The single-purpose versus dual-purpose issue has been debated for years by law enforcement trainers. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Initially police dogs were what we know today as Patrol Dogs and were used for apprehension, building searches, or tracking. During the 1970′s the first narcotics and bomb dogs were trained and a new use for police dogs was established. In the 1980′s many police departments decided to have one dog fit the bill for both patrol and detection work, forming what we know today as the dual-purpose dog.
More and more agencies began utilizing dual-purpose canines especially in smaller departments. These agencies discovered, with manpower shortages and budget constraints these dual-purpose dogs could accomplish more tasks than the single purpose dog. Many rural law enforcement agencies often had officers working in areas where the nearest officer backup might be long distances away. In these situations the dual-purpose dog fit the bill enabling officers to accomplish tasks usually accomplished only with the assistance of another officer.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the single verses dual-purpose canine? Generally, a single-purpose dog (patrol dog, narcotics dog, tracking dog, bomb dog, explosive detection, drug detection, cadaver detection) that has one task to perform will excel at that task if he/she has been properly selected and properly trained for that task. The handler also needs only to concentrate on one discipline. Not having multiple training disciplines to maintain, multiple problem areas, and weak areas to spend training time on, more time and energy can be put toward perfecting and refining the team’s skill set and building the teams strengths.
The term dual-purpose is really incorrect. In fact, the dual-purpose canine is trained to accomplish more than two tasks, usually at least four or five tasks encompass the multi- purpose canine. The handler is also tasked to perfect multiple disciplines and this can be more challenging due to increased training time. These factors cause agencies to ask if their canine team will have sufficient time to train regularly to keep a multi-purpose K-9 proficient in all tasks. This is sometimes very difficult for small departments where the officer’s workload (calls answered, reports taken, etc.) is heavy due to marginal staffing. If the K-9 officer can normally be allowed to set aside time each duty day for K-9 maintenance training then in all probability the dog will remain proficient in all training disciplines. Agencies need to examine these issues closely when determining if a multi purpose canine will fit their organizations needs.
There is a new trend among departments, which in the past deployed multi-purpose dogs, to replace some multi-purpose dogs with single-purpose dogs that perform one more task. For instance, a single-purpose explosives detection dog or a narcotic detection dog that is also trained to track.
So, what is the right dog for your department? Closely examine the advantages of each and determine which is most suitable for your particular department or unit. We at Cobra Canine believe that Multi-Purpose Canines are the most all around beneficial dog for departments that want to use utility dogs. We also believe the use of a single purpose dog that only detects, detects and tracks, or does patrol work will be a great asset to your department.