7 Mar, 2021 @ 18:30
4 mins read

Exclusive interview: How Spain’s K-9 units are taking on female handlers and training guard dogs to protect women from abusive partners

K9s have become a major part of law enforcement in the past several years and are frequently used to track missing people in search-and-rescue missions as well as narcotics detection.

K-9 UNIT: K9 Viogen on duty in Spain’s Cordoba.

The evolution for equality in the workplace is reaching the police K9 industry which is seeing a rise in the number of women defying gender stereotypes by entering the K9 force.

Today The Olive Press talks to David Pino, founder of Montilla K9 Sport—canine detection and rescue, about the female dog handlers in Spain and the use of guard dogs to protect women from abusive partners.

Pino is a specialised police dog handler and instructor-trainer for Canine Units FFCCSS (Security Forces and Corps), Firefighters and Professionals.

David Pino, founder of Montilla K9 Sport—canine detection and rescue.

With over 12 years experience working with dogs, Pino, former Andalucian Bikejoring and Canicross Pro champion, imparts effective Search and Rescue Dog Training courses and programs all over the Spanish territory, the last on avalanche rescue dogs, in Andorra.

Pino sheds light on the integration of women into law enforcement positions in Spain and female dog handlers.

The first policewomen in Spain were incorporated in 1970, in Cordoba, and it was not until 1988 that women were allowed to enter the Guardia Civil.

Female instructor at the Spanish canine detection and rescue training centre.

“There has been a rise in the incorporation of women into the police force, however the numbers still remain very low and far from where they should be.” Pinos says.

“Women account for a small but growing percentage of police officers, about 12% nationally.

“Fortunately, the need to recruit, train and promote more female officers is receiving due attention and it’s encouraging to see the positive momentum toward creating a more balanced public safety force.

“In regards to female dog handlers, again the percentage, though on the rise, remains low. In Montilla K9 Sport we have three female dog handlers.”

Maria Fonseca with K9 Niurka, member of Montilla K9 Sport.

What traits do female police officers have that make them stand out from your male colleagues?

Women in general have an innate aptitude for communication, an invaluable skill when defusing potentially volatile confrontations.

In general, and from my own personal experience working alongside female officers, as they can’t rely on physical force, they are less authoritarian in their approach to policing and very effective communicators.

A potentially violent confrontation is usually calmed and dealt with within minutes by a female police officer.

In my opinion, women contribute fundamental skills to the Security Forces and Corps, they are also skilled at addressing violence against women and sex crimes and more needs to be done to encourage them to enter the law enforcement field.

How about female dog handlers, what do they have that make them stand out?

A woman who decides to enter a typically male dominated profession is usually a woman with determination, courage and a fierce work ethic. A combination of these traits make for the ideal dog handler.

These women tend to also be in excellent physical condition in order to effectively handle strong, high energy working dogs.

When you have a combination of these attributes, you have a star student who, with time, goes on to be a rockstar canine handler.

Again communication, generally a woman’s strong point, is fundamental in this field of work.

All canine handlers should have the ability to communicate clearly with other animal professionals that they may work with (such as veterinarians and trainers) to ensure that the needs of the dogs are met at all times.

Other fundamental personality traits include patience and thoughtfulness and the ability to interpret their dog’s often subtle behaviours. Again, women in general have a greater empathic response than males, making them ideal dog handlers.

Female dog handler: Police officer Sara with K9 Kiara.

Are dogs frequently trained to act as guard dogs to protect women from abusive ex-partners?

Dogs are naturally watchful, and protective of their owners, in fact canines know who their family is and most won’t hesitate to put themselves in harm’s way to protect one of their own.

That said, training dogs to protect women from abusive ex-partners is a delicate area. Dogs are a 24-hour responsibility and need to be looked after properly.

In the case of pairing a dog with a domestic abuse victim, both would need to undergo a course of up to 200 hours and the woman would need to be first assessed by a psychologist.

The woman’s home environment must also be deemed suitable.

In my personal experience, it’s not an area I have worked on in depth, that said I have recently trained a Labrador for a woman who had been in an abusive relationship.

Labradors aren’t typically used for this line of work, but they are working dogs and extremely intelligent. This dog has not been trained to bite or go in for the kill, in fact, he will behave perfectly normally until given the specific command to protect his owner, and then, not even I can approach him.

K9 exhibition, working dog demonstration.

In your experience, with over 12 years working in collaboration with SOS desaparecidos, is the number of reported women missing higher than men?

Generally it’s more an age factor than a gender factor. There are more seniors and minors reported missing, regardless of gender, and Andalucia has the most active cases of missing people in Spain, with Granada being the highest region.

There are many reasons why people go missing; some are kidnapped, some purposefully go missing—in order to escape abuse, for example—and some, often children, are runaways.

In the case of women, if there is a suspect case of aggression, the case is filed as an offence under domestic law and so the procedure and official records follow a different protocol.

K9 exhibition, guard dog demonstrating attacking and biting an intruder.

Finally, how do you see the future for female police women and dog handlers?

I see a very bright future for them, like I’ve already said women who decide to enter a typically male dominated profession like the police force, are usually determined and have a strong work ethic.

Thanks to this mentality and attitude, women are creating a very positive impact in the police force and police canine industry.

David Pino, founder of Montilla K9 Sport—canine detection and rescue.

Cristina Hodgson

Half English, half Spanish animal person. Cristina loves writing about all things fitness, travel and culture, she is also a script writer and novelist. When she's not typing away, you can find her enjoying outdoor sports somewhere off the beaten track in Andalucia. If you have a story get in touch! [email protected]

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