The first public use of police dogs stems back to Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, in 1889. After countlessly coming up empty handed in the search for the infamous Jack the Ripper, and a harsh rebuke from the general public, Warren employed bloodhounds. Not England’s, nor the dogs, finest hour – as no one was found. A decade later, in 1899, the first official police K-9 unit was formed in Ghent, Belgium. As they say, the rest is history.
K-9 units are instrumental in modern day policing. There are three types of K-9s utilized in police work. Ranging from narcotics investigations, explosive/firearm investigations, and apprehension/search investigations. Each style is rigorously trained to carry out their duties. It is extremely difficult to cross-train the canines, and has caused quite some issues in police departments (i.e. an apprehension/narcotics dog biting a compliant individual during a vehicle narcotics search). They are trained for a reason, and mixing that up only creates havoc. Alright, let’s get into the breakdown and enjoy the takedown video at the end.
Narcotic dogs are utilized in the search of a vehicle, person, luggage, or building. Their keen scent receptors are 40x more powerful than a humans, capable of picking up residue or whole drugs – even if inside a package. Having watched these beautiful creatures at work, I know how powerful their snouts can be. Narcotic K-9s are deployed in road patrol, special investigations, and airports/border crossings.
Narcotic K-9 breeds are similar to explosives/firearm breeds, as identification of a particular substance is key. The common breeds of narcotics K-9s are as follows: Belgian Malinois, Beagle, Basset Hound, Labrador Retriever, and German Shepherd. While they may be docile in temperament, YOU STILL CANNOT PET OR FEED THEM. Consider all police dogs as if they were humans. Would you just walk up to another human and pet them? No. You would not.
Explosive K-9s are put to use in the detection of various explosive chemical materials. They are typically found at airports, large public events, and government buildings. If a bomb threat is called in anywhere, you can be sure explosive K-9s will be enroute. They tend to work behind the scenes and not have much interaction with the general public.
Explosive K-9s can also be used by road patrol if a suspect flees and ditches a firearm. The dogs can track and locate the gunpowder, thus preventing it from falling into the wrong hands. They are typically docile in nature, but the same no touching rule applies. Breeds associated with Explosive investigations: English Cocker Spaniel, Blood hounds, Basset Hounds, and German Shepherds.
The true badasses of the K-9 crew. Alpha dogs in more ways than one. These dogs are fast, strong and have a keen tracking ability. I’ve been bit by them (in training) while wearing a fire-hose forearm wrap. While it did not break skin, the pressure was excruciating and the bruises lasted for days. I’ve also seen them take down suspects in real time. Trust me, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of an apprehension K-9’s bite.
Apprehension K-9s are trained to track and force humans into submission. They bite and don’t let go. You can give them your best punches or kicks or strikes, but a good apprehension K-9 will lock tight and never let go until their handlers issue a command. That is there sole job. These dogs carry no fear and can make the strongest of giants curl up in a ball and cry. They do not play well with others, nor should they.
Apprehension K-9s are typically deployed on patrol and call-outs if the department utilizes perimeter systems or a suspect has hidden in a tactically difficult location (i.e. a drainage pipe). The breeds associated with Apprehension are typically either German or Dutch Shepherds. These are the canines that will rattle a parked police cruiser when you pass by and ferociously bark like savages. Interesting fact: apprehension K-9s must wait several hours after eating and before being deployed, as any grueling activity or excitement can cause fatal stomach bloat.
An offshoot of the Apprehension K-9 is a cadaver (or search) dog. These are not apprehension K-9s, but are utilized for search and rescue purposes. They are typically not trained to bite and often consist of the blood hound or basset hound species.
Police Dogs are essential tools for law enforcement. They are considered sworn officers in the eyes of the law and have to pass grueling tests and training to be put in the field. Any harmful action against them is typically considered either a felony or is similar to action against a human police officer.
One final mention. Sometimes people complain about K-9s left in running patrol cars while their handlers are inside a store or on a call. Please put your fears to rest. Police K-9 vehicles are equipped with not only an alarm if the vehicle interior rises to harmful temperatures, but an automated system where the rear windows go down and powerful fans kick on to help keep the dogs cool. So don’t worry. Based on the number of safe spaces in America, these K-9 warriors are tougher than most humans these days (myself included).