Frequently Asked Questions
Every wonder why law enforcement uses dogs? Where do they come from? Are there female police dogs? Most of the commonly asked questions officers get can be answered below.
Why use Police Dogs
There are several reason why police service dogs are an invaluable tool to law enforcement.
For one thing, their sense of smell is thousands times more sensitive than a human's. A dog can sniff out criminals,drugs, weapons, and bombs in situations where a human officer would have to search every inch, a dangerous task.
In addition to sensitivity, a dog's sense of smell is picky. It can discern a specific scent even when there are dozens of other scents around. Drug smugglers have tried to fool drug-sniffing dogs by wrapping drugs in towels soaked with perfume, but the dogs find the drugs anyway.
A police dog's work isn't all about his nose, though. The intimidating growl of a well-trained can cause many criminals to surrender instead of running or fighting. The very presence of a police dog can prevent physical confrontations most of the time.
When a conflict does arise, dogs are faster and stronger than most humans, able to catch a fleeing criminal and clamp down with powerful jaws to apprehend the suspect until other officers arrive. Dogs have more than earned their place in the police forces of the world.
What is the history of Police Dogs?
European police forces were using bloodhounds as early as the 18th century. It wasn't until World War I that countries like Belgium and Germany formalized the training process and started using dogs for specific tasks, such as guard duty. The practice continued through World War II. Soldiers returning home brought news of the well-trained dogs being used by both sides of the conflict. Soon, K-9 programs were begun in London and other cities across Europe. The use of police dogs didn't gain a foothold in the United States until the 1970s. Today, police dogs are recognized as a vital part of law enforcement, and the use of police dogs has grown rapidly in the last five years
What do Police Dogs Do?
Police canines use all of their senses to locate persons or contraband. The most powerful sense they use is their nose, which is thousands times more sensitive than a human’s. The next most powerful sense a dog possesses is their hearing, which far exceeds human capabilities. And lastly, dogs use their eyesight to help them in confirming what their nose and ears have told them-there’s a person or contraband in the immediate vicinity. Canine searches can be completed much quicker than human searches, regardless of lighting and environmental conditions, and greatly reduce the risk to human officers.
Tracking is a skill which commands the canine to begin following ground surface disturbance left by a person when they leave an area. Most all tracking is done on leash. Canines can be deployed to track fleeing suspects or missing people.
Tracking can be used over grass, dirt or hard surfaces such as cement and asphalt. As the person who is being tracked walks, they leave a trail. The trail is a disturbance to the ground. The weight of the person crushes the vegetation and as the biological matter decomposes it has a different odor than the ground around it, which is what the canine detects. This is learned by extensive training and is truly an art form as there are several factor, both human and environmental that can make a track a success, or not.
The canine’s sense of smell is said to be 100,000 to 1,000,000 times more sensitive than a humans. The person leaving the track also deposits skin rafts along the track as well as the odor of the shoes they are wearing. It is all of these odors put together that the canine uses to follow the track even through contamination of foot traffic belonging to someone else who is not the focus of the track.
Tracking becomes an essential tool especially in rural areas. Tracking can assist in narrowing the scope of a search in a vast search area. Handlers have had numerous successes with the deployment of the canine on a track.
The area search is by far the most common usage of the canines. An area search may be conducted on a long line or off line where the K9 can roam unrestricted. Using the canines on an area search is not always done to locate criminals. At times we may use the area search to look for missing people.
However, the majority of the time when you see a canine team working in your neighborhood conducting a yard-to-yard area search they are looking for a suspect.
The canine is using air scent while doing an area search. The canine is looking for the scent cone of the suspect to help them centralize the source of the odor. The scent cone is made up of the suspect’s body odor which the canine can detect and forms a cone shape away from the suspect as the odor moves through the air. The canine is trained to work the scent cone back to its point of highest concentration and to alert the handler of this. A good handler will notice subtle changes in their canine’s behavior. These behavior changes may lead the handler to direct his canine partner a certain way to hopefully catch a stronger portion of the scent cone.
Wind conditions, temperature, the search environment are all considerations the handler has to think about to help his/her canine become successful. The canines work hard to locate the odor, but it is up to the handler to get the canine near the odor so that he is able to detect it and begin working the scent cone back to the suspect.
A solid team effort involving all officers will help increase the likelihood of a successful apprehension.
Police canines throughout United States are used almost the same and follow the same guidelines. The canines are there to assist their handlers, detectives and other officers in locating suspects, missing persons, narcotics and evidence.
At times the canines are used to stop a fleeing suspect by physically apprehending whom may have escaped capture if the canine was not available.
The canine handler must consider the totality of the circumstances along with the severity of the crime committed by the suspect and whether the suspect is actively trying to evade arrest when making a decision of whether to apprehend a suspect with their canine.
The Redding Police Department K9 Unit makes every attempt to take a suspect into custody without a bite from the canine. There are times that we are faced with violent suspects whose number one goal is to avoid arrest at all costs.
The canine unit has hundreds of canine deployments annually. A deployment is considered a use of the canine on an area search, building search, track, missing person search, article search, narcotic search, or any other use.
Most incidents are resolved peacefully with a very small portion of the apprehensions resulting in the canine biting the suspect.
Tactical / SWAT Operations
A good SWAT dog is a proven patrol dog that is quiet and very driven, highly interested in searching for people. The canine must be sociable and comfortable working around other SWAT Team members and in close quarters and tight spaces. Of tremendous importance, is that the dog is very obedient and will obey a handlers commands without hesitation and from a distance. Conversely, SWAT Team members must be comfortable around the dog and be confident in its abilities and trust the handler to set limitations as to what the dog can do.
When using the canine in a SWAT search, the dog is used to clear areas of concern for the human officers. The dog is sent forward of the team on or off lead, to clear hallways, rooms, or blind corners. The canine sniffs rooms it passes, enters open rooms, and clears open areas by using its superior senses. If the dog does not show an alert, the handler will place the dog in a “down and stay” using hand signals or very quiet commands, and the SWAT Team will move up behind the dog and take a new position of cover. The dog, in essence, becomes the “point man” to protect the team from any threat that may suddenly appear. The handler then deploys the canine in the same manner until the suspect is located. If a canine locates and alerts on a suspect, the SWAT Team can now implement their arrest or negotiations plan and the dog may be moved back until it is needed to assist the arrest team. If the suspect remains concealed and refuses to cooperate, the canine may be used to enter the room and physically apprehend the suspect.
SWAT Teams may also choose to use the canine in area searches of large outdoor open areas by providing armed support to the canine handler as they search areas either on or off lead. The use of the canine substantially lowers the risk of a human officer being hurt or killed by walking up on a well hidden suspect and allows for a more thorough search of large areas.
Thankfully, more missions are resolved peacefully and without injury to anyone, than those that are not. It is not uncommon for a suspect to surrender upon hearing the canine alerting to their presence. Most criminals will readily admit, they would much rather take their chances in fighting with a human than to be physically apprehended by a canine.
The Redding Police Department utilizes several canines on call outs handled by the SWAT Team. All of the canines are regularly trained in searching and working with SWAT Teams.
The Redding Police utilizes several of our dogs as certified narcotics detection canine teams.
Canines assist officers in locating narcotics hidden by criminals. As you can imagine paranoid drug abusers hide their illegal drugs in some remarkable places. It is certain that without the use of a well-trained canine and the canines keen since of smell many narcotic stashes would go undiscovered.
The narcotics canines are commonly used on probation searches, warrant sweeps and at schools per the request of school administrators. The canines can also be used on traffic stops to search vehicles.
Canines are typically trained in locating the four most common illegal drugs, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.
This should actually be the first thing we talk about when it comes to police service dogs. The RPD K9 Unit strictly follows the motto that without good obedience, none of this other stuff we talked about above means anything. Thru obedience, comes everything else. Part of the obedience work we practice is agility work.
OBEDIENCE - A police canine’s obedience is pretty much the same as normal pet dogs. Canines have to know how to heel, make right and left turns while heeling, sit, down, stay, and have quick recalls.
Where police canines differ from your everyday dog is that police canines are expected to do obedience in a variety of situations and environmental conditions. The canine must stay at heel with the handler regardless of distractions that are bothersome to the canine, such as gunfire. Police canines train in what is called "tactical obedience". In tactical obedience the handler will practice a variety of shooting stances on the move. The canine is taught to automatically go into the down position as the officer’s handgun is drawn. The canine will down when the officer goes into a standing, kneeling, or prone shooting stance. In tactical obedience we work on recalls while moving with our handguns drawn. During a recall the canines are placed in a down behind the handler instead of at heel. Having the canine down behind the handler is so the canine will not be under the handler’s feet. Hand signals are also used so the movements of the canine may made without the noise of a verbal command. Handlers spend many hours working on obedience with the canines. Obedience is the basic fundamental behavior all canines must have to do the job of a police canine.
AGILITY - Police canines practice agility to assure they will be able and ready to accept the challenges they may face while working. The dogs are trained in jumping over three foot chain link fences. This is to replicate a chain link fence the canines may encounter around a residence. They practice the window jump to teach them to go through open windows. We also practice with a lifting hoist. The hoist goes around the canine’s torso and is used when extracting a canine from a high attic or off the roof a building. Our canines have a feeling of accomplishment when they are able to complete the obstacle course. They are always rewarded for the efforts with an exciting toss of their favorite toy.
Where do Police Dogs come from?
The Redding Police Department contracts with Witmer-Tyson Imports out of Menlo Park, CA. RPD uses WTI as a vendor, purchasing dogs directly from them. WTI has a variety of breeding programs, both domestic and international. WTI searches and hand picks dogs that would be well suited to be police dogs. They also find dogs from other breeders around the world.
When the dogs are ready to begin their police service career (typically around 18-24 months of age), agencies are brought in to select a dog that best meets the needs of the agency and handler.
RPD then sends a selected handler to a 4-week basic patrol school where the handler and dog learn to work as a team.
Upon completion, the handler and dog are certified by the California Police Officers Standards and Training - Canine Standards and return to the agency.
RPD typically trains in-house for several weeks prior to the K-9 Team hitting the street. This is to ensure that they are fully ready for the responsibility that lay ahead.
After this, each team participates, at the minimum, 4-hours each week to maintain skills. Witmer-Tyson Imports sends a professional trainer to the Redding Area twice a month to assist in training.
Teams are also sent to specialized schools (Tracking, Narcotics, SKIDDS, etc) and to Advanced Handler schools.
Are there female Police Dogs?
Yes. There are plenty of female police dogs in service throughout the world. There are many reasons why they are not as popular to be used as working dogs, such as their heat cycles (police dogs are typically not spayed or neutered). Also, most breeders typically keep their star female dogs for breeding purposes. Other than that, female dogs can be as good if not better than their male counterparts, depending on the handler and training.
How are Police Dog Handlers selected and what is training like?
Each law enforcement agency is different. At the Redding Police Department, handlers are typically seasoned veteran officers who have displayed outstanding police tactics, leadership, report writing and overall good practice. Police Dog handlers are expected to be leaders in the field and are forced into some of the most dangerous situations of any law enforcement officer. They are the front lines in searching for dangerous criminals who are hiding and evading capture. They are required to lead the search efforts and utilized resources as well as associate with other agencies on a regular basis.
There is also an extreme amount of time that is needed to be dedicated to handling a police canine. A police dog is the only living, breathing tool that law enforcement has (except for horses). Because of this, police canine typically live at home with the handlers and their families. This requires a lot of effort from the handler as he is always maintaining a piece of equipment that belongs to the city. They are required to feed and groom their dogs, make sure their vet visits are up to date, pick up dog poop... All the things that come with owning a dog.
For these reasons, officers go thru a series of in-house testing before being selected as handlers. After selection, officers assist veteran handlers and the department trainer in selecting the right dog. A matching of handler and dog is very important.
Once paired and after a short bonding time, the new canine team is sent off for a dedicated training period of typically 4 weeks followed by a State Certification by the California Police Officer Standards and Training (POST). They then return to RPD and complete an additional two-week in-house training. The team is then approved by the Chief of Police and begins working the street as a canine team.
This initial training process is only the beginning of a careers worth of training days. Each K9 team trains a minimum of 16-hours per month (4-hours per week) as a unit. Each handler then trains as often as time allows on their own or during down times of their shifts.
Teams are frequently sent to advanced trainings such as tracking schools, narcotics schools, tactical SWAT schools and legal schools.
What happens when a police dog retires?
Active police dogs are owned by the City of Redding. All costs associated with the dog are paid for by the City, however care is provided by the handler.
When a police dog retires, the handler has the option of keeping the dog. This is typically what happens as their is a very unique bond that is formed between a handler and his police dog.
As a result of this, the officer assumes all responsibility and care of his K9 partner, including vet bills, food, etc.
One of the goals of Communities for Police Canines, is to support these dogs in their retirement years.
Can I get involved? How?
Absolutely. Community is what we are all about. Visit our DONATE-ADOPT page and read how you can help support our canines!