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Generally, the dogs can work until about the age of 9, but it can vary, depending upon the health of the dog.
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We received our current dogs from an organization in Alabama. The dogs originated in Europe. The organization in Alabama has highly experienced staff who are specialized in being able to select dogs who would work well as police dogs. They bring them back from Europe to be available to police agencies in the United States.
The organization in Alabama selects them for us. They look for the drive of the dogs, select dogs who are not gun shy will protect their handler, and can be used as a dual-purpose dog. The dogs are trained to work as narcotics dogs and as search dogs.
The breeds most used as police dogs are Belgian Malinois (pronounced MAL-IN-WAH) or Dutch Shepard. The reason to use these breeds is they are highly driven, are not fearful, and are very trainable. They are smaller than German Shepherds, so they can fit in tighter spaces when doing searches. The Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd typically have a longer life span, with not as many health issues. One of our dogs is a cross between the two breeds, and the other is a Belgian Malinois.
The average is around two years of age.
We attend K-9 training before submitting our names for consideration to know what will be involved as a dog handler. We then apply for the position and go through a panel interview. After our appointment as a dog handler, we attend the Nebraska State Patrol Service Dog Training Course, which runs for 15 weeks.
The dogs are trained to find narcotics, property, or people.
We train the dogs for 8 hours each week. We don’t have a training facility, so we have to find somewhere that is available. Sometimes we use the fire stations.
They need to have a good drive to get the task completed and also be obedient to the handler. The dog needs to react appropriately, depending upon the situation.
The dog will work based upon the instructions of the handler. The dogs are trained to auto engage to protect the handler if the handler is injured.
When doing a narcotics search, we are working in close proximity with the dogs to minimize the possibility of harmful exposure. When entering a situation where narcotics could be found, we take precautionary measures, if possible, to reduce harm to the dogs.
Generally, when working the dogs, we don’t allow people to directly interact with the dogs. We do participate in school demos, and if the dogs are social, we allow the students to pet them at that time.
When at home, the dogs interact very well with the family, and are like family members. The dogs interact very well with our co-workers.
The dogs know when we are getting ready for work and see us putting on our uniforms. They get excited that they will be going to work. When they are home, they are able to differentiate that they are ’off duty.’
The dogs are inside the home when not at work.
I am happy to say that our office has a policy that when the dog retires, it goes to the home of the handler.
The dogs are trained with their handler as a team, and are very connected with their handler. As such, handlers cannot switch off using dogs; the dogs can only be used with the handler they are trained with.
The biggest challenge is relying on your dog and trusting them. Obviously, they cannot speak. When there is no verbal communication, it is trusting the dog when it is reacting. It is knowing through extensive training that the dog is taking the right action. The dogs are amazing with their instinct and use of their training.
It is very rewarding to see the dogs when they successfully complete the task and use the training we give them, whether it is evidence recovery, human tracking, or narcotics searches.
We have a K-9 vehicle that is configured for the dogs. A very valuable piece of equipment we carry is a Canine Emergency Medical kit. This kit can provide valuable medical assistance for the dog if it is injured. We use muzzles for the dogs during training exercises. We have a special harness for tracking that allows us to lift the dog, if needed, to get where they need to go when they are doing searches.
In the State of Nebraska, there are laws regarding animal cruelty, but those laws are not specific to any harm or injury to the police dogs as a result of being assaulted while performing their duties. In some states, there are laws that protect the police dogs with tougher penalties if someone causes injury to a police dog.