Dogs play such an important role in our lives. And when they pass, its like time stands still and takes our breath away. At such a moment, it is like a high-speed movie that starts in our brain in which we see the beautiful moments and joy they brought us. It also brings us at lightning speed to those moments in life when they supported us when we were hurt, felt grief, or other deep emotions. Last week the dog of a special friend of mine passed away, and I felt so sorry. And now I’m in grief because my dog Ops passed away.
Ops played a crucial role in many operations. He did countless operations and was very reliable in his outstanding work! And even more important, he was a special friend! Often he was the first one on the scene in a risky situation where we didn’t know what to expect. When he passed, I saw the high-speed movie in my mind and felt the intense emotions surrounding this.
It was the first field trial bloodline Labrador I brought to the Netherlands. My commander didn’t understand that I wanted to get this bloodline to Europe. Because many USA dog trainers came to Europe to buy dogs. I contacted Pat Nolan to help me to select a good dog. I met Pat in 2010 during a military working dog conference in the UK. Pat was, for me, a very reliable, honest, experienced, and intrinsically motivated dog person. And he was very interested in the radio directional program I had developed in 1996. We talked for hours about this. He offered me to buy Pete, a dog he had since he was a puppy. Pete and I met in Maryland, USA, when I first visited Pat for the first time. Pete and I bonded together very fast, and I decided that Pete would be the first field trial Labrador I would bring to the Netherlands police in Europe.
Pat Nolan and I became good friends. We worked together on the equipment as remote feeders, radios, camera systems, and scent wheels. I gave Pat my directional protocol so he could start this innovative work in the USA. I was happy to see that my radio directional protocol, already used in many counties in Europe, now also were used in the USA.
When I flew back with Pete and arrived in The Netherlands, my son was allowed, as usual, to give the dog a new name. My tradition is to give dogs a new name when they start working with me. He chose OPS, and there in 2012, it started. Ops was a fast student and loved the work. Fantastic speed, a happy dog, and a hard worker. Smart problem-solver and such a lovely character. He never gave up and always loved to be with me.
The death of my close buddy Ops brought me back in time. I used five different dogs to build the protocol in 1996 from scratch. I was training all these dogs at the same time to develop this protocol. Nobody in the world was doing this. With the help of Bob and Marian Bailey I started to train in a totally different way than I ever did before. With the focus on positive reinforcement. Writing training protocols before the training actually started. I collected data during training and analyzed this after the training to improve the protocols. It was a rollercoaster as the training progressed, and what a fantastic journey for me as a trainer. It was also when I felt like Don Quichotte, fighting windmills in a time when so many dog trainers used coercion to ‘train’ their dogs. But I never questioned the amazing work that Bob and Marian showed me. And kept BELIEVE in their knowledge, experience, and technology they were teaching me.
My first operational radio directional camera dog (1996) was named Andor. After months of training, he was selected out of a group of five dogs. Andor taught me many operational lessons and helped me tweak the protocol even more. After training multiple operational radio directional dogs, I met my Belgium colleague Guy in 2000. He was the first person I was teaching to use my protocol. A challenge for me to see if other humans also could work with these protocols. Of course, I had already trained multiple dogs with this protocol and was convinced it was good. But can other trainers also work with it? And then, I saw that I could teach other people to study and use this protocol. The wonderful thing was that Guy could add his ideas and experience to the protocol. So it was developing and became even better. A good protocol is not written in concrete; it’s a living document that will become better in time.
When I started to train Ops (2012) in the radio directional program, these protocols were even more developed. Because over the last 25 years, I trained so many dog trainers from special forces worldwide. Their creativity, data, and experiences also helped to make the protocol even better.
In 1996 we built our K9 camera systems with some intelligent technicians. The K9 camera sets were not on the market. We tested all sorts of lasers, radio systems, telemetry systems, and more. I was so glad to see how far this has developed these days. And i love to see what is on the market now.
Ops made the protocol even better. He was that dog that every dog trainer will encounter once in his career. A true friend, a hard worker, a happy dog, and a natural problem solver. And Ops was the one that could trigger me to add even more to the protocol! I enjoyed seeing Ops working together with the Boston Dynamics robot Spot.
I have stepped away from special operations after 25 years. I will respect their secrets. But for dog trainers, it’s time to learn more about my experiences. Learning more about animal training and the fun, it can bring us. Understand that it’s good to make mistakes and enjoy being together with your dog, even when you are not training with them. Developing the radio directional program(1996) was one of the biggest challenges, and I learned so much from this. My most significant learning curve was brought to me by Ops. I knew this sad day would come because our dogs have no eternal life. This is a time of closure and also to take a new step in life! Ops showed me again how beautiful working with a dog can be. We did a lot of really wonderful operations together. We had fun together, and he was always there when I was not feeling ok. The closure with his death is stepping away from the operations and starting a new episode in life. I have published my book ‘The Pavlov project’ in German and am working on the English version now. Now focussing more on my own business, Simon Prins ACT! I have a clear mission, to empower dog trainers worldwide! Teaching trainers to be happy, helping them to create their own protocols. Help to gather data simply and let them experience how this will improve their training. Besides this, I love innovating and introducing new equipment that will help the K9 community. Yes, developing the radio directional program was a big challenge. But another challenge that will never stop is understanding more about the capability of our detection dogs. I was very active in tracking and detection for more than 25 years. The way how dogs use their noses fascinates me. I’m honored and thanksful to work with great people at this moment to learn more about this.
Now it’s time to teach others what I have learned in working with dogs in special operations for more than 25 years. I was there in ‘The Arena’. I selected, trained, and worked with the dogs for a long time. I was developing my own protocols and training equipment to make our work safer for the dogs and the operators. To be able to train more efficiently and effectively. Because I promised Bob, Marian and also Ops to do this. Like all the dogs I trained, Ops was a great teacher for me. He was unique in every way. I will miss him!
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