I’m currently working an extremely dangerous undercover assignment in a massive dog-fighting ring, but I’ve blown my cover to speak with you today about a very important subject—K-9 handlers.

Please feel free to call me “Dawg.” Not my real name, of course. But I’ll answer to it, especially if there’s a treat or my favorite toy in your hand.

I’ve risked exposing my true ID because, well, sometimes you guys, dog handlers and civilian pet owners, don’t use your heads. I’m not saying you’re stupid. Although, it’s no secret who’s on the “smart end” of the leash. The instructor at the state police academy who trained the guy writing this blog stressed that fact every single day for 16 long and grueling weeks. “Your dog is on the smart end of the leash, troopers. Let the dog lead the way,” he’d say. That was one intelligent state police lieutenant.

He’s right, you don’t think before you act and you thinking you know it all causes us, the K-9s, to look dumb. Let. Us. Do. Our. Jobs. We’re really good at what we do.

Another thing. Seriously, you think it’s okay to leave us in the car while you’re outside standing in the shade yucking it up with your buddies? We enjoy a good joke too. Besides, the grass feels wonderful on our feet. And don’t think I can’t smell the burgers and fries on your breath when you get back inside the bucket of bolts you so proudly call a police car. Nearly an hour inside Mickie D’s …. puhleeze …

And, remember that traffic stop last week? Yeah, you know the one. I know you only issued her a warning. But I’m not stupid. I get it. She batted her eyelashes at you and she smelled like jasmine. What I don’t understand, though, is why you didn’t you introduce me to the poodle riding shotgun. You know I’m a sucker for curly hair. Life is not all about you and your shiny badge and big gun, you know.

Anyway, our union, Police Dogs 101, recently elected me to serve as official spokesdog, so I’m here today to address a few of our concerns in advance of the upcoming contract renewal. It wouldn’t hurt private citizens to pull up a chair and listen as well. So here goes.  I suggest you take notes.

1. We notice that you wear shoes to work every single day of your life. And we know why. Oh, boy, do we know why! Snow and ice are COLD. Concrete and asphalt are HOT. And, for goodness sake, would you walk barefoot over broken glass? Well, no one, including dogs, should be forced to walk on those surfaces. So take your narrow hips to the store and buy us some booties! They make and sell them every day. We don’t mind looking goofy if it means protection against frostbite, blisters, or cuts. Use your head, you Sherlock wannabe.

2. We enjoy biting a bad guy as much as any dog, but our internal temperatures can skyrocket while tracking and searching on really hot days. That’s right, Ace, you try wearing a thick fur coat in the August sunshine. So keep one of those thermometer things in your pocket. No, we don’t enjoy it when you poke them into the place where the sun doesn’t shine, but it’s better than keeling over from heat exhaustion. We’d do it ourselves, but … no fingers, you know.

3. Another good idea, and goodness knows you’d never think of it, is to wet us down before a search on hot days. It helps keep us cool. But, please, not when the humidity is really high, because the water in those instances would only serve to hold the heat in.

4. Bring plenty of water with you if the search is going to be a long one. We don’t like drinking from mud puddles and creeks. Do you know what’s been there? Well, we do, and it’s not exactly the most sanitary thing to do. Would you drink from something that turtles and frogs use as a toilet? I didn’t think so. And let’s not even think about all the mosquito larvae swimming and squirming around in those places. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Do us both a favor and bring along clean water!

Speaking of water … how about changing the water in my bucket a few times during the day (the containerl in my kennel)? You know me, I drool in it, and even sometimes step in it to cool my hot feet (and you know where my feet have been). Besides, I don’t like tasting the green slimy stuff that can build up in the bowl/bucket if the water sits for a long time.

5. If you do insist upon leaving me in the car while you’re off doing who knows what (probably biting someone behind my back), then please have the decency to leave the car and air conditioning running. Also, have the motor pool mechanics install an alarm that notifies you if either of the two malfunctions or shuts off. Remember, I don’t have fingers to operate the power locks and those window roller-downer-things.

6. Shade. I can’t stress this enough. We want our kennels placed in the shade. If your yard is treeless (heaven forbid) then march your butt down to the hardware store and purchase a roll or two of shade cloth to place over the top of our kennels. It’s an easy project. We’ll even help, if you want.  If so, merely place the roll near us and I promise we’ll have it unrolled and divided into bite-size pieces in no time flat. Now that’s what we call fun.

7. Speaking of fun … we demand a few hours of play time each day. You cannot expect us to work every minute. Throw something for us to retrieve. Hide something and let us find it. Let us roll around in the dirt, etc. Tug of war with a rope or our favorite toy. Anything like that will suffice. Besides, it helps to keep us fit.

My friend Ralph (below), poor guy, has a handler who never allows him any exercise time at all. Take a good look, because you’ve been a bit slack lately and I’m now about five tennis ball throws away from looking like him.

K-9 Ralph


8. And whatever you do, please don’t forget to tell us what a great job we’re doing. We absolutely adore praise for a job well done. Also, a little loving goes a long way.

Don’t go getting all mushy on me, though. A pat on the head and back and an occasional hug is all we’re asking. You can save the kisses for your spouses. Besides, you have more germs in your mouth than I do, and I’ve been known to chew on some pretty nasty stuff.

Okay, that’s it for now. We look forward to your response in advance of our next meeting.

By the way, if you happen to see that poodle again, tell her to give me a call.



Police canines: hot-n-pop

Dogs are a huge asset to any police department. They work hard, they’re good at what they do, and they ask for very little in return for their unyielding devotion. In fact, a canine partner will defend his human counterpart to the death, if necessary.

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Vehicles designed for K-9 use have come long way since the time I worked with two incredibly intelligent dogs. The first vehicle I drove was a van donated to the department by a local telephone company. It was well-marked as a K-9 police vehicle, but it was top-heavy and didn’t handle well when driving at speeds above a snail’s pace. For safety, the dogs were transported inside a crate.

The next vehicle I drove was an older Crown Vic. The rear seat was removed and a special platform was designed and installed in its place. The open compartment provided the dogs  a bit more freedom and space. (I transported one dog at a time, depending upon which of the two was needed at the time, narcotics or criminal apprehension/tracking). Today, many dogs are cross-trained to serve more than one function.

K-9 units today are much more sophisticated and they’re designed with the safety of the animal in mind. For example, each canine car or SUV is equipped with a specially designed area within the vehicle.

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Rear compartment used to transport canines.

In addition, smart-systems, such as the the Hot-N-Pop, are installed in vehicles used to transport K-9’s.

Hot-N-Pop is a multi-use system that’s able to sense when the interior of the vehicle has become too hot for the dog, so it automatically rolls down the rear windows (windows have metal screens to prevent the dog from jumping out) and activates large window fans that bring in fresh air to help cool the dog. The Hot-N-Pop also activates the car’s emergency lights and horn, as well as sending a signal to a pager worn by the canine handler.

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Window fans activate when the interior temperature is too high.

Another feature of the Hot-N-Pop is the automatic rear door opener. If the handler is in trouble and needs the assistance of his canine partner, he/she uses a remote control to open a rear car door, releasing the dog. Remotes are worn on the duty belt or carried in the officer’s pocket.

Once the dog is out of the car, trouble is normally and quickly a thing of the past.

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Here’s a video showing how the Hot-N-Pop works. It’s also a brief tour inside the vehicle.

Next is a video detailing the use of the Hot-N-Pop system. There’s also a tour of the vehicle, where you can see how and where the officer placed the various tool of his trade.

*Thanks to the good folks over at crimescenewriter for prompting the idea for today’s article.

Police K-9

Canines are a vital part of police work, and they, like their two-legged partners, must attend a basic police academy designed especially for dogs. Police dogs must be certified before they’re allow to work the streets with their handlers.

K-9 training is extremely intensive, and during the time at the academy the animals and their human partners achieve a close bond. The two gradually begin to work together as one, and simultaneously the animals become very loyal to their handlers. They’ll stop at nothing, other than their handler’s commands, to achieve their objective.

It is a must that the handler establish himself/herself as the dominate “dog” in their pack of two. There should be no doubt as to which of the two is boss. How handlers establish their dominance is a fun, yet… You know, I believe I’ll save that bit of information for another day.

Police dogs, like all working canines, love to please their human partners. Sure, they enjoy a favorite toy, food, water, and a warm place to sleep, but it’s the quality time with their handlers that they want most of all.

It’s a unique experience to have a canine partner. I had two, a huge rottweiler and black lab. The training is extremely tough for a handler, but it’s like 13 weeks at Disneyland for the dogs. Yes, that’s 13 weeks per dog.

My dogs and I attended the Virginia State Police academy. Training requirements vary for other departments.

During the time my canine partners and I were in basic training, there was quite a bit of running (lots of running) jumping, rolling in the grass (officers and dogs together), tug of war, swimming, climbing, running, running, running, and more running. Play, play, play, play, play.  It’s all fun for the dogs. It’s all grueling work for the handlers. Lots of work. And lots of running. Did I mention the running?

The academy was a lot of hard, tough work (you’d think I’d had more than my fair share of running during my first basic academy, but noooo…. I wanted to be a canine officer).

It didn’t take the troopers long to realize the canine training was sort of like 13 weeks at Chuck E. Cheese for the dogs. They loved it!

It was a real treat to watch the dogs truly enjoying every minute of every day. They were the stars of the show. We, on the other hand, were on the “dumb end of the leash.” It was all about the dogs. We didn’t get to rest until our four-legged partners needs were met.

Police dogs are trained to achieve specific goals, such as patrol/suspect apprehension, tracking, and finding narcotics.

A dog’s sense of smell is 50 times more sensitive than humans. They also smell several different items at once, making it nearly impossible to mask the scent of narcotics and other illegal items (cell phones, CD’s, weapons, ammunition, explosives, etc.).

Where humans smell the combined odors spewing from a pot of stew cooking over a fire, a dog detects the stew’s individual ingredients—bat wings, eye of newt, spider web, stump water, an owl egg, etc.

The same is true when criminals hide drugs in various containers, such as a cocaine placed in a cooler beneath  layers of ice and dead, stinky fish. But, this method of hiding narcotics won’t fool a trained police dog.

A canine trained to detect narcotics is easily able to smell the odor of the cocaine, along with the scent of the fish, the plastic used to fabricate the container, and the scent of the person who handled the cooler.

The same is true no matter where drugs are hidden—luggage, in canisters containing black pepper, an engine compartment, etc.

Police dogs trained to apprehend bad guys are absolutely fearless. Once the handler lets his/her dog know which person is the target to take down, the canine immediately focuses on nothing but the bad guy. It’s like flipping a switch from happy and playful to serious and let’s go!

The method used to alert a dog to a particular person/target is often a guarded secret. And I’m not telling.

*By the way, today begins the first step in our move back to the left coast. The packers are here today and tomorrow, and the movers are scheduled to show up Wednesday morning to empty out our house. A week later we begin the journey westward.

During the next two weeks my blogging may be a bit sporadic, but I’ll try to post something each day. No guarantees, though.

Anyway, to those of you in our new hometown, we’ll see you sometime in April. Of course, we not exactly sure where we’ll settle down. We’ll make that decision after taking a hard right turn at Bakersfield, heading north toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’m anxious to connect and re-connect with writers in the San Francisco area. Please let me know about meeting locations and times.

Police Dogs and How they Operate


Dogs used by police agencies are trained for specific purposes, and the breed of the dog normally determines the duty assigned to it. Strong, aggressive breeds such as German Shepherds and Rottweilers are normally chosen as patrol dogs. These dogs are the biters of police canines, and they are used for the apprehension of criminals, crowd control, and for the protection of their handlers. They are trained to bite on command, and they are trained never to bite a suspect who is standing still and complying with a police officer’s commands.

Canines make excellent partners. They’re very loyal and will go to great lengths to protect their handlers. To better assist canine officers, their patrol cars are equipped with a remote controlled rear window or door that operated by a device attached to the officer’s gunbelt. A push of a button (above photo) opens the door allowing the dog to come to his partner’s aid.

Patrol dogs are trained to bite as a game. During their training, they are taught to bite a suspect who is wearing either a padded sleeve on one arm or a full bite-suit. The instructors make biting a game for the dogs, so it is fun for them to sink their teeth into their suited prey, and they are rewarded and praised for doing so.


Patrol dogs are not trained to be mean. They just want to play in the way they were taught – by biting. I have seen some K-9s that liked to bite so much they would bump a suspect with their nose, hoping he would move so they could bite him.  One particular dog that comes to mind  buried his nose in a suspect’s crotch and then  nudged gently – his way of trying to get the guy to move so he could bite.

Less aggressive breeds, such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers make excellent narcotics- and explosive-detection dogs. Narcotics-detection canines are normally taught to detect four kinds of drugs, such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. But they can be trained to detect others, including mushrooms and various pills. They can be taught to aggressively alert police officers by scratching around the area where they’ve detected the drugs, or they can be taught to sit, on their discovery – a passive alert.  For obvious reasons, explosive-detection dogs are taught to alert passively.

Search-and-rescue dogs are trained to find people by using their keen sense of smell. Dogs have the ability to detect several scents at once. Where humans smell a pot of stew cooking, dogs differentiate the individual ingredients – onions, carrots, meat, etc. It is this remarkable ability that allows the canine to focus on one particular scent – dismissing the unimportant ones – and follow the target smell to its source. Hiding drugs in coolers beneath piles of dead fish won’t fool a trained narc dog. Tracking dogs are also used to locate cadavers. These dogs can find human remains on land or in water. Any police dog can be trained to track, but the dog best suited for this job is the Bloodhound.

Bloodhounds are large, extremely affectionate dogs that will relentlessly follow a track. Some police-canine handlers prefer not to use Bloodhounds to track dangerous felons because the dogs are so friendly. It is not unusual to see a Bloodhound find a violent criminal and then attempt to lick or cuddle with the crook.

Any police dog can be cross-trained to serve other purposes but, many handlers prefer to use a dog for one specific purpose, except in the case of tracking and biting.

I’ve found bad guys tend to surrender a lot faster when they’re facing a snarling police dog whose bite is much worse than his bark.