From Detection Dog Training
To K9 NOSE WORk®.
A profile on Fred Helfers
A Feature article from dogsNSW.org.au May 2015
Fred Helfers began working detection dogs in the early eighties. After a short stint with the US Border Patrol working on the southern US / Mexico border, Fred got to see firsthand how effective dogs were at detecting contraband. He soon realised that working for the US Border Patrol was not for him and moved to Washington State to work with a municipal Police department, north of Seattle WA. Already training and hunting with Brittany Spaniels, Fred knew that dogs had good noses, but never really knew how dogs worked odour sources.
For over 22 years Fred worked in undercover narcotics and it was during his early years on the department that Fred wrote a proposal for the first drug detection dog for that agency. The proposal was accepted and Fred entered the world of detection dogs. Completing training in 1982 with his first dog Sammy (a Black Labrador Retriever), Fred and Sammy were the only drug detection unit between Seattle and the Canadian Border, and, as such, were very busy. Working as a detective in the drug unit, Fred worked and trained regularly with the local US Customs dog team. For the next 8 years Fred and Sammy worked between Seattle and the Canadian border, detecting over a million dollars in US currency (drug proceeds) and multiple large quantities of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and cannabis.
As Fred’s reputation and expertise became recognised, he was approached by many Police agencies to train detection dogs and handlers. So, in 1984, Fred opened a police detection dog training facility on 8 acres north of Seattle WA. His reputation for training drug detection dogs and their handlers had then spread to other states in the Pacific Northwest of the US.
While still working as a police detective, Fred would train detection dogs in the morning then go to work as a police detective. He became President of the Washington State Police Canine Association and for over two terms was able to influence, administer and oversee certifications for drug detection dogs in WA State.
Fred’s passion for detection dogs was widely known by this time and eventually he began training accelerant detection dogs for fire departments in Washington State. Fred trained a little chocolate Labrador Retriever, named Maggie for accelerant detection. During Maggie’s first field application, Maggie and her handler, Larry Micheau were dispatched to a triple homicide fire scene. Fred also went along for the dog application, to assist the fire marshal, Larry Micheau. Maggie detected minute traces of accelerants that proved crucial
in the conviction of a woman on three counts of aggravated homicide. Fred testified for over five hours, educating the court and jurors on how detection dogs were trained and detected odours. Fred was easily qualified and received court recognition as an expert in detection canines.
In 1990, sadly, Sammy passsed away due to cancer. It was a great loss for Fred as is the passing of any family member, let alone your partner who is with you almost every day of your life. Fred recognised that Sammy taught him so much about the ability of dogs to detect odours and yet Fred had so much more to learn.
By the early 90's fred's reputation for training quality detection canines and their handlers was being recognised throughout the United States and Canada. Fred was approached by the Oregon State Department of Agriculture for a pilot program on insect detection. Fred also successfully trained a dog and handler for the detection of Gypsy moth egg mass detection and Japanese beetle larvae detection.
Fred was contracted by the Oregon State Police for drug detection canine training and became that agency’s detection canine trainer for over 20 years.
Other detection dog training challenges soon presented themselves. He was approached by a large utility company wanting to explore the possibility of training a detection dog for the detection of natural gas leaks from their pipeline network. Fred was familiar with the pipeline work done by Canadian dog trainer, Glen Johnson and agreed to an 18 month project. Training a dog to identify the signature odour (Butyl Mercapton) of natural gas was easy and the dog responded readily to the game of finding the odour source. More challenging was to train the dog in both urban and rural environments. After 12 weeks of training the dog was ready to be assigned a handler and placed into the field. After 18 months of highly successful work, identifying gas pipeline leaks throughout the Pacific Northwest, the pilot program was closed down. Fred was perplexed that a highly successful detection dog would be pulled from service, however the answer was very simple. The natural gas detection dog was too effective!
The dog (a black Labrador Retriever) was detecting gas leaks from natural gas pipeline leaks that were located 20 to 25 ft buried underground. It was explained that the dog was detecting minimal gas leaks of less than 2ppm (parts per million). The cost to the utility company to dig up the pipeline leak was highly expensive versus the minimal hazard to public safety, and or, loss of revenue. So a highly successful dog program was shut down because the dog was simply too good at its job!
By this time Fred had trained another drug detection dog “Corky” and was working her, assigned to a drug investigation task force. K9 Corky worked with Fred for over 8 years, detecting drugs and proceeds of crime (currency) before being retired and spending her senior years as a family dog with Fred and his wife.
In 1998 Fred organised the formation of the Pacific Northwest Police Detection Dog Association. An association of law enforcement dog handlers formed to promote the training and certification of police detection dog handlers from throughout the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Fred was elected as the founding President of that association.
Because of his extensive background in detection dogs, Fred was being recognised for his expertise by many different police training programs and travelled extensively throughout the United States, Canada and Brazil, conducting training seminars and workshops on detection dog training and handlers.
Fred has also been called upon to judge many different detection dog competitions ranging from the World Police and Fire games in Vancouver, Canada to judging at the 2014 National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW®) National Invitational K9 Nose work® trials in Santa Rosa California.
In 2004 Fred retired from police work and closed his kennel / police training facility. Fred turned the business over to a much respected employee and contracted with her to teach canine handler classes to police officers. Over the 20 years that Fred operated his commercial training facility, he trained several hundred police canines and their handlers, though training courses, seminars and workshops.
In 2005 Fred was selected to be a member of the Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Factors (SWGDOG. org). One of 55 national and international scientists, trainers and practitioners, developing public safety detection dog best practices. That work continued for over 7 years. Recently in 2014, Fred was again selected to continue the work of SWGDOG by being accepted as part of a 20 member subcommittee of the OSAC (Organization of Scientific Action Committee). Fred continues to be a member as of 2021.
K9 Nose work®
“Inspired by working detection dogs, K9 Nose Work is the fun search and scenting activity for virtually all dogs and people. This easy to learn activity and sport builds confidence and focus in many dogs, and provides a safe way to keep dogs fit and healthy through mental and physical exercise." ( Quote from http://www.k9nosework.com/ )
In 2012 Fred was introduced to the sport of K9 Nose work® by founder and friend Ron Gaunt. While cautious at first, Fred was overwhelmed and inspired by the passion, dedication and camaraderie displayed by the K9 Nose work® handlers and their instructors. He was soon recognized as a Certified K9 Nose work® Instructor (CNWI®) and began teaching detection classes, seminars and workshops throughout the United States. Fred’s involvement with Nose work students and their dogs has become such an influence on him that his seminars and workshops are scheduled several months in advance. Fred is excited about conducting Nose work seminars in Australia and working with Marion Brand, CNWI of K9 Nose Time, to further cement the foundation of K9 Nose Work®. Fred is an expat Aussie having been raised in Perth, WA. during his younger years.
Fred in action at a Canine Scent Detection Seminar in Australia.
Article (edited) courtesy of www.dogsnsw.org.au