In 2019, I attended the Master Dog Trainer Program at the School for Dog Trainers – a division of Highland Canine Training, LLC. The Master Dog Trainer Program is an intensive six-month course which covers all aspects of dog training, from obedience and behavior modification, to service dogs and police dogs.
During my time at the School for Dog Trainers, my classmates and I were fortunate to catch glimpses ‘behind the curtain’ at Highland Canine. We were able to understand their process for service dog selection and training; we saw the amount of work it takes to train an effective police dog. Every day, their staff members work tirelessly to ensure the training they deliver is helping to make the world a better place.
Even before my studies at the School for Dog Trainers, I had the utmost respect for Erin and Jason Purgason (the founders and senior leadership team at Highland Canine). I had met Jason at a conference prior to attending the School for Dog Trainers, and it was this encounter that motivated me to attend the School. Together, Jason and Erin have created a multi-faceted dog training business that truly makes a difference to society.
I wanted to take some time and highlight some of the incredible work the team at Highland Canine carries out. In an industry where quality, professionalism and reliability is sometimes lacking, the dog trainers at Highland Canine are focused on delivering exceptional quality in every area of the business.
In future articles, I’ll talk a little more about the School for Dog Trainers, and offer an insight into their service dog team. However, in this article, we’re going to look at their police dog division. In addition to training and providing top-notch police K9s, Highland Canine also prides itself on offering best-in-class handler education.
The background to Highland Canine’s police dog division
Training police and military dogs has been an integral part of Highland Canine Training’s operations since the business was founded. Both Erin and Jason had successful law enforcement careers which involved handling and training multiple police dogs. Recognizing several gaps in the market, it was natural that Jason and Erin would utilize their expertise in the field of police K9s to offer high-quality working dogs.
Since launching in 2006, the business has grown and now trains a wide variety of working dogs. The day-to-day training and operations of the working dog division is run by a specialist team of trainers. Trained police dogs are placed with departments around the United States, and Highland Canine has even welcomed military teams from Nigeria, Guatemala and other parts of the world to their training facility in North Carolina.
They also utilize scientific, scenario-based methods to provide best-in-class handler training. This ensures that both dog and handler are ready to perform when they are operational.
Which types of police dogs are trained by Highland Canine?
Police dogs can be trained for a variety of purposes, depending on the needs and requirements of a department. At Highland Canine, police dogs are trained in the following disciplines:
- Drug Detection – these dogs are trained to identify narcotics and other illegal substances.
- Patrol Work – these K9s work alongside their handler to carry out a number of tasks, such as apprehending fleeing suspects.
- Explosives Detection – these dogs identify explosive devices to keep communities safe – for example, in buildings or at large public events.
- Tracking – a tracking dog can locate a missing individual, or help locate a fleeing suspect.
- Disaster Search – these specialist dogs are used in the aftermath of natural or manmade disasters to find missing people.
- Cadaver/Human Remains Detection (HRD) – these dogs help bring closure to families by identifying deceased individuals, either on land or in water.
Highland Canine’s innovative training methods place them at the forefront of the working dog industry. Their experience, expertise and scientific approach to training means their programs are constantly evolving. Ultimately, their approach results in more effective working dogs – and consequently, more effective protection for communities around the world.
The importance of handler education
As alluded to previously, the dog is only one part of the equation in a K9 team; the dog’s handler must be capable of reading the dog’s behavior and controlling them once they are operational. The handler is also responsible for care, maintenance and maintaining the level of training required to be successful.
Highland Canine offers in-person handler courses which enable K9 teams to become familiar with one another and undertake scenario-based training which properly prepares them for the field. These programs are led by two talented working dog trainers – Shana Parsnow and Amber Vaughn. These two are amazing at what they do, and their skill and dedication truly shines through in their work. More on these two in a little bit.
To supplement their in-person programs, Highland Canine also offers a wide variety of online training programs. Accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection, these online classes have proven very popular and make this useful information available to a far wider audience.
Being a female trainer in a male-dominated world
Historically, the world of working dog training has been dominated by men. Following on from the example set by Erin, the two trainers at the forefront of working dog operations – Shana and Amber – are a shining example of how to leave your mark on this industry. They are two of the hardest workers, and their talent is without question.
Of course, undoing a legacy of expectations and gender roles hasn’t been without difficulty. As Shana recollected in a 2020 interview, “Being a young woman in my position can be difficult at times, but honestly, most of the people I encounter on a day to day basis are usually respectful towards me.”
Despite the difficulties, Shana says that her job is incredibly rewarding – and she knows it makes a huge difference to communities right around the nation.
“Sometimes I find myself getting caught up in the day by day motions, forgetting what the job of being a trainer is really about,” said Shana. “These dogs aren’t just someone’s house pet, or a family companion (which are great too) – these dogs save lives.
These dogs could be put in a situation one day where they make the difference of whether or not their handler goes home to their family. Working with dogs that help take harmful substances, and people with bad intentions off the streets, is the best job in the world if you ask me.
To work with a dog for months, pair it with a handler, and watch them be successful is the most rewarding feeling I’ve ever experienced. My biggest career goal is to help make the K9 teams that I get the pleasure of working with the best and strongest they can be.”
I have been fortunate to work with, and alongside, these trainers, and see the work they do. There is no doubt in my mind that Shana, Amber, and the rest of the team at Highland Canine will continue to set the standard in the working dog industry.