It takes about two and a half years, $100,000 and 50,000 km of travelling to breed and train an RCMP service dog in Canada.
Now, thanks to pressure from Steinbach RCMP Staff Sgt. Harold Laninga, Steinbach has a new 115-pound dog of its own.
RCMP Cpl. Garfield Henderson became the handler for Gainer, a five-year-old German shepherd, after the dog’s previous handler stepped down for health reasons.
Henderson said the Steinbach area has become their main focus due to high levels of crime in the Southeast.
There are only seven RCMP dogs in Manitoba, which makes Gainer a valuable resource for locating missing people, finding evidence at crime scenes and sniffing for explosives.
Because of this, the pair gets called all over Manitoba, even travelling as far as Thompson and Churchill.
Henderson said Canada’s service dogs are world-renowned for their tracking abilities.
Countries all over the world regularly contact the RCMP about their state-of-the-art breeding and training program.
Henderson said the RCMP used to buy service dogs from other countries, but they became hard to get after 9/11 because the United States would buy all available dogs.
Now, German shepherds are bred and trained in Innisfail, Alberta. They start training as young as eight weeks.
The first things the dogs learn is to be "imprinted" with everything in the real world.
This means they get used to being in public places and learn how to do basic things like not jump on tables.
Once the dogs finish imprinting, they begin learning more skills specific to the RCMP. They start by tracking in rural areas, where there are fewer distractions that could overwhelm their senses.
From there, the trainers teach the dogs to track in industrial parks and towns and eventually in urban areas like schools and yards.
At the end, every dog specializes in sniffing for either narcotics or explosives. Although Henderson’s last two dogs were trained for narcotics, Gainer is an explosives dog.
A big part of the training process involves forming a bond between dog and handler.
Although Gainer was already trained when Henderson got him, the pair spent three weeks learning how to work together.
"Dogs are like human beings," said Henderson. "Everyone’s got their own quirks that you have to figure out."
In Gainer’s case, Henderson said he’s very independent and has a bit of an edge.
At the same time, Henderson emphasized Gainer is as playful and fun-loving as any dog.
"People have misconceptions that RCMP dogs are these big mean animals," said Henderson. "But he won’t just bite people for no reason."
The bond between the dog and handler extends past work. Gainer also lives with Henderson and stays in a state-of-the-art kennel in Henderson’s backyard.
"They’re treated like Olympic-class athletes," said Henderson. "We give them the best of the best."
Henderson said taking care of Gainer is a full-time job, one he never really gets away from.
Not only does Gainer have to go for multiple runs a day, there are other daily training sessions Henderson does with the dog.
"You don’t get days off from the police dog," said Henderson. "But I love it. I think I have the best job in the RCMP."
Henderson is a second-generation dog handler, taking after his father Bill Henderson.
Yet, even after 14 years on the job, Henderson said he is regularly impressed with what RCMP dogs can do.
The progress of one assault case was completely changed after Gainer discovered a small clothing clasp that belonged to the victim.
Or in another case, Henderson’s previous dog Enzo, who had to retire after injuring his leg, located a 4-year-old girl two kilometres away.
"At the end of the day, these dogs are invaluable to what we do," said Henderson. "My standing joke is that if these dogs could drive, talk on the radio and type on the computer, I would be out of a job."
It’s common for people to want to pet the excited jet-black dog, but Henderson has gotten used to explaining to people Gainer is a working police dog.
"Most people understand and respect that," he said.
Occasionally, if Henderson and Gainer are at schools or community events, Henderson will let a few lucky people give Gainer’s massive head a few strokes.