Cst. Matthew Lajeunesse and Pace, a German shepherd training to become a police dog.

Cst. Matthew Lajeunesse and Pace, a German shepherd training to become a police dog.

Sylvan Lake officer raising up-and-coming RCMP dog

Sylvan Lake officer Cst. Matthew Lajeunesse is helping the RCMP raise the next generation of police dogs and he hopes to one day join the ranks of the K9 officers.

“I love dogs,” said Lajeunesse. “Just seeing them work is fascinating. After watching a few training dogs, I was hooked.”

Lajeunesse graduated from Depot, the RCMP training academy, in July 2016 and his first posting was to Grande Prairie, Alta. It was there that he was first able to see the K9 officers working and he began helping with their training.

Lajeunesse said the first step towards becoming a K9 officer is to be a quarry — that means laying tracks or taking bites to help the dogs in training.

“There’s no time limit,” Lajeunesse said of the process. “But after about a year, if the RCMP sees that you’re still interested, they’ll send you to the imprinting course.” The imprinting course takes place at the Police Dog Service Training Centre in Innisfail.

When an officer passes the imprinting course, they’re given a puppy when one becomes available.

And that’s how Lajeunesse was paired with Pace, a German shepherd training to become a police dog.

Lajeunesse brought Pace home when he was just eight weeks old.

“My job is basically to keep him healthy and work on socialization and familiarization,” he said. “I’m getting him used to all sorts of people and all kinds of environmental things.”

Lajeunesse said he’s lucky to be in Sylvan Lake, where there’s a wide variety of things for Pace to experience — from going down to the beach and seeing people swimming, kids running around and playing with beach toys, to going to the arena when there’s a hockey game going on, crowds screaming and pucks bouncing off the boards.

Familiarization means exposing Pace to different situations, such as different kinds of flooring, heights, confined spaces, crossing over metal grates and he even takes Pace to the playground where he can get comfortable with crossing different equipment.

Lajeunesse said the goal is for Pace to think every day is full of fun and games, rather than work.

“My first supervisor in Grande Prairie told me that for the first year of their life, to just have fun,” Lajeunesse recalled, adding that if the handler also looks at it as a game with the dog, the training will go well.

Each RCMP dog is trained in tracking, as well as nose work, locating drugs, bombs or human remains. What type of scent the dog is trained to find will depend on what the RCMP needs at the time.

Pace was born on June 1, 2021, which makes him about 14 months old now. Pace has been evaluated every four months since Lajeunesse began working with him, to assess his fitness as a potential future police dog. The next step will be for Pace to attend the Police Dog Service Training Centre when he’s about 16 months old, and if he passes, he’ll be paired with his new handler. As an imprinter, it’s Lajeunesse’s job to get Pace ready for this next step.

Although it is possible for Pace to fail at the Police Dog Service Training Centre, Lajeunesse said he has been doing well so far and has passed all of his evaluations, from four months of age to now.

Going forward, Lajeunesse could be paired with another puppy, when one is available, and he’s patiently waiting for the time when he can train to become a handler. The training to become a handler also takes place at the Police Dog Service Training Centre and it takes six months for the handler and the dog.

“There are limited spots to be trained as a handler,” said Lajeunesse. “I just have to wait my turn.”