Dog-centric. Education-focused. Refined industry standards.

These are the key phrases that came out of the first meeting between iK9 founders Tim Dunnigan and Paul Hammond in the summer of 2012. This meeting was to be the genesis of a company born from a new ideology in canine training and handler education. Dunnigan is an entrepreneur with several successful companies including a defense and technology based consulting firm catering to the Intelligence and Special Operations communities. Hammond is a long-time veteran of the canine services industry, having recently returned from seven years of canine operations in Iraq and Afghanistan directing canine programs for high-profile government organizations. He also served with the British Army Dog Unit in Northern Ireland for 15 years. At the end of 2012, iK9 and its founders entered into a strategic partnership with Auburn University and its Canine Detection Research Institute (CDRI) to form a one of a kind dog company that combines working dog operations with canine science applications.

iK9 and Auburn University (iK9AU) are co-located in Anniston, Alabama on a 350 acre, world class canine campus with facilities that include over 150 state of the art kennels, a full service veterinarian clinic, and a nationally recognized breeding program. Additionally, the iK9AU Campus has a collegiate-style auditorium and over 40 offices and classrooms. The vast training areas include canine conditioning courses, a high-end kill house, an active bomb range, pistol ranges, and a 170-vehicle training lot. This facility is also home to Auburn University’s Vapor Wake® Detection technology – – a patented training method that results in canine detection of vapor plumes emitting from a person for carried or body-worn explosives. Combined, the iK9AU Campus offers unprecedented opportunities for both canine focused training and handler education.

The iK9 Team is a consortium that offers best-in-class services with recent and relevant operational experience, an expert and qualified training team, and a seasoned project management staff that effectively guarantees canines and handlers are best prepared operationally. Specifically, iK9 offers an efficient, professional management team with extensive experience in global canine operations. iK9 also offers training and certification protocols that ensure excellence, consistency, and reliability in canine services. The iK9 quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) program confirms performance standards and both student and client expectations. iK9 also offers Specialist Canine Courses based on a decade of operational experience in protecting commercial and government customers. The iK9 Team’s approach is to build a trusting relationship with customers, students, and strategic partners through transparency and professionalism. iK9’s credentials are deeply enriched by its partnership with Auburn University.

With unlimited access to Auburn’s years of experience in breeding and training dogs, the iK9AU staff immediately began collaborating on techniques and procedures across the spectrum of canine applications. This information sharing merged various talents towards one common goal: the integration of operational experience and proven scientific research. John Pearce, Associate Director of Auburn’s Canine Detection Training Center (CDTC), commented about the collaboration between all the talented people involved: “We work well together by not focusing on what organization we come from but instead on what talent each individual trainer and instructor brings.” Working collaboratively, Pearce and Hammond were able to streamline the Vapor Wake® Detection Program, and in doing so, effectively decreased the training time of the program while producing an even more efficient, cost-effective Vapor Wake® Dog Team. This early joint effort quickly bonded the 26-person organization. This well-staffed, professional team offers the following services: Handler Education; Canine Training & Instruction; Canine Supply Services; Contract Services; Handler Recruitment; Consulting; and Land Lease. iK9 has enhanced, and in some cases redefined, these traditional canine services with a focus on emerging domestic threats and the creation of new markets beyond traditional canine roles.

Years of combat operations give handlers and trainers an accelerated knowledge of the working dog. Drawdown of military operations have brought many experienced men and women back within our borders. iK9 seeks to redirect that knowledge-base towards the growing domestic threats. As the United States puts more emphasis on protection and detection within its borders, iK9 leadership anticipates a greater requirement for Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD) and Vapor Wake® Dogs. They also believe high-quality, standardized education will become the focus for handlers looking to gain and maintain their qualifications for domestic and global markets. Partnering with a major institute of higher learning gives eager handlers a lifeline to self-improvement. iK9 trainers worked with collegiate educators to develop course structure, learning strategies, and knowledge retention, which in turn produces a more complete and professional handler. Hammond even envisions a college degree in varying canine disciplines. As they work toward the industry’s future, iK9 also maintains focus on the present.

iK9 is filling requests for trained EDDs to the U.S. Government and private corporations around the world. Utilizing a variety of breeds, all trained under Hammond’s and Pearce’s expert oversight and guardianship; this recently formed company already has a global footprint and also expands AU’s already established operations. The tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013 again shed light on the need for enhanced security measures. iK9AU’ specialized Vapor Wake® Detection Teams are purpose-trained to detect similar threats before they are left unattended and may have been able to prevent such a horrific attack. Almost immediately, calls and requests for information began pouring into iK9’s headquarters. National and local news affiliates all wanted to know more about the role working dogs play in detecting and preventing domestic terrorist attacks. Pearce, one of Vapor Wake® Detection’s creators, led the media blitz as the face of iK9AU. In the span of two weeks, iK9 was featured in stories on NBC Nightly News, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, and the TODAY Show, as well as several local and regional news stations.

Dunnigan and Hammond seem unfazed about their company’s early successes. They are striving to stay on the cutting edge of the canine industry, never willing to settle. In addition to the projects already in motion, Dunnigan and Hammond are expanding the iK9 Global Campus. Modern living accommodations, additional digital classrooms, and real-world operationally-based training scenarios and areas. Adding more options to the working canine team, a major focus of iK9’s future endeavors is technology integration. With a wide variety of proprietary and off-the-shelf products in existence, iK9 is striving to develop a stronger, more productive threat detection and neutralization program for explosive detection teams. With iK9 technology products already in development, Dunnigan surmises, “These innovative technologies will make Vapor Wake® and explosives dog teams an even more useful tool to find, mitigate, and neutralize threats.”

This one of a kind canine company is uniquely positioned to become the industry’s leader in innovation by precisely focusing on the themes it was founded upon: Dog-centric. Education-focused. Refined industry standards. Dunnigan’s vision however, is not focused solely on iK9: “We’re not looking to make a name for ourselves. We’re looking to make a name for our industry.”

This article was written by Shannon Woodson, and published in K-9 Cop Magazine (July/August 2013, pp. 42-49)