Taking a Bite out of Crime

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A long search to select him.
Hundreds of hours training him.
Certification is passed…And now he has his first bad guy in sight.

United States Police K-9s usually begin their life in Europe, often in Holland or Czechoslovakia. As puppies, they are observed for innate personality traits such as the dog’s play, how they interact with humans, and their overall disposition. Handlers are looking for an energetic, playful dog that will retrieve a ball and, more importantly, bring it back for more play. They’re looking for the dog that loves to play tug-of-war and holds on persistently until the end. Early signs of the dog’s ability to bond with humans, tenacity and a natural curiosity are all key traits that will help in their future role as a police K-9 officer.

As soon as the handler and K-9 are together, training begins. All K-9s are extensively trained in obedience which teaches the K-9 to follow verbal and nonverbal commands given by their handler. Agility training teaches the K-9 how to negotiate obstacles by climbing, jumping, or crawling. Additional and more advanced training includes tracking, apprehension, narcotics or explosives detection, search and rescue (SAR), and patrol. Further training for handlers and their K-9s continue on a regular basis for the duration of their careers. The Chattanooga Police Department’s (CPD) K-9 Unit trains weekly year round.

SAR K-9s are also trained to find missing children and/or adults. Often, they use “soft-mouth” breeds, such as Golden Retrievers—in case the victim comes into physical contact with the SAR K-9—for example, if they need to be rescued from under any obstruction.

Narcotics Detection K-9’s are trained to recognize the smell of a number of drugs. Their superior sense of smell allows the K-9, for example, to search a vehicle for drugs and “alert” the handler when they are found.

With explosives detection K-9s, as with narcotics detection K-9s, the nose knows. Riverbend patrons each year are frequently protected by these detection K-9s.

Apprehension K-9s are trained to bite once and hold onto the suspect, regardless of what they do. Once apprehended, the handler commands the K-9 to release the suspect, but this may take a few tries. If the dog senses resistance, they won’t let go. Does the bite hurt? For sure! The suspect receives any medical treatment necessary for injuries sustained.

Amazingly, a handler can command their K-9 to stop an apprehension virtually in mid-stride if a suspect surrenders. The K-9s reward is knowing he pleased his handler. It is perfectly normal and acceptable for a police K-9 officer to talk to their K-9 like a small child. “That’s a goooood boy!” This is accompanied by lots of petting, which is their reward.

When a K-9 is called in to help with an uncooperative suspect(s), it shows up, gets out of the patrol car with its handler, and is ready to roll! The handler has to hold the K-9 back as it jumps, lunges, barks fiercely, shows his teeth, etc. The handler is simply controlling the dog but is ready to act immediately when/if necessary. It’s almost as if the suspect(s) understands the K-9’s thoughts, which are very intimidating to them and often result in their surrender.

Officer Sean O’Brien with Officer Anik

Some people think all police K-9s are vicious/mean. That’s not true. Rather, all police K-9s are trained. Sean O’Brien is a CPD K-9 officer, and his partner is Officer Anik who is half German Shepard/half Belgian Malinois. Anik is very approachable, friendly, and loves to be petted. That is, until duty calls. CPD K-9 Officer Lucas Timmons’ partner is Officer Burt, a 2-1/2-year-old Belgian Malinois, who is very friendly at home and at work. When Luke tells him it’s time to work, he becomes very intense and focused.

A K-9’s life purpose is protecting and pleasing their handler, and they follow the handler’s commands the very best they can. There is one exception to a K-9 acting without being commanded to do so. That is, if the K-9 sees their handler in harm’s way. Then all bets are off. They will do whatever needs to be done, up to and including sacrificing their own life, to save their partner’s life. Nothing brings out anger and aggression in a K-9 more than someone attempting/threatening to harm their handler. Similarly, Sean and Luke are two of the nicest guys you could meet, but woe be to anyone who threatens to harm their dog. The bond between these handlers and their K-9 partners is almost tangible.

These officers’ life partners share the bond of living with a K-9 cop. Since the K-9 usually comes home with the handler, the family often embraces it as a pet. It would be very difficult for a K-9 officer, or any police officer, to do their job effectively without the support of their family. They make sacrifices just as their officer does, and that is deeply appreciated.

The job of a police officer is not what it used to be. They are peace officers, counselors, mediators, interventionists, ambassadors, and even parental figures to some. They have to make split-second life and death decisions on a daily basis. In addition, a K-9 officer is responsible for a very large, very powerful dog. It’s like “Take Your Kid to Work With You” every day for them, but they wouldn’t change a thing.

Chattanooga police officers selflessly do what they do to protect the citizens of our city. They do it because they love their job, and they love our city. To all officers who make up Chattanooga’s “Thin Blue Line,” THANK YOU from a grateful community!

Story by DeeAnn Burnette-Lundquist

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