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Dog Depression: A Story About Dekker

Many dogs came and went throughout our careers as law enforcement dog trainers. There are some that stand out for different reasons. Dekker is one of them.


This is a story about Dekker, a Belgian Malinois who we trained as a K-9 police officer. This story is also the reason why we stopped training dogs for law enforcement after 15 years.

During a trip to Europe to buy dogs, we traveled to France to attend a Ring Sport Competition. It was this trip in 1985 that changed our thinking about the best candidate for a Police Dog. As we watched each dog work through obstacles and protection tests, we felt that the Belgian Malinois was superior to the German Shepherd in agility, and equal or better in all other areas.

In 1988, we acquired Anka and Dekker, two Belgian Malinois. We loved their drive and enthusiasm to work. After a few months of training in tracking, agility and protection, we sold Anka to a Fish and Wildlife Officer. Comment reports indicated that Anka was an exceptional tracker for poachers and protected her Handler perfectly. We were satisfied with the Anka location and your Handler was more than satisfied.

We continue to work with Dekker. He was always happy to do whatever we asked of him in his training lessons. He had a full life with us as part of our family. At one point, we had two litters of Bouvier des Flandres puppies that totaled 22. They were few when the youngest litter reached six weeks of age, but Uncle Dekker spent time with all of them, grabbing his long rag and making fun of the puppies. to chase them. him, clinging to the rag for a walk. He was a wonderful, well-adjusted dog.

Dekker’s career

The day came when we received a phone call from a police department asking if we had another dog like Anka, as word had spread about her outstanding performance. We informed the police officer that we did indeed have another Belgian Malinois that fit their requirements. Each dog we placed in a K-9 Police Unit received 2 weeks of instruction and training, which included evaluation of the bonding process because, believe it or not, not all dogs like their Handlers. The first reservation we had about this K-9 Unit was that the dog was kept in a kennel at the police station rather than living in a family environment. The Handler assured us that Dekker would spend most of his time with him and would only be in the kennel when absolutely necessary.

On the third day of Dekker’s 2-week probation as a K-9 officer, he committed a felony drug arrest. The Handler was very satisfied with Dekker and we felt we had placed him where he would do the most good.

There are police dog trials that K-9 handlers can participate in for prizes and recognition within the K-9 police community. Because Dekker was so good at his job, his Handler began enrolling him in these competitions. Dekker now worked regular shifts as a K-9 officer, training for competitions, attending competitions, and winning. During a conversation we had with the Handler about Dekker’s success in another police dog test, we reinforced the fact that he needed “free time” to relax, play, and forget about training and his job. The Handler assured us that he was doing what we had suggested.

Time passed and as usual the phone calls from Dekker’s Handler subsided, but we eventually got a call from him expressing concern that Dekker was being lazy and listless at work. We asked him if he was still competing in dog trials and the Handler gave a negative answer because Dekker had lost the last trials he had participated in. Our advice was to rest, play and reduce training sessions outside of work hours.


A short time later, Dekker’s Handler called again, complaining that the dog was not performing at work and wanted to return it for a refund. We convinced him to send Dekker to us for evaluation and to see if we could remedy the situation.

Picking up Dekker from the airport, we opened his dog cage to let him out and he just sat there with his head down and big sad eyes. We inspected him and could see that he had lost weight, his posture was submissive, his coat was opaque, and he did not want to make eye contact. The word anxiety seems to be the best word to describe the tail wagging body language because he was happy to see us, but entwining our legs together and whimpering indicated that he was apprehensive, worried, and had mixed feelings about what was going to happen next. We brought him home, confident that we could help him overcome this behavior that was far from his normal self.

We set out to do everything that was familiar to him; the same kennel, the same routines, a lot of play, the same dogs to play with, our loving attention, etc. There was nothing different in our house and kennel, except Dekker. Months of persuasion and desperately trying to have a single happy moment broke our hearts. He got depressed, scurried away, no eye contact, deep sighs, lying in a corner while the other dogs played, uninterested in their surroundings, eating just enough to keep going, and eventually skipping days of eating. We gave it special attention, tempting food, more of our time and basically put it in our back pocket, taking it everywhere. We spent hours analyzing their behavior, both past and present, to try to find more ideas or a solution to the whole mess. We brought in other dog trainers to observe and evaluate him for any clues to work with. Not a thing.

After 4 months we finally came to the conclusion that Dekker was not going to find his way back to what he was. His weight was alarmingly low and we couldn’t help him further. He was finally euthanized. That was the day we said, “That’s it, no more.” We stopped training police dogs.


Back then, we referred to this behavior as broken, bitter, or lazy. We don’t really associate Dekker’s behavior with depression, but in hindsight that’s exactly what it was. A dog so in the dark that he couldn’t fight to get back to light and happiness.

We will never know what really happened to him during his career as a K-9 police officer. People tend not to reveal all the details of a spiraling situation if it is their fault, so we cannot identify the cause. We can only guess that he worked to the point of exhaustion with no rest or rewards.

Yes, there is canine depression. Take note of the behaviors above. We were unable to help Dekker, but if you have a dog that you suspect is showing characteristics of depression, seek the help of a professional canine psychologist.

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