Dog Talk: Up close with a dog hero named Dash


Dash putting on his professional face. Photos: Terrence Tan

Watching the dogs go over the recent Batang Kali landslide, sniffing out survivors and also helping to locate bodies so that their families can at least have a burial, was heart-wrenching. But it also brought home how much dogs help us.

The history of emergency dogs is unclear. Bloodhounds tracking escaping criminals have been used for at least a thousand years, possibly longer. What's interesting is that so many different types of dogs are used.

For example, if you go for a walk in Puchong, Kuala Lumpur, you may spot a handsome Belgian Shepherd out for a walk with his dad. Dash looks like every other handsome boy but he has some super special skills: Dash is an American trained narcotic detection and protection dog.

“My dad has a dog training academy in Ipoh and so I grew up with Dobermans,” Terrence Tan shares. “My earliest memories are of going to dog shows with my parents and my siblings, playing with dogs, and watching him train.”

So in 2014 when an opportunity came up to go to North Carolina, in the United States – to Tarheel Canine Training Inc, a specialist school where dogs and their handlers go for master trainer and police canine courses – Tan signed up instantly.

He intended to take one of the family Dobermans, but this was impossible. Instead, Tan decided to buy a Belgian Shepherd.

“The school showed me some dogs but I knew the second I saw Dash that he was the dog for me,” Tan remembers. “He’s a handsome boy, muscular and he is very serious when he’s working. But away from the job, Dash has a fun side. You can see he has such a sweet face.”

Dash is a happy boy and a special dog.Dash is a happy boy and a special dog.At the time, Dash was a year old and about to start his proper police dog training.

Training police dogs is a slow, careful process that starts with identifying hunting drive; the natural desire to hunt. Dogs that have a strong desire will be motivated.

So, usually breeders will select for this and breed pups. These are then tested, with the best matches moved up for training.

Next, they need to learn to identify their "prey". This can be various items from explosives to dead bodies. In Dash's case, he learned to recognise various narcotics.

It's not an overnight process; it takes several months of intense training and lots of positive reinforcement.

“It’s all about bringing up the full potential of the right dog with the right job,” Tan explains. “Dash learned that running around, finding narcotics, is good fun and when he ‘wins’ when he finds them, he gets praise and a treat.”

“Dash loves his pipe, a toy that he can play with. Every time he finds his target, he gets lots of play time. It reinforces the game, the skill.”

Dogs tend to be rather expensive, and as there are many jobs, some are taught more than one skill. Dash is also an expert in personal protection.

Again, this is a skill that dogs are bred and selected for as pups. Police dogs deal with criminals, so they have to be tough and strong. However, they need to be calm and not overreact in battle. That's a tough gig.

“As pups they are taught to target and bite in a hard, firm and confident way," Tan points out.

"When they are seven to 12 months old, they are tested.

“Those who pass are taught more skills. Those who don’t, go live with families. Dogs who pass a courage test are eventually put through police training. That is the ultimate in courage and skills training for dogs.”

Dash passed and so he has his own certificates confirming his skills in narcotics detection and personal protection. Tan passed too, and is certified in Police Dog Training and Professional Obedience Training.

They didn’t join the police force, though. Dash and Tan live in Puchong, and provide training programmes for Malaysian dog owners.

“I do get asked sometimes if Dash can give someone a sniff over to see if they’ve been up to something,” Tan laughs. “But I always refuse. It’s probably not ethical. Moreover, Dash and I like a quiet life.”

Instead, the two of them focus on helping people understand and manage their dogs better.

“Dogs don’t exist just to obey, they’re their own person,” Tan says. “I teach the humans so they can work with the dogs through effective communication and build strong trusting relationships. That means teaching them to understand dog emotions and body language.

“I don’t believe in physical punishment as it makes the dogs frightened of us. I stand for balance and motivation rather than physical force.”

In addition, he also conducts seminars for professional pet taxi drivers.

“You know how it is, if you ask a person if their dog is friendly, usually they say yes,” Tan grins. “And then they snap! And the owner says, 'Oops, right, I forgot they did snap at people before.'

"I help my corporate clients ask the right questions, and to also read dog body language. Prevention is better than cure.”

With the other news at the moment being a scandal of almost 100 badly emaciated dogs being rescued from the Kuala Langat Municipal Council (MPKL) pound, one thing is very clear.

Dogs are wonderful animals but with so many people being afraid of them, more discussion, knowledge and appreciation of the species would work out for everyone.


Adopt Me

Brisky is two years old, female, vaccinated and spayed. She is sweet, loving and gets along well with everyone. Brisky got her name because she's an active girl who loves running and walking. She super playful and loves chasing toys. She is also hugely social, enjoying attention from volunteers and staff.

Photo: CELINE CHUM/PAWSPhoto: CELINE CHUM/PAWS

Brisky is looking for her forever home. She can join a family by herself, or if you have extra space, she also has a daughter at the shelter who is also up for adoption.

Interested adopters please contact PAWS and ask for Brisky, Tag Number: D078 (2022.08.01) PAWS Animal Welfare Society, Jalan PJU 1A/20, Ara Damansara, 47301 Subang, Selangor (phone: 011-2193 5651/ website: paws.org.my).

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Working dog , police dog , rescue dog , service dog

   

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