Safety Dogs

Dillan On Scent Box
Belgian Malinois alerts to target scent. Fried chicken is in handbag to the left.

A school safety dog is a proactive layer of security that cannot be matched by any existing technology. School safety dogs can help communities prevent a problem that equipment and money and personnel combined haven't been able to solve.

A school safety dog is a highly trained, well-socialized, unique, yet familiar and reassuring deterrent; trained to detect ammunition or guns in public areas and provide a discreet alert before there is a problem. The potential benefit has been immediately apparent to all of the parents, teachers, students, and concerned citizens we’ve talked with.  This is part of the “K9” component of what we do, and one of the ways we’re trying to contribute to the safety and wellness of our community.

It is a way to reduce the number of guns in schools, does not require any changes in legislation, places the emphasis on behavior rather than people or policy, and it is a comparatively inexpensive solution that is immediately available.

We know that over 130,000 children nationwide have been directly exposed to gun violence; it is impossible to know how many children, teachers, parents, administrators, and school staff experience anxiety or concern over the possibility. This program was started to help protect innocent life, to help people feel safer in their daily life, to reduce the probability of an occurrence and, in some cases, reduce the severity if it does happen.

How Does It Work?

The program is adaptable, but the basic idea is that the dogs are rigorously trained in detection until they can reliably find ammunition and firearms under a variety of environmental conditions and in the presence of significant distraction. According to circumstances and the preference of a school district, a facility operator, a law enforcement agency, or an institution, the dogs can perform searches as needed or desired.

In schools it is preferable to search public areas and property; lockers, parking lots, outdoor areas, perimeters, and public gathering places. Searches of individual people are generally discouraged, and direct contact between dogs and students is typically not allowed. If there is a reason to believe that a student may be carrying a gun in a backpack, typically all students would be requested to leave their backpack on their desk, exit the room, and the dog can be brought in for a search. The ability of the dog to detect ammunition or firearms is such that if a gun either is or has been in an area, we’re likely to see an indication and we can focus our efforts from there.

These dogs are particularly gentle and well-socialized, they are not police dogs, and they are not what people sometimes call “attack dogs.”  These dogs are specifically selected for their ability and temperament, trained in appropriate social behavior, and kept on-leash at all times except in case of emergency or the clear need for a high-speed area search of an unoccupied space.

In the event of an indication, school security staff is notified according to established protocols, and what happens after that is entirely up to the client. It is generally best to handle the matter as quietly and discreetly as possible.

How Reliable Are The Dogs?

It is not good policy to publicly discuss the specific abilities of detection dogs, but properly credentialed school officials or safety and security managers of public or corporate entities are always welcome to a free demonstration. We think you’ll be impressed.

What If There Is An Active Shooter?

It is important to distinguish between reaction and prevention; we believe that prevention is always preferable. If the client so desires, we can provide dogs specifically trained to neutralize an active shooter, but the emphasis is on identifying removing firearms and ammunition from the school environment before a reaction to violence is necessary. For most communities, the deterrent effect has a far more immediate and comprehensive benefit.

We've Never Had A Problem Here, Why Would We Need This?

It is extraordinarily rare that someone goes to a school with the intent of mass violence, but when it happens, it is a tragedy for everyone involved. Talking with students, teachers, and administrators, we have reason to believe that there are more guns in schools right now than we realize or can prove. Some of the kids bringing weapons to school might feel threatened, some might be attempting to achieve social status, some may even be contemplating violence. Whatever the reason, if the gun is there, the individual can find themselves in a position to make a bad decision in the absence of premeditated intent that can permanently alter the course of lives. We'd like to find that gun and remove it before that happens, or even better, persuade someone who hasn't done anything wrong yet to not put themselves in that position in the first place.

What If The Dog Gets Shot?

The people who commit attacks on innocent citizens are not usually tactical operators or special operations troops, they are more likely to be emotionally disturbed people without a lot of experience in engagement with vigorous resistance.

Most of our dogs have a burst speed in the neighborhood of 40 mph and are trained to work silently on all surfaces. Shooting something this small and this fast is nothing like shooting paper targets or scared kids huddled in a corner. And if the operating environment is that challenging, chances are we’ll have taken additional protective measures.

Could Identifying A Potential Shooter Provoke An Attack?

There’s no responsible way to answer this question. The way we see it, the choice is to protect our children and teachers as well as we can, or passively hope that nothing bad happens. We’ve got plenty of evidence for the latter; the people who make that choice are all too often referred to as “victims.”

What If The Dog Alerts To A School Resource Officer? Or A First Responder? Or Someone Who Was Target Shooting Recently?

We get this question a lot. It simply isn’t a problem; a sufficiently well-trained dog understands the game. The dogs are specifically taught to search areas and objects, not people. Dogs who are operationally ready have already proven that they can get out of a vehicle that has weapons in it, work with an armed handler, and focus appropriately on the task at hand.

Would A Protection-Trained Dog Attack First Responders?

No. These dogs are trained to only engage a specific subject and will reliably disengage or release a subject on command. Presumably they would be restored to an on-leash condition prior to the arrival of first responders.

How Is This Different From Existing Safety Measures?

There is no known technology and no number of humans that can equal the ability of one properly trained dog. More importantly, detection dogs are a preventative measure rather than a reactive response.

It doesn’t take long for students to learn how to defeat electronic door locks. As a fixed asset, metal detectors are essentially useless once a potential perpetrator figures out where they are, unless there is no other way in or out of the building (including windows), and there is little, if any, deterrent value to cameras. If somebody wants to bring a gun into a school, they are likely to succeed.

But if a person has an accurate and well-founded belief that the presence of a gun is likely to be detected before it can be used, and that if it is used, their ability to continue an attack may be quickly curtailed, there can be significant deterrence, especially for those who may not necessarily have bad intent. We can help stop the bad behavior before it starts.

For everyone else, especially the children and the adults who are charged with their care, there is the emotional and psychological security of knowing that someone who is really good at their job is looking out for them.

I Like This Idea -- What Can I Do To Help?

Share a link to our website with anyone who might be interested, and please call or write your Board Of Education representatives, tell them about this program, refer them to our website, and express your support.

For more information on Safety Dogs of New Mexico call David Crosby at 505-577-2310 or email him at: wabniaq@cybermesa.com