Each phase of the Trial is its own “mini” competition. Awards are given for the top five finishers in Narcotics, Bombs, Area Search, Building Search, Obedience, Agility and handler Protection. Each search is timed, but time is used only to break ties. Teams are judged on many facets of their performance including the handler’s tactics. Forgetting one’s flashlight on a dark building search is certain to be points off. Additionally, awards are given for the top three finishers in Top Dog and Top Agency.
Top Agency. This award goes to the agency whose competing patrol dog teams have the highest overall average score from all categories. On many occasions, the agency taking first place here does not have a team take a trophy in any one category. No Matter. This award addresses consistent, overall high performance in every category and is highly coveted. It is a symbol of a well-rounded and solid K-9 program. To be eligible to compete for this award, there must be at least two teams from an agency.
Top Dog. This award goes to the patrol dog team that has the highest overall average score from all categories. As with Top Agency, this award addresses overall performance in all phases of the trial. To stay in the running for this award, a K-9 team need not necessarily win a lot of first places in individual events, but must show solid, consistent scores throughout the entire competition. Again, this coveted award honors the well-rounded team.
The search phase for Patrol Dogs strives to present the most realistic, street-oriented searches that a structured competition will allow. We use “live” sites, such as open desert areas, car lots, and construction supply yards for the open area searches. For buildings, we use warehouses, night clubs and the like. One year, we searched the then closed El Rancho Casino. Arranging these search sites is hard work and time consuming, but we believe it enhances the experience for the competitor. Searches must be completed within a set time frame, usually five minutes. Teams that do not locate the decoy, narcotics or bombs within that time limit must stop and exit the search area.
Once the decoy is located during a search, the dog must pinpoint where the decoy is and indicate to the handler by barking. The handler must call the alert and advise the judges the location of the decoy. The decoy is not visible and handlers are not told if they were correct until the last dog has completed the last search. This maintains the integrity of the hide as well as encouraging the handler to think through what he/she is being told by their dog.
Because a controlled environment is crucial in this phase to ensure fairness to the competing teams, these events are closed to the public.
The Area Search tests the teams’ ability to locate hidden suspects in a defined geographical area. The handler must command the dog to search where directed to ensure maximum use of the wind and a thorough search. If a handler passes an area that the dog has not cleared, it is points off in the trial and dangerous in real life.
On the surface, there seems to be little difference between the Area and Building searches. They both involve finding a hidden decoy, pinpointing and calling the alert. But the differences are real. Buildings test the dog’s nose and especially its ability to work scent. Air currents are unpredictable in a building, often carrying the scent completely across the room before being detected by the dog. Tactics are important as buildings are dark and hiding places abound. Add to this, slippery floors, closed doors and other obstacles, buildings can be formidable.
Narcotics searches are intense work for the handler and the dog. While patrol dogs have the luxury of searching for a 180-pound sweaty human being, narcotic detector dogs often have only a few grams of controlled substance. There are typically four to six “stashes” hidden for the search. Teams are judged on their working together, fluidness, intensity of the dogs’ search and many other factors.
Explosives and Narcotics are very similar with the obvious critical exception of the substance being searched for. As with narcotics Search, aides that are hidden are actual substances. Explosive Detector Dog teams search meticulously as a miss here could have day-ruining consequences.