The CIA is a team of elite professionals highly trained to keep America safe…and that team includes dogs. The CIA’s K-9 Corps is made up of 15 doggy officers who work alongside human handlers to sniff out explosives and protect people from harm.
According to official CIA documents, the dogs on the K-9 team are “just like all of the CIA’s best employees: enthusiastic, hard working, loyal, and dedicated.” They’re also highly trained by CIA handlers.
Of course, not every dog can join the CIA, but the CIA training program has a lot to teach us civilians and our dog best friends. Read on to learn more about CIA dogs, and how you can train your own best friend the CIA way.
K-9 Corps Recruitment and Training
The top-notch dogs of the CIA are primarily labrador retrievers and German shepherds, two breeds who encompass some of the most important traits of an elite government agent:
- Stamina and health
- Work ethic
As explained in a video released by the CIA, K-9 Corps puppies start life in civilian training programs like Puppies Behind Bars and seeing eye dog programs. Once they reach one year of age, they’re ready to begin learning how to sniff out explosives. Dogs entering the K-9 corps are matched with a handler and go through an intensive 10-week training program, where they learn to identify over 9,000 different explosive scents.
K-9 corps dogs are continuously trained and tested to ensure they stay at the top of their game.
Of course, training doesn’t stop when the 10-week program ends; K-9 corps dogs are continuously trained and tested to ensure they stay at the top of their game. In fact, K-9s and their handlers participate in regular competitions sponsored by The United States Police Canine Association (USPCA). The rigorous USPCA events showcase dogs’ athleticism and skill, as well as their special bonds with human handlers.
CIA Dogs On- and Off-Duty
The dogs of the K-9 Corps aren’t your ordinary well-trained companions. Their primary job is to protect the men and women of the CIA by sniffing out explosives, and they work hard, up to 60 hours a week. Much of their time is spent in the field, both in the U.S. and abroad. The other responsibilities of a CIA dog may include:
- Educating the public about their work and the important work of the CIA
- Working with other law enforcement teams, like police departments and security agencies, during times of disaster or crisis
- Working with law enforcement on criminal apprehension, suspect search, materials search, and more.
When they’re not at work, K-9 Corps members are like any other dogs: companions who need exercise, veterinary care, and plenty of love. Although they’re “on-call” 24/7, CIA dog operatives do get plenty of time to rest, play, and just be dogs. They live with their handlers, who treat them like a family pet when they’re not at work. Eventually, K-9 Corps members retire, often staying with their handlers as a pet, or being adopted by a family who can give them the long, leisurely retirement they deserve.
How to Train Your Dog Like a CIA Officer
Not every dog is cut out for life as a CIA agent, but that doesn’t mean every dog can’t learn from their example! For those of us with more humble aspirations for our dogs, the CIA’s training program offers tips to help train any dog, whether they’re in the field sniffing out explosives or on the couch sniffing out potato chips.
The CIA’s 10 most important tips for training your dog:
- Make it fun. In other words, training should be a good time for you and your dog, and lead to your dog performing desired behaviors because the rewards are so great. After all, according to a top CIA trainer, ““If the dog makes the decision to do a desired behavior on its own, they learn more.”
- Use what motivates your dog. Reward-based training doesn’t have to be all about treats; you can use a favorite toy, play time, or even pets to motivate your dog to succeed.
- A small change is a big moment. By watching your dog closely for new reactions to commands, you can reward them appropriately and direct
- Work hard, play hard. Training can be hard work, but as CIA dogs know, rest and relaxation help you recharge for work. So make sure to take some breaks.
- Watch for patterns. And once you find them, disrupt them! If you always ask your dog to “sit” before a meal, try asking her to do one or two additional commands. Mixing things up will help you both avoid ruts in your training routine.
- Introduce challenges. It’s important to up the difficultly level as your dog gains focus and skills. For example, once your pup has nailed the “down” command, mix it up with some distractions nearby, and ask her to hold her position longer.
- Consistency is key. K-9 Corps member are trained at the same time every day, and they hear the same commands over and over again. You don’t need to put your dog on a strict military schedule, but it’s important to be consistent in your commands, rewards, and training time.
- Take breaks. Everyone gets tired once in a while, and training is hard work! Remember to take it easy when needed, for you and your dog’s sake.
- Utilize your dog’s natural energy level. This one’s common sense: some dogs are CIA material, while others are more suited for lots of R&R. Whatever your dog’s energy level and drive, match your training to their needs.
- Always end on a positive. Remember the first rule: training should be fun! By ending each session on a positive note (such as an “easy win” command that is sure to result in success), you help your dog and yourself look forward to the next session.
A dog is a dog (even a dog with a badge)
Okay, CIA K-9 Corps member are some extra-smart, extra-tough dogs. But at the end of the day, they’re just like your companion animal: they need lots of time, attention, positive reinforcement, and love, and they offer a lifetime of loyalty in return. Whether you’re interested in training dogs for police work or just having a well-trained best buddy at home, you can learn a lot from the CIA’s team of K-9 officers.
For more on the CIA’s K-9 Corps, visit their website. Happy training!
Top image via CIA.gov