Another perfect day, long sleeved T-shirt almost excessively warm, sun shining from a blue sky. And I spend part of it sitting on a plastic chair outside a caged area to watch supposedly obedient, highly trained dogs. The trainer shrugs and says, “There's a bit of chaos here today. Three dogs on heat, and the boys beside themselves.” There is indeed a lecherous frenzy of barking, so much so that much of the commentary is drowned out. I feel the same ambivalence I did with the caged butterflies at Kuranda, although J insists that dogs like to work.
So what was going on here in the back blocks of Stanthorpe? An ex-security guard breeds and trains dogs for police and security work. The hour-long show is part circus, part demonstration, part information. We see (all three of us) a range of dogs from three months to seven years. They (mostly) obey voice or hand signals, as we watch a simulated crime scene. They bark fiercely; lunge on the lead to grab a man protected by a heavy carpet-sleeve; set off in pursuit as soon as he heads for the gate; nip him; and draw blood (that's not part of the script).
For me, the puppy is the hit. It resents its collar, and tries to wriggle out of it. Once released, it goes through its obedience paces. We are invited into the cage to pat it, part of its human-socialisation training. Then a senior dog is brought in for dog-socialisation. It's apparently obvious pretty early if a dog will make the cut for police and security training: it needs to be willing to bite, bark, obey and ignore the sharp cracking of a whip.
The demonstration of sniffer dog capacity is impressive. A drug stash is hidden: the dog is brought in; in seconds it has marked the hiding place, even when it is under a small besser brick. As an addendum, the trainer talks about dogs trained to sniff out cancer, and tells the story of a family pet who began to uncharacteristically sniff the armpits of three family members, all of whom, including the man, proved to have breast cancer.
The trainers also take on the retraining of dogs who have attacked humans, reprogram them, assess them and then find a suitable home.
If you want a dog trained to police standards, you can have one for $5000. A pedigree pup will cost you $2000.
For me, the thing that redeems putting dogs on show like this is the obvious deep affection the two handlers feel for their dogs, and the playfulness behind the serious business.