Police dogs are often referred to as "K9" and thus the police dogs and officers who handle them are often called the "K9 Unit" of the department. Police dogs are trained specifically to aid police and other law enforcement members in their duties. There are four main duties a police dog fulfills:
- Public order enforcement dogs-these dogs help officers enforce public order. They chase, hold or detain suspects. They are sometimes called attack dogs or patrol dogs. The most common breeds for this particular duty are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois (pronounced Mal-In-Waw), but other breeds such as Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and Giant Schnauzers are also used by some police departments.
- Search and Rescue Dogs (SAR)-these dogs are used to locate suspects, and find missing persons or objects. The most common breed for tracking duties is the bloodhound.
- Detection Dogs-this dog is used to detect illegal substances such as drugs or explosives. Due to their overall friendly look and nature, Beagles are often used in airports to sniff baggage. Labrador Retrievers are often used for bomb or drug detection.
- Cadaver dogs-these dogs are trained to detect the odor of decomposing bodies. Dogs have highly sensitive noses and are able to detect bodies buried in concrete or under running water.
Of all the various breeds used in police work, by far the German Shepherd is the most common and the most versatile. These animals are used in each of the four categories for police work. The second most common is the Belgian Malinois. This breed is similar to the German Shepherd but is smaller and sleeker. They are imported from Holland and are known for their high level of intelligence, endurance, agility and speed.
History of Using Police Dogs
Dogs were used for police purposes as early as 1859 in Ghent, Belgium for accompanying officers on night patrols. Shortly thereafter, Germany, Austria, France and Hungary added police dogs to their law enforcement departments. Germany advanced the development of the modern police dog by introducing training programs for dogs purchased by police, custom authorities and the army. As the German shepherd dog was developed as a breed, this further advanced the training programs of dog training in general and police dogs in particular. However, in the early stages of the dog training programs, officials did not believe the cost was justified by the training results. Police dogs were used only as deterrents. In the United Kingdom, the attitude was similar with dogs being used as long as they did not require specialized training.
By 1934, the UK set up a committee to determine the best breed of service dog. They set up an experimental dog training school and concluded that a multi-purpose dog breed was not possible; bloodhounds were best for tracking and Labradors were best for general use. In 1938, two black Labradors were used in the Metropolitan Police but when WWII started, no further attempts to bring dogs into police departments were made. After the war, the Chief Constable of the Surrey Constabulary, Sir Joseph Simpson, saw the potential for the service of dogs in police work. He concluded that some breeds of dogs could in fact carry out both tracking and patrol duties. By 1946, a small dog section within the Metropolitan Police was formed. By 1948, the German Shepherd, or as it was called then, the Alsatian Wolf Dog, had arrived on the London scene. Police dog training schools were established and by 1950 the UK police had 90 trained dogs on duty. Currently over 2500 police dogs are used across the UK.
While dogs were used in the UK, Germany, Belgium and other European countries as well as Canada, the United States did not extensively use police dogs until the 1970s. However, dogs were used a long time before this in many capacities. In 1775 Ben Franklin advocated to use dogs to hunt Native Americans and suggested the dogs be "large, strong and fierce." In 1840, Secretary of War Joel Poinsett authorized the purchase of 33 bloodhounds to use against the Seminole Indians and escaped slaves in western Florida and Louisiana. These bloodhounds were bought from Cuba for about $150 each. Bloodhounds were often used to track escaped slaves and criminals during the late 1800s and during the Civil War, the confederate army even unleashed bloodhounds against African American regiments.
It is reported that the famous Rin TinTin was a puppy abandoned by retreating Germans in the First World War, but it was probably World War II that launched the use of police dogs in the United States. Soldiers coming home from Germany told stories of the how the Germans used the dogs and in both the United States and England, the use of dogs started to become more prevalent. In the 1960s German Shepherd police dogs were often used to control riots and demonstrations. Using the dogs brought up much controversy and claims of racial discrimination when the police dogs were commanded to attack rioters or demonstrators. During the Vietnam War, dogs were often used in the military to detect mines. During this time, the dog as a tracker began to be further developed. In the 1970s, the police dog became an increasing member of the police departments of many cities and towns across the United States. Today dogs have their own badges and if killed in the line of duty are given a full police funeral.
Basic Police Dog Training
Police dogs begin their training while they are still puppies. Every police dog regardless of its specialty first goes through basic obedience training. The dogs are required to obey their handlers' instructions without hesitation. The natural instinct is for dogs to obey the leader of their pack; the handler is the leader. Dogs trained in Europe and brought to the U.S. are often given commands in their native language so they do not have to relearn new commands. The police dog candidate then has to complete an endurance and agility training program.
Once the dog has completed the basic training, it can then be trained for its specialty. Cadaver dogs, detection dogs, search and rescue dogs and attack dogs are all trained for their particular roles. Detection dogs may have further specialties such as drugs, bombs or guns. Most dogs are cross-trained and are versatile in their roles.
Cadaver Dog Training
Cadaver dogs are used to detect human remains. As human remains decay, they give off a variety of distinct odors that are unique in nature. A cadaver dog can detect even a faint trace of the chemicals emitted during decomposition. Cadaver dogs are trained to detect whole bodies or any trace of human remains. When a cadaver dog "hits" on a scent, it is trained to sit quietly or lie down.
Cadaver dogs are trained to be respectful and gentle of areas they are working as they are often used on crime scenes. These dogs are used in search and recover operations after disasters and for locating missing persons believed to be dead. Dogs distinguish human remains from dead animals and have been known to alert to a drop of human blood on a bandage, on soil where a body once laid, and even an over 100 year old grave before embalming was used.
Cadaver dogs, like all police dogs, have handlers who train with them. Cadaver dogs are not just part of police departments; they are also owned and handled by civilians who work with the police or other service agencies. Cadaver dogs generally live with their handlers; those on a police force are considered police officers and thus fall under the same laws as other police dogs.
Training of Search and Rescue Dogs
Other dogs specialize in search and rescue. These dogs look for live bodies and typically alert their handlers by barking or clawing at the area where they sense a live body. These dogs are good trackers and as all dogs they have over 200 million olfactory cells, compared to humans' five million.
Within search and rescue, there are further specialties. Air scent dogs are those who sniff the air and identify shed skin cells of people. Trailing dogs, such as bloodhounds, use an exact scent usually from an object or piece of clothing of the missing person. Some dogs specialize in avalanche search and rescue while others are specialized in water search and recovery. Search and rescue dogs are generally larger breeds because of their increased agility and stamina.
Training for these dogs can require up to two years of training. Most of the commands are taught as hand signals. They are trained to retrieve so that they can bring a piece of evidence to their handler if necessary. Handlers and their dogs develop strong bonds. Handlers are able to detect the slightest change in the body language of their dogs.
Training for Detection Police Dogs
A dog's nose can discern specific scents even when there are numerous scents in the area. Drug smugglers have tried to fool dogs by wrapping drugs in perfumed towels, but dogs are still able to locate the drugs. Interestingly, the dogs are trained to locate drugs by association with their favorite toy. Often a rolled up towel is used because dogs like to play tug-of-war.
The training begins with the handler using a white towel to play this tug-of-war game. The towel is washed so it has no scent of its own. After a time, a bag of marijuana is rolled up inside the towel. The dog recognizes the scent of the drugs with the towel. The handler hides the towel with the drugs. When the dog digs and finds the towel with the drugs, it gets to play its favorite game.
As the training progresses, different drugs are rolled inside the towel. The same process is implemented until the dog is able to sniff out a variety of different drugs. The same training method is used to train dogs to sniff out bombs or other chemicals. The chemicals can be hidden in tapes, fertilizer, even soda. Depending on the item being detected, the dog uses a passive or aggressive alert.
Aggressive alert is when the dog digs and paws at the spot where they smell something. This is usually used in training drug sniffing dogs. However, dogs searching for bombs are trained to passive alerts in which they sit or lie down when they smell the substance.
Legal Issues and Controversy of Police Dogs
The bite of a German shepherd dog acts like scissors on the skin. The upper and lower incisors clamp down and the large canine teeth can rip off chunks of flesh. The wounds can become easily infected and scar. If a police dog injures someone it is liable in the same way as if a human police officer injured someone. The same applies to any damage caused by a police dog. The dog has to perform its duties under the same conditions as the human police officer as far as the use of force. Three factors determine if the use of force is justified:
- The severity of the crime
- The immediate threat posed by the suspect
- The resistance or attempts to run by the suspect
Generally a court finds the canine force justified if the suspect was fleeing and suspected of a serious crime, armed, or the suspect had not yet been searched by officers. Another important factor the court considers is the training record of the dog. Often, using a police dog decreases the risk of liability as the suspects refrain from resisting more often when a police dog is present.
These factors though also bring controversy. Many people do not believe dogs should be placed in jeopardy in the service of humans. This is more prevalent in using dogs for military purposes than police work. However, organizations that protect the welfare of animals are opposed to using dogs for detecting bombs and putting their lives in danger.
Advocates cite the value police dogs provide. Currently, many police dogs are fitted with ballistic vests to aid in their protection and there is a movement nationwide to provide bullet proof vests for all police dogs. Police dogs in the United States live and are cared for by their handlers. Handlers and their dogs continue training; typically every other week or so they must complete eight hours of training.
Most police dogs are protected by the same laws that protect police officers. In many states it is a felony to injure or kill a police dog.
Police Dogs are Officers and Military Personnel
Only the best dogs and the most dedicated officers are chosen for a K-9 unit. Handlers must have exemplary records, be physically strong, outgoing, and have plenty of arrests with convictions. A K-9 dog and handler typically put in a 60 hour work week. They make appearances at schools and court during the day and work a regular patrol shift at night.
Some dogs come from European police dog agencies as they are renowned for their training programs, but these dogs are expensive, costing an average of $8,500 to purchase and ship to the United States. However, most of these dogs "pay for themselves" in their abilities. In some cases, dogs are purchased using seized drug money.
While the presence of police dogs can be intimidating; these wonderful animals are chosen for their intelligence, agility and capacity for training. They are well-trained members of law enforcement agencies and respected by officers and citizens. They are valuable members of military police units throughout the world. The United States includes K-9 units in many of their military police operations.
The copyright of the article "Police Dogs in Action" is owned by Cheryl Weldon. Permission to republish "Police Dogs in Action" in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.