Canine Records Management: Defense Against Litigation

By Marc Patzke, MPA

A photo of a police K-9.

Like all law enforcement agencies, those that deploy police dogs must ensure their programs can withstand lawsuits. To this end, they should adopt a multifaceted approach to liability reduction that includes proper handler and canine selection, documentation of deployment and adequate training, effective supervision, and legally defensible policies.

This article focuses on training and deployment documentation. An appropriate records management system that accurately captures sufficient training and effective deployment of canine teams can shield an agency from liability. Further, such a system can help ensure consistency in training and build trust through transparency. 

Record Creation and Workflow

Canine training records must be complete, accurate, and thorough. Usually, a dog trainer creates them; otherwise, this responsibility falls to the handler. Agencies can decide what information to capture. Typically, this includes basic data for each training event, such as location, date and time, drills conducted, and whether the team or canine performed within established and codified standards. Ensuring consistent performance of police canines requires repetition; therefore, multiple similar entries are typical. The completed training record should be concise and clear enough for a jury to understand.

Lieutenant Marc Patzke of the Anchorage, Alaska, Police Department.

Lieutenant Patzke serves with the Anchorage, Alaska, Police Department and is a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 286.

Training records should go through an approval process that includes the lead or primary trainer and canine supervisor. This workflow ensures consistency in documentation, retention, and training approach. Standalone documents, such as certificates, annual certification exams, or diagrams of a drug hide or track, should be attached to the corresponding entry.

Resources for agencies creating a canine records management system or for those that want to ensure a defensible program include professional associations such as the United States Police Canine Association or National Police Canine Association.

Metrics to Track

Service dog teams should log canine deployments in all categories relevant to an agency, such as tracks, drug detection, building searches, and arrest assists. This data becomes critical in evaluating key performance metrics, such as bite ratio and drug finds. The agency should also focus on public demonstrations to illustrate the number of times a dog has interacted with citizens in a nonenforcement setting.

To log training, every drill, from annual certification to fitness and obedience, should be accurately entered into the records management system. Agencies with multiple canine teams can use these metrics to compare performances of teams and establish a benchmark for deployment and training.

As an example, a department may require each canine team to train one hour per shift for a total of 20 hours per month. For a single-service team, weighing metrics against industry standards can ensure a base level of performance.

Paper or Electronic

Canine teams may still rely on department forms for portions of documentation. These forms should be digitized and attached to the canine team’s digital file. Employing a fully automated records management program results in accurate and accessible training records. Using a digital canine file reduces paperwork, ensures a consistent workflow, saves space, and eases archival and retrieval. The best practice is a records management system that supports a mobile-friendly platform.

Establishing automated, intuitive, and simple training documentation results in greater compliance by handlers and trainers.


Specialized, commercial software programs can aid in canine records management. Off-the-shelf solutions may allow for customizable reports and modification of data entry fields. If budget constraints are a consideration, popular spreadsheet programs can serve a similar purpose. An analysis of available resources compared with tracked metrics will help an agency decide the best approach.

At a minimum, software should allow for the creation of a police service dog team and entry and query of training, deployment, and medical records, to include uploading of attachments. Typically, this will entail a cloud-based solution; as such, agencies should seek a program that allows them to save the canine file to a local server for long-term archival.

“Appropriate records management shields an agency from liability, ensures consistency in training and deployment, and builds trust through transparency.”

Queries and Audits

Training records should be searchable, with entries that are easy to find and sort. Once created and approved, these records should remain unedited to ensure their integrity for court. If an error is identified with a training or deployment entry, it should be annotated, rather than changed. Additionally, software programs should generate audit trails that show which users edited training records and when.

Retention Schedules

A retention schedule outlines a period of time, typically years, that the agency stores certain records, such as training or personnel files. Service dog training records should be archived according to the same schedule as those pertaining to officers.

As legal requirements vary by jurisdiction, each agency should consult its legal advisors for retention schedules. However, considering the low cost and ease of digital storage, retention periods exceeding 50 years would ensure the agency has all relevant material available.

As an example, a canine trainer may want to demonstrate their experience in training various service dogs. Therefore, retaining the records for each canine trained over a career, regardless of assignment or canine retirement date, would support the trainer’s experience.


Proper creation, routing, archival, and retrieval of canine training records are key components to a records management system that can withstand the litigation that may follow canine deployments. Maintaining an unassailable record is important for each canine team. Every handler, trainer, and supervisor must do their part to keep a records management system that meets the needs of the agency and demonstrates a defensible program in any court at which the records could later appear.

“Proper creation, routing, archival, and retrieval of canine training records are key components to a records management system that can withstand the litigation that may follow canine deployments.”

Lieutenant Patzke can be reached at