent his dog after him, but the K–9 couldn’t bring down the man.
A fatal chain of events followed.
The suspect stole a police car as Ludwig tried to catch him and dragged the officer down the highway. Ludwig shot and killed the man.
“I just said, ‘I’m not gonna take a chance on that happening again,’ ” said Ludwig, who lives in King George County.
He and Edmonds, a Maryland resident who trains dogs for personal protection, formed IrondogK9 in 2010 to give police dogs the training they lacked. Departments from around the region come to Ludwig’s King George property for their “outside-the-box” program and earn certification.
“They’re probably two of the best that I have seen for training patrol dogs,” said Billy Cotton, who retired from the Prince George’s County, Md., Police Department, then became a K–9 trainer for the nearby Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
The trainers are “very street-oriented,” Cotton said, “not so much on the competition and pretty stuff, but the actual what’s going to save your life on the street.”
This story isn’t about the soft and cuddly side of puppies. It delves into the muscles, teeth and sheer brawn the dogs use in their defense against criminals.
Descriptions might be a little disturbing for the squeamish, but then, trainers and police officers would say so are some criminals.
“We have to face reality,” said Morris Lindesey, a dog trainer in Rockville, Md., who is familiar with the methods of Ludwig and Edmonds. “If these dogs are trained that the world is all nice, when they come across that bad man, they will not know how to respond.”
That’s why Edmonds, who usually plays the “decoy” or the bad guy, cracks a whip, literally.
He hides in vehicles or jumps into the river, practically daring the dogs to follow him. He wants them exposed to any number of situations—and to be comfortable pursuing a suspect into a dark building, up steps that aren’t closed in or in holes underground.
All those scenarios are re-created on Ludwig’s 10-acre property in King George, along with an agility course, fields with tall grass where dogs can search for drugs or bombs and a nearby dock on the Potomac River.
Edmonds’ forearms are pockmarked with punctures from the K–9’s canines. He wears a protective coat and pants that feel as thick as the underside of carpeting, but dogs still manage to break through it in their zeal to bring him down.
“They eat him up,” Ludwig said, laughing because he’s the one who gives the command for the dog to attack.
He and his partner exchange jokes about each other as males do in testosterone-filled environments. Much of what they said can’t be printed in a family newspaper.
But kidding aside, Ludwig said Edmonds is the best decoy he has ever met for his ability to get inside a dog’s head.
When Edmonds senses the dog isn’t biting as hard as it can, he pulls the dog’s ear or pinches his flank to get a rise out of it. If the dog acts like he’s got this, no problem, Edmonds throws a couple punches so the dog will know what it’s like to feel pain.
“We build that dog up to the point where he can take it,” Ludwig said. “When a guy on the street hits him with a two-by-four, the dog will say, ‘Oh, that hurt, but now I’m gonna kick your a–.’”
Their approach seems like common sense, but Ludwig said a lot of people don’t see it that way. A policeman out west was appalled that the men expose the dogs to live fire and flash bangs, a stun grenade with loud noises and blinding flashes.
But Edmonds contends that if they don’t prepare the dogs, the police officers who work with them won’t have the protection they need.
He mentioned one dog, already certified as a police dog, that had been commanded to attack him in training. Edmonds started running toward the K–9, shouting aggressively.
“The dog ran the other way,” Edmonds said. “You know he can’t be trusted in a dark building.”
Drew Barrow, a filmmaker from Old Line Media in Westminster, Md., agrees that it is crucial for police dogs to be trained to protect their human partners. He’s doing a documentary on their work, promising an “in-depth journey into the “misunderstood world.”
Using a digital cinema camera, Barrow shows scenes in such slow motion, viewers can see the streams of saliva flowing from the K–9’s teeth or the smoke issuing from the barrel of a shotgun when Edmonds fires at a dog during training.
Barrow hopes to have the 100-minute film, titled “K9 Guardians,” finished by summer so it can be entered in film festivals such as Sundance, Big Sky and Tribeca.
Lindesey, the Rockville trainer, said it is important for people to understand what humans and dogs must do to be prepared to serve on a police force.
“I think it’s taken for granted that just because it’s a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois [a shepherd], that these dogs instinctively know how to do this,” Lindesey said. “The training is very important for safety reasons, just like a normal police officer needs training.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
ABOUT THE FILM
Filmmaker Drew Barrow is trying to raise $20,000 to finish shooting “K9 Guardians,” a documentary about police-dog training. The 100-minute film should be finished this summer.
More information is available at the K9guardians.com. Also, donations can be sent to: James Barrow, Box 2393, Waldorf, MD 20604.