In Snellville, Georgia, just northeast of Atlanta, four police K-9s are hard at work protecting the peaceful way of life. Nearby, the Duluth Police Department has three teams assigned to the Special Operations Unit in the Uniform Division, also protecting and serving the people.
You can see it in their eyes
Watching the dedication of these Snellville officers and their K-9 partners is an impressive sight. The focus they have on each other and the drills that they run through is impressive. The chemistry and connection they’ve developed is also very powerful, and in a very real way, stunning to watch. With obedience work, play, and other bond building exercises, these teams become two halves of a whole.
Because these two groups are from neighboring jurisdictions and are so close geographically, they often train together. Joint training allows all of the dogs and their officer handlers the important opportunity to learn from each other. This is very valuable because each individual team in both jurisdictions have skill sets that are valuable and can be shared to better all teams at a given training day.
Is there preferred breed for police dogs?
When you think of police dogs, most people think of German Shepherd Dogs. Interestingly, neither Snellville nor Duluth have a preferred breed, let alone a pure bred German Shepherd Dog. Within the ranks of the Snellville K-9 Unit, there are several breeds and breed combinations. There is a Belgian Malinois, a Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd Dog mix, a Dutch Shepherd Dog, and even a Golden Labrador Retriever.
What does it take to be a K-9 officer?
There are a lot of qualifications that must be met to become a K-9 handler. Factors taken into consideration include how many years of experience on patrol, the officer’s work ethic, resume, the outcome of interviews and informal testing specific to K-9 work. A committee will then discuss the pro’s and con’s of each applicant — including whether or not the specific dog will fit in the home life of the prospective handler.
Police dogs aren’t born, they’re made
At around 8 weeks old police dog candidates begin basic training. From there they are eased into more advanced commands for their future work. Jobs range from narcotics detection to patrol work. All of their skill sets are phased in as the pup is ready.
The young K-9’s are usually matched with their handlers around one year of age. Many will have a long career of rewarding work that often spans eight or nine years. The dog is formally retired when they start slowing down due to age and infirmity. At these two police departments, because the dogs are the property of their handlers, the retired dogs often become household pets and protectors of the handler’s family. The handlers are often allowed to have more than one dog at a time. An example would be a situation in which the handler has one active duty dog and one retired dog living in the same house at the same time.
Getting ready to go to work!
The dogs, according to their handlers, definitely know when they are about to go to work and they get visibly excited. K-9 Bart of Snellville, for example, doesn’t wear a collar when not working, but at work he wears two. K-9 Alf of Duluth knows he’s going to work well before his handler gets to the door. He knows by the fact that his handler is getting into uniform. K-9 Alf gets so excited that he waits by the door.
Five important things K-9 officers want you to know
- First and most important: K-9’s are NOT pets, and they should be treated with the respect that they have earned. In some police departments, dogs are given badges and are considered officers of the law. Police dogs are trained for many jobs including patrol work, narcotics detection, tracking, article/evidence locating, building searches for suspects, area searches for both suspects and missing persons and, of course, are also trained in protection work for their handlers. This is why these dogs should be treated differently than the average house dog.
- Police K-9’s are incredibly smart, and exceptionally well trained, through years of hard, dedicated work.
- These dogs are not to be petted. You should never reach into a police car or truck and attempt to pet a K-9. If a person unexpectedly approaches a police K-9, the dog may assume that the person is a danger to the handler or other nearby officers and attempt to defend.
- The officers also request — for everyone’s safety — that the public keep their own dogs, professional or not, away from police K-9s.
- It’s good advice for someone approaching any strange dog (and it should go without saying) but you should never tease, play with or take a toy from a K-9’s mouth. I’m sure you can figure out why.
It’s not all work for police K-9s — they have fun too!
A fun fact about K-9 Alf is that he has a sense of humor while working. While he enjoys his work and takes it very seriously, his personality shows. In one example, during a narcotics search, K-9 Alf was asked to “show me” when he alerted to a purse in a car. The dog clearly gestured to the purse but the handler said “show me” again — so K-9 Alf picked up the purse and dropped it at his handler’s feet. The handler searched the purse and found marijuana inside!
Another fun fact, Snellville K9 Bart is known for his “constant stream of drool,” and it’s said that the drool gets on everyone and everything. In K-9 Bart’s down time, he also loves to dig holes in his backyard, and play with toys.
What should you do if you see a working dog?
As you see different working dogs doing going about their business, including Service Dogs, Department of Homeland Security Explosives Detection Dogs, local search and rescue and cadaver dogs and more, distracting these dogs even asking questions of the handler can be very disruptive. (Read: What should you do if you see a Service Dog?)
Never distract or pet any dog that is in the middle of doing its job, even if it appears to be sitting still doing nothing.
The officers’ dogs are working, just like the other professional working dogs mentioned in this article are working. Distracting a dog has consequences that may or may not be instantly visible to the untrained eye, but can cause anything from a mild disruption to a dangerous situation. Please understand that these dogs are every ounce the true professional, and treat them with the dignity and respect that they have earned and deserve. Always give any working dog the same consideration that you enjoy when you are at work doing your job. Allow them to focus, and give them some space.