Police Dogs

Police work can be doggone stressful…

Here’s a big waggy welcome to the new members of Quinte West OPP’s canine unit, Const. Jeff Scott and German shepherd Jake. The dedication their job demands should make us all stop whining about late shifts or stressful assignments.

In Ernst Kuglin’s article about the new team last week, Scott notes he’s “on-call 24/7” doing what he calls an extremely demanding, but rewarding job. And when the canine officer is on the job, either Jake or his Labrador retriever partner Siege will be hard at work too.

There are currently 28 teams of handlers and dogs in the OPP canine unit, stationed across the province. Some of the dogs, like Siege, are trained to search for guns and explosives. Others work in rescue operations finding humans, dead or alive. There are also drug-detectors, as well as general-service dogs, involved in tracking and chasing down crime suspects.

These OPP dogs and their handlers have to pass rigorous tests, endure strenuous training and still more testing before being accepted into the unit. Similar canine programs are operated by the RCMP and municipal police forces across the country. The majority of police dogs are shepherds because the breed possesses the right mix of traits. They show courage, intelligence, trainability and are driven to work hard. They must also form a close bond with their handlers and be protective.

Respected German shepherd breeders in Europe and around the world, test their stock for acceptable traits using a demanding program called Schutzhund. Many police dogs come from this genetic base.

Other than guide dogs for the disabled, there aren’t many working dogs in North American communities compared to the number of pets. I had one border collie patient who herded sheep and another who was trained to chase geese off the golf course. That sweet guy was always a bit damp and smelled of pond water. He was very good at the job, but to a police dog, his goose-patrol would be a mini-vacation.

Anxiety disorders can take a toll on police dogs in part because of the work they do and also because they are, by nature, so highly driven to perform. Particularly in search and rescue work, dogs may need treatment for heat stroke and exhaustion. Despite careful attention by their handlers, they are so focused on their work, they can push themselves too hard. Hundreds of rescue dogs involved in the 911 horror required medical treatment of some kind.

The working life of most police dogs lasts about seven years, at which time they can hopefully enjoy what we pet owners consider a more normal life of leisure. But, as for some people I know, retirement doesn’t always sit easily with working dogs. They may need to find some geese to chase to avoid anxiety problems.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Quinte West/Trenton, Ontario
August 2013