How to Write K9 Training Records for Detection Dogs

Andrew WeimanK9 Record Keeping

Police K9 Vehicle Search

While the canine law enforcement profession progresses, some parts remain very much the same. As a new canine handler I was advised to keep training records but to write as little as possible. Those that came before me explained that writing too much would only provide the defense attorney with more things to attack. Of course, this idea only had merit if the attorney didn’t know anything about training drug detection dogs. It may have been partially true in the past but not today.

Training logs should paint a picture for the reader. They should show how the training has progressed as the dog and handler work together. They should also detail the work that the handler did while training the dog. You’re painting a picture that illustrates the reliability of you and the dog as a team.

So what should you write? First of all, training goals should always be clearly stated and directly addressed in the notes and comments section of your training logs. This is something that we emphasize for K9 training records in the PACKTRACK app and online software. While it’s different for each canine and exercise, there are standard elements that you should include in your training comments. Below are some areas to consider.

  • Target odors. If the dog finds the target odor then be sure to say so. Describe the behavior change and the final response. List what you see when the dog detects the target odor. For example: “There was a head turn, closed mouth, breathing increase, excited posture, tail wagging at a more rapid pace. The dog then bracketed the target odor, tracing the odor to its source. Once at the source of the odor the dog came to the ultimate and final response of a sit.”  
  • No target odors. If there are blank areas (without target odors) in the exercise then be sure to note whether you determined that a target odor was present or not. For example, if an exercise has several vehicles but not all of them have target odors then you’ll want to note the K9’s response after smelling each car. If there was no behavior change then write that you knew, based on the dog’s response and your training, that the vehicle was a blank and therefore moved on to the next car.
  • Proofing odors. If there is a proofing or novel odor in an exercise then you should mention in your records that the dog smelled at the odor and did not respond.
  • Blank or controlled negative. If the whole exercise is a blank or controlled negative then you should explain that your dog inspected the entire area and, based on your training and the dog’s behavior, you determined that there was no target odor present.
  • Similarity to real life deployments. Describe that you conducted the exercise as you would work the dog in real life. It can impact the dog and K9 handler’s training if, for example, you work the dog on lead on vehicle exteriors in real life settings but in training you cut the dog off lead to inspect a car exterior. Explicitly mention that this exercise matches how you work the dog in deployment scenarios.
  • Corrective training. When working on specific training issues your notes should explain how the exercise is intended to improve or fix the problem. Any weaknesses or problems that you observe during training must be noted in your records. As trainers we must have a plan for correcting these issues and then create exercises focused on improving behavior. Your training comments appropriately document the team’s progress in each exercise and prove that the issue has been reliably corrected.

Documenting your training progress creates a complete picture of the quality of your training efforts and the reliability of your dog. These comments also show that you’re improving as a handler. Clear and accurate documentation shows that you’re educated about proper dog training techniques and diligent and competent in your profession.

Defense experts prefer to separate out training activities to imply issues or mistakes. However, training records should be taken as a whole. The totality of the K9 team’s records demonstrate the knowledge of the handler/trainer, the proficiency of the dog and the team’s joint capacity to improve and work together reliably.

A combination of the initial training and continued maintenance training, knowledge of the canine handler describing the training methods, and progress of the team proven through testing is needed testimony to paint a complete picture of reliability.

Should We Record K9 Training Accuracy Statistics?

Andrew WeimanK9 Record Keeping

The Florida v Harris case was decided at the US Supreme Court

As the creator of PACKTRACK and an expert in the field I’m commonly asked about extending our K9 record keeping system to compute an accuracy percentage statistic during K9 detection training.

The requested method of calculating this statistic is simple. If the dog finds or “hits” the target odor then it’s marked as correct. When the dog doesn’t find or “misses” the target odor then it’s marked as incorrect. If the dog indicates that a target odor is present when it isn’t (sometimes referred to as a “false alert”) then it’s also marked as incorrect. The statistic is calculated based on the percentage of correct responses.

The request for this feature may come from a misunderstanding of the 2013 Supreme Court case of Florida v Harris or be based on advice received from a trainer. The US Supreme Court ruling in this case explicitly rejected an earlier Florida court ruling that favored “rigid rules” in favor of a “Totality of Circumstances” approach. The key problem with using an accuracy percentage calculation in deployments is that it’s impossible to accurately say whether the dog was incorrect. The Supreme Court ruling went even further by stating that probable cause cannot be and has never been based on a “bright-line test” such as a statistical calculation. Probable cause is based on a “totality of the circumstances” analysis. Based on this decision, the idea of using an accuracy statistic for training would not be beneficial in court.

Another problem with this idea is it presumes that the outcome of a training exercise provides confirmation that the training was done correctly. It seems logical to assume that hits are correct responses while misses and false alerts are incorrect responses. However, this simplification reads more into the data than is captured. The idea that we can equate locating a target odor (a hit) to a determination of whether the training was done correctly is absurd. It’s like presuming that since no tangible substance was found after a K9 indication during a deployment that this indication must have been a false alert or somehow incorrect.

Behavior modification in drug detection training is mainly done with positive reinforcement at the appropriate time. Handlers can inadvertently train canines to respond to a “cue”, a behavior, sound, or action that the canine learns as a signal to respond in a positive way that a target odor is present. The canine learns this behavior over a series of exercises where the cue (an action taken by the handler) was done and the canine was rewarded in a positive manner. This cueing is consistently reinforced by the handler during training exercises and may cause what some call a “false alert”. While this “false alert” will be correctly marked as an incorrect response by the dog, it is actually a red flag that there is a training issue. The real incorrect training exercises are those prior to the “false alert”, when the handler performed the cue where target odor was concealed, and the canine was rewarded. During those exercises the canine was taught the cue. These exercises would be marked as “hits” with the presumption that the exercises were conducted correctly when in fact they were not.

An accuracy statistic requires that we read too much into the outcome of an exercise. There is no way to provide this statistic and we shouldn’t try. Training time should be focused on finding and correcting the problems that we, as handlers and trainers, may have caused. Training is the time to push teams to their limits and beyond. Handlers should come to training feeling free to make and learn from their mistakes so they can prevent and correct them in future training. Exercises should condition handlers to perform proper technique while increasing their knowledge and perfecting the skill of dog handling.

In using the proposed statistic handlers are forced to only work to the limit of correct performance. They will only do exercises that they know they can complete properly in order to maximize their accuracy percentage. Who would want to push themselves to the point of error if a statistic, which provides no explanation, will be used to gauge their reliability?

My advice is to be careful if you quantify your hits, misses and false alerts as a percentage of accuracy. You are keeping records that can negatively impact the quality of your training and provide a false sense of proper training. And, if you’re challenged in court, it’s unlikely that this statistic will do much to help you win a reliability argument. There are better ways to train and document your records and we will talk about this in future posts. Stay tuned.

PACKTRACK Has a New Look

PACKTRACK TeamSystem Update

We’re continually updating PACKTRACK to fix bugs, add new features and refine how things work. Our goal is to make K9 record keeping as easy as possible while providing robust and helpful tools to give you the activity tracking you need. With this update we’ve begun a new initiative to rework PACKTRACK’s online interface to be simpler, more modern and flexible enough to be used on any device. Over the next year we’re planning to integrate several new technologies and add exciting new features to the system. We also intend to increase the functionality of our mobile K9 tracking apps so you can do more on the go.

PACKTRACK Has A New Flexible Layout

The first change you’ll notice is that the menus look different. This updated layout offers a more contemporary design but also provides PACKTRACK with more flexibility to adapt to different device sizes. We expect handlers that login to the PACKTRACK site on their phones and tablets to have a significantly better experience with these changes. It’s recommended to download the iPhone and Android apps if you want to use PACKTRACK on your phone. However, if you need to access the full website in the field then it’s nice to know that you can login from your phone’s web browser.

New PACKTRACK Notifications

PACKTRACK has always had a notification system to alert you to important events including invites, system updates and billing warnings. We’ve moved system notifications to a dedicated bell icon in the title bar at the top of the page which tells you when there are unread messages. Click the bell icon to expand your notification list and click outside of the notification list to hide it. Once you’ve read a message and wish to dismiss it simply click the notification’s check mark.


Deployment & Training Statistics In PACKTRACK


There’s now a new home page for K9 handlers. The banner statistics at the top provide a convenient place for K9 officers to track incomplete exercise and deployment records as well as upcoming training events. Click any of these banners to see a list of associated canine records. At the bottom of the page are graphs and metrics which provide a nice overview of your monthly training and deployment activities. The graphs show monthly totals across the last 6 months for your training hours and deployment counts. The large numbers above the graphs summarize your statistics for the Last 30 Days. To view your metrics for any month just click on the bars in the graph. Reset the metrics back to the Last 30 Days by clicking the title bar above the numbers.


Review, Add or Edit K9 Records In PACKTRACK's New Calendar


There’s also a new calendar view displayed in the middle of the handler home page. This provides a new way to review, edit and add new records to PACKTRACK, but it’s completely optional. Each calendar date displays a star for K9 deployments and a circle for your training events. If the star or circle is an outline only (not filled in) then the record is incomplete. This gives you a bird’s eye view of your dog’s activities each month. Clicking a calendar date will show a list to the right of the calendar with any deployments or training events that occurred on that date. Click the links in the list to view your K9 reports or edit your records. You can also add new records from the home page. Simply click the appropriate date in the calendar and then press the Add Training Event or Add Deployment button. This will take you right to the data entry form where you can add a new record for that date.

We’ve been working on these changes for a while and we’re really excited to share them with you. This is only the start. We plan to continue to refine the PACKTRACK interface to make it easier to use and more informative. Let us know what you think!

Improved Exercise Location Tracking

PACKTRACK TeamSystem Update

Last month we reworked how K9 location tracking works on the iOS and Android mobile apps. This new update makes it significantly easier to both lay and follow tracks without having to configure everything ahead of time. For the best results, please update to the latest mobile app version (4.2.x or later).

Important Note For iPhones: iOS 13 changes how location permissions work. Even if you’ve said yes to the prompts which ask for location permissions you should still open the Settings app and go to Privacy / Location Services / PACKTRACK and make sure the permission is set to ALWAYS. If this isn’t set correctly then PACKTRACK won’t be able to track your position in the background.

Lay tracks without a PACKTRACK account

You no longer need to login to the mobile app with a PACKTRACK account in order to lay tracks. Anyone can install the app and, using the SKIP LOGIN option on the login page, jump right into track laying.

Track Layers can skip the login

When the Track Layer taps the Start Tracking button they will see a dialog where they can enter a unique track name or accept the default. After tapping OK, the Track Layer should confirm that their location is updating before they begin the track. When the track is complete the app will show that this track is now AVAILABLE to be followed.

Name the laid track and start tracking

Follow tracks by scheduling a tracking exercise

If you’re comfortable with how tracking has worked in the past then you can continue to use the system as you always have. First, create an event, which defines the time, place and group members who will be attending. Next, add one or more location tracking exercises to the event. This process should be completed on the web site or mobile app before the event begins.

Later, when you’re at the event and ready to start following a track, simply select the FOLLOW Track mode at the top and then tap Start Tracking. Verify that the Exercise, Track Name and Dog are correct and then tap OK to start following the track. NOTE: If there’s only one exercise or you only have one dog then those dropdown fields won’t appear in the dialog.

Configure followed track for this exercise

Follow tracks by creating a tracking exercise automatically

You can now record training tracks “on the fly” without scheduling an event or creating an exercise ahead of time. If there’s a laid track available within 500 yards of your current location then you’ll see it displayed in the Tracks Laid list. Select the FOLLOW Track mode at the top of the location tracking page and then tap Start Tracking. Confirm that this is the track you want to follow by tapping OK in the dialog. You’ll also have the option of choosing your dog if you have more than one.

Automatically create an event and exercise when tracking

When the track is complete the status of the track in the Tracks Laid list will change from AVAILABLE to FOLLOWED. Tracking exercise records are created automatically and either 1) inserted into the current event (if there’s already an event at this time and you’re the only event member) or 2) added to a new event that will also be created automatically for you.

We make certain assumptions when creating the event and exercise automatically. Always review these training records after completing your exercise to update any additional fields and ensure the information was captured correctly.

If you need a reminder about how K9 tracking works there’s an instruction link at the bottom of the Location Tracking page.

Review the exercise tracking instructions

Welcome to the Blog!



Police K9 training in water

K9 handlers, trainers and supervisors have relied on us for almost 10 years to provide robust K9 record keeping software that’s full featured and easy to use. We’re thankful that you have trusted us to be your canine tracking solution. The K9 world is evolving rapidly and it can be tough to keep up. At PACKTRACK we’re committed to sharing our knowledge to grow the community and help everyone be smarter and safer in the field.

Starting today we’re kicking off our blog. This is the place to come for all of the latest news about PACKTRACK, from feature updates to tips on how to get the most from the service. However, this page is about more than K9 training and deployment records. Together, we (Andy Weiman and Jeff Barrett) have over 60 years of K9 handling experience. We teach, serve as expert witnesses, write, work on executive boards and remain in active duty as K9 handlers. We also run PACKTRACK and the HITS K9 Training and Consulting Seminar each year. This background gives us unique insights and opinions that may be of interest to other members of the law enforcement K9 industry.

Our goal with this blog is to provide a place where K9 handlers can keep up to date with PACKTRACK while also receiving guidance, industry news and commentary about the police K9 industry. We’re always learning and recognize that we don’t have all of the answers. Your kind comments and constructive criticism helped us shape PACKTRACK into the #1 K9 record keeping system and we’d greatly appreciate your help here as well. Do you have an idea for a new post? Is there an aspect of K9 training that you’d be excited to read about? Are there PACKTRACK features that you’d like us to explain in more detail? Are you eager to write a guest post for the blog? If you’re interested, then please reach out to us using the Contact Us form at the bottom of the page. We’d love to hear from you.

Andy Weiman and Jeff Barrett