Ukraine's defense is different. Everyone works together in the fight against the enemy: the military and volunteers, doctors and police, those who hold information defense, and… dogs.
Putting on a uniform, getting a walkie-talkie, training dogs – that's what Katia's life looks like now. Katia is a dog trainer from the National Police, she used to be a journalist, but now she and her dogs keep the peace in Ukraine.
Katia calls her dogs the four-legged companions. Vanda and Bentley are search dogs of the Belgian Shepherd breed. They have their "specializations" and help solve crimes. And Polia is a special dog that has a spinal injury and needs special care. But let's take turns.
Turning the hobby into a job
Katia's path to a new profession began with a "difficult case." She took an unsocialized dog from the shelter, which was afraid of people, could not get used to the collar and leash, and did not know how to live in the city. She had many fears and was aggressive.
Katia turned to many cynologists, zoopsychologists and behaviour correction specialists. But they all considered the dog hopeless and assured that it could not become a normal pet. Not wanting to give up on the animal, the future dog trainer began to study on her own.
"I finished dog training courses, read a lot of literature, and attended dozens of seminars and training sessions. Together with the dog, we learned the basics of training, later became interested in agility exercises (running with obstacles), and later I taught her trail work. And she liked it so much that now she shows better results in competitions than my search dog."
The process of training dogs for Katia turned out to be so exciting that it gradually began to replace journalism. And later, it became a profession.
Working with paws
Dog trainers work with police dogs: they take care of them, feed them, train them, monitor their health and constantly train them.
In general, the dog training center where Katia works has detective dogs assigned to search for drugs, explosives and weapons, as well as corpses. There are also service dogs, whose tasks are to search for a person on the trail, search for shell casings, sampling of the things, in some cases, detention. Each dog has its own specialization and is used only in its profile.
In addition to specialization, cynologists, at their own request, teach dogs obedience techniques and various tricks. Some dogs take an active part in civil dog competitions, TV shows, and work with children.
Now, during the full-scale war that russia has unleashed in Ukraine, dogs mostly go through training. Katia says that so far there was no need to involve them in direct work "in the field." But the paws and their tutors are always ready to help the Territorial Defense and the Armed Forces of Ukraine – that's why it's important to support daily training: dogs should be able to help defend Ukraine at any moment.
However, the defense of Ukraine is not just a military front. Katia's dogs help to solve crimes and find robbers, executioners, and looters to protect civilians and fight for justice for them. But we'll talk about this a little later.
"To work with dogs, you need to work hard on yourself"
Both of Katia's service dogs have repeatedly competed in sports competitions for obedience and agility. For example, Vanda is successful in track and field competitions. Their feature is that the start of the track is marked with a flag. But in real life, no one leaves flags at the scene.
"We don't have flags when Vanda and I come on service. I have to look around and decide where to use the dog. Vanda's effectiveness depends on how I determine the starting point."
And Bentley is trained to look for explosives and weapons. In peacetime, Katia and Bentley checked for reports of mines and searched for weapons.
Katia is convinced that training a dog is only half the battle. Much more time is spent on training a dog trainer who works with this dog: one needs to learn to perform official duties, using the skills and abilities of the dog with maximum efficiency.
It is the dog trainer who needs to understand the situation, decide whether to use the dog and, if necessary, think about how to help the dog be effective. The crucial difference between sports/domestic training and service cynology is that human work in tandem with a dog is a key.
The story of one trip
Dogs can help solve a crime or give investigators a good clue. One of Katia's recent trips with her four-legged partner was one of the examples of the dog helping the investigation.
Unidentified persons broke into a private house. They began torturing homeowners, demanding that they give them money and valuables. After receiving what they wanted, they seized two cars of the victims and drove away.
"Our task was to determine the direction of the attackers. When we arrived, we saw that many people were passing by the scene. So it made no sense to start the search in the yard. I decided to walk near the house, expanding the search in a spiral. I asked the operatives if they went here and, after receiving a negative answer, released the dog."
Following the trail pointed out by Katia, the dog led to an abandoned unfinished building, which gave a good view of the victims' apartment. Police found fresh cigarette butts in the unfinished building. The dog found a trail from the unfinished building, which led to a dirt road, where fresh traces of car treads were recorded.
The same thing happens when detective dogs are used:
"I remember when I first started teaching my dog to search for explosives, on my own, without a dog, I spent many hours developing search tactics indoors and near cars."
Katia and her dogs work in tandem with several psychologists in her free time. Once, they were invited to be present with the ATO members during therapeutic work. One young man lost the ability to walk during the service. He was very distressed by his condition and was aggressive towards anyone who wanted to provide him with physical assistance.
"During the conversation, he dropped a bottle of water on the floor. It rolled away and the man had to make a lot of effort to get the bottle on his own. None of those present dared to hand over the bottle, knowing his problem. Vanda's help was accepted surprisingly calmly. And during our meeting, he dropped the bottle several times, waiting for Vanda's help. Later, a psychologist told me that after that meeting, the young man became calmer about the efforts of his relatives to help him," Katia says.
In addition, police dog trainers go to places where small children are and try to entertain the little ones by demonstrating stunt training.
And Katia, together with all her dogs (service and personal ones) develops a series of tasks for 2-3-year-old pupils of one of the kindergartens, which began to work remotely.
"With the help of four-legged friends, we learn to greet, count, distinguish objects by shape and size, etc."
In addition to service dogs, Vanda and Bentley, Katia takes care of a particular dog Polia. She has a spinal injury, so she needs special care. Katia often writes about Polia's small victories on social media:
"Polia has learned to use her left paw. However, her fingers still do not listen to her. Sometimes she puts them correctly. Sometimes, into the 'fist.' I don't know what it depends on. The right paw is worse. We do gymnastics and massage regularly…
She does not like to walk. She is frightened by loud sounds, which are now present during the day. She freezes on the street. She does not want to move. You have to pull her by force from home. But she runs home quickly and almost independently. That's how we walk…"
Katia dreams of going to the sea with all the dogs after the victory. And it doesn't matter what time of year and what temperature. She really wants to show Polia the sea.
So let this dream come true as soon as possible: for the Ukrainians to see victory and for the Polia to see the sea.
Digest of the most interesting news: just about the main thing