Four Legs, a Tail and Lots of Heart

Police K-9s really are something special.

If you read a classified ad that said: "Wanted: Someone who is healthy, calm, friendly, playful, loyal, loves to work for small rewards, capable of dealing with new situations and willing to accept a challenge" — would you qualify?

Every good K-9 would. These animals are involved in a wide array of police and security applications around the world. "They are used for narcotic, explosive and cadaver detection; criminal apprehension; and tracking," explains Dondi Hydrick, director of operations at Cross Creek Training Academy in Edgefield, South Carolina. "However, there are other areas they are being used in as well, such as finding persons hidden in trucks, boxes, etc. who are attempting to gain access to secure and restricted locations. Dogs can detect mines, guard border crossings, and identify evidence and suspects."

Jim Parks, co-owner and director of Global Training Academy Inc. in Somerset, Texas, agrees. "Dogs are versatile police helpers. Some do patrol work, where the dog is attack-trained and assists in apprehensions, suspect control and escort, and other related areas," he says. "They are good for bomb, chemical and drug detection; tracking both suspects and lost persons; and finding real and counterfeit money, land mines, people hiding, weapons, buried bodies or fire igniters/accelerants in arson cases."

Selecting a dog

Rudy Drexler, owner of Rudy Drexler's School for Dogs Inc., located in Elkhart, Indiana, has been finding and training dogs (and pot-bellied pigs) for more than 42 years. He and the other dog trainers get their animals primarily from European suppliers who breed them for working characteristics and their temperaments.

All three trainers say German shepherds and Belgian malinois are well-suited for patrol work, and are readily available. Other breeds Drexler has had success with include rottweilers, giant schnauzers, Bouvier des Flanders and Doberman pinschers. When it comes to special scenting (detection) dogs, the breed list is longer: Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, beagles, American and English cocker spaniels, flat-coated retrievers, and standard poodles.

"For detection work, virtually any breed that is highly social, and has super prey and hunting drives will work," Hydrick points out.

Both male and female dogs make good police K-9s, but Drexler has a preference for spayed females. "They're more devoted, just as tough and can do everything a male dog does, plus you don't have a problem if you cross the track of another female dog in heat," he says.

More important than breed or sex are the dog's traits and characteristics. Here's where that wanted list comes in.

"First, all the dogs must be social with people of all ages, races and sexes, as well as non-animal aggressive," Hydrick explains. "They must be willing to protect their handlers and bite a person, yet be social otherwise. The dogs must be super crazy about chasing and playing with a ball, PVC pipe and a tug toy. This shows their prey drive — the innate desire to chase after something moving. The dogs also must have a very high degree of hunt drive — a desire to seek something it has an association with — using its nose more so than its eyes."

Adaptability to any type of surface or environment a dog might encounter during its working life also is important. "The dog must not be afraid of strange surfaces to walk on, like open stairs, slippery floors or grating," he says. "You want it to jump in and out of vehicles of all sizes; go into tight, dark or high places; and enter water (creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes). The dog also must not be shy or afraid of loud noises, such as gunfire, traffic, sirens and more."

Another important ingredient in a K-9 is good overall health, with good to excellent hips, elbows, spine, internal organs and teeth.

Parks agrees. "We want dogs to actively hunt for a hard rubber Kong, PVC pipes, towel or ball, which are used as a reward for finding whatever they are trained to find," he explains. "They must be unafraid of new situations. The young dog should show a high drive for wanting to work and really like the game — the desire to hunt for his or her reward."

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