When trails run cold or drugs can’t be detected by the human eye, police often turn to the noses of their four-legged partners. In these days of DNA testing and high-tech communication, sometimes one of the best tools in law enforcement is man’s best friend
Inv. Gregory Shaffer, supervisor of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit, offered five things the general public might not know about police dogs. The sheriff’s office K-9 Unit was launched in May 1984 with two dogs, Samson and Arek; it now has three full-time working dogs — Frenkie, Scooter and Asta. A fourth dog, Penny, passed away in 2007 and was replaced by another bloodhound, Truman.
1) Police dogs are not meant to be pets: Although trained police dogs live with their designated handlers, they are not like normal house pets, Shaffer said.
“Their disposition is different, their drive is different,” he said. “Police dogs have extremely high drives and are not always the most pleasant dogs to be around.” The best police dogs, Shaffer said, are “very aggressive, very territorial.”
2) Bloodline and breed matter: Bloodhounds, like Penny, are tracking specialists that use their noses to find lost or missing people. Deputy John Peck said a bloodhound once sniffed out vandals that used heavy machinery to cause thousands of dollars in damage to the Canandaigua Tops by following a scent from a discarded beer can. Labradors, like Shaffer’s “partner” Scooter, are good at finding narcotics and accelerants but are weaker at patrol work, like taking down hostile suspects. German shepherds, meanwhile, are well-rounded dogs that can sniff out contraband and fiercely defend their handlers, Shaffer said.
3) Training is paramount and ongoing: Dogs go through two rounds of training at the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office. There, they learn the basics of bite-work and handler protection. Dogs are also trained to hone in on the scents of 10 different accelerants and four types of drugs (marijuana, cocaine, heroin and amphetamines).
4) Police dogs need to play: It’s an essential part of their training. They’re trained to react to scents in different ways. When they smell drugs, most dogs scratch, dig and try to bite at the item bearing the scent. Bomb-detection dogs are trained to sit, lie down or stare in the direction of whatever they smell. “If they smell an odor, they react in the way they were trained,” Shaffer said. Handlers tdaj gahen reward the animal by letting them play with a toy that has the scent they are trained to detect. “The dogs are trying to play,” Shaffer said. “They want to find their toy.”
5) Retirement can be tough: Like their human partners, years of hard work can take a toll on police dogs, forcing them to retire. Retirement ages and reasons vary for each dog, Shaffer said. His dog, Scooter, will soon retire after about eight years of duty because of a seizure disorder, he said. Judgie, the unit’s last labrador, was on the job for 13 years and was instrumental in a large drug bust just a few weeks before he died of a stroke. When the time comes to hang up their badge, most dogs go to live with their handlers. While they can be fierce when on duty, most dogs mellow with age. “I know a lot of guys who had dogs that were terrors on the street, but when they took them home, they became great house pets,” he said.