Introduction to dog handling

I was lying flat on my back, winded and wondering what the heck had just hit me! There was a lot of shouting going on and plenty of activity, I was surrounded by the proverbial ‘crowd’ and was groggily trying to get my senses back so I could work out what was going on.

Someone grabbed me under the arms and pulled me away from whatever it was.

Backtrack a bit to the start of the evening. I was leading an internal patrol on a French Foreign Legion base in the South of France. The base was huge so the walk around would take about an hour and change, depending on what we found. This evening we were working with a trainee dog handler and his supervisor, and a not very friendly looking version of a German Sheppard. It was muzzled but we were told to keep our hands to ourselves and keep away from it.

The handlers would be in front of the patrol. At some stage, undetermined, an ‘intruder’ in full Michelin Man protective suit would jump up and make a run for it. At this point the dog would be released to do its bit and we would practice moving in to support a dog team taking a suspect into custody.

The one thing we were told, in no uncertain terms, was not to get between the dog and the Michelin Man or bad things would happen – it was dark and chucking down with rain, visibility was crap.

Being the Legion we were expecting a wild card to be chucked into the mix, i.e., multiple intruders or one of the other ‘lets see if you guys need more training’ tricks that they pull during training exercises. We were extra extra alert; Foreign Legion trainers count among the most cunning sadists on the planet! No way were they catching us out!

Besides, we were very used to patrolling with dogs, what could go wrong? Quite a lot as it turns out. For once the sadists took the night off and left it to us to screw up!

After about 40 minutes into the patrol we heard a challenge shouted, the Michelin Man promptly jumped up and waddled for it, so of course the dog changed course and took me out. I was directing the patrol and the snide little pooch hit me full pelt across the back of my legs. I landed on my back, hard, cracked my skull and that was the end of the patrol for me.

The shouting and pulling was the two handlers and my patrol trying to the get the dog off me, muzzled or not it was going to town. Turned out it was the dog needed a bit more training. On the plus side I got a few days off work on full pay! I never did work out what it had against me!

OK, army dogs are one thing – police and private security quite another. The point of this story being that you need to be on the ball and be able to respond quickly to the unexpected when working with dogs.

When I was offered the opportunity to train as a dog handler to give me a qualification, I could use in civvie street when I got to the end of my contract I declined. I’m still not sure that I made the right decision…