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I’m currently working an extremely dangerous undercover assignment in a massive dog-fighting ring, but I’ve blown my cover to speak with you today about a very important subject—K-9 handlers.

Please feel free to call me “Dawg.” Not my real name, of course. But I’ll answer to it, especially if there’s a treat or my favorite toy in your hand.

I’ve risked exposing my true ID because, well, sometimes you guys, dog handlers and civilian pet owners, don’t use your heads. I’m not saying you’re stupid. Although, it’s no secret who’s on the “smart end” of the leash. The instructor at the state police academy who trained the guy writing this blog stressed that fact every single day for 16 weeks. “Your dog is on the smart end of the leash, troopers. Let the dog lead the way,” he’d say. That was one intelligent state police lieutenant.

He’s right, you don’t think before you act and it you thinking you know it all that causes us to look dumb. Let. Us. Do. Our. Jobs. We’re really good at what we do.

Another thing. Seriously, you think it’s okay to leave us in the car while you’re outside standing in the shade yucking it up with your buddies? We enjoy a good joke too. Besides, the grass feels wonderful on our feet. And don’t think I can’t smell the burgers and fries on your breath when you get back inside the bucket of bolts you so proudly call a police car. Nearly an hour inside Mickie D’s …. puhleeze …

And, remember that traffic stop last week? Yeah, you know the one. I know you only issued her a warning. But I’m not stupid. I get it. She batted her eyelashes at you and smelled like jasmine. What I don’t understand, though, is why you didn’t you introduce me to the poodle riding shotgun. You know I’m a sucker for curly hair. Life is not all about you and your shiny badge and big gun, you know.

Anyway, our union, Police Dogs 101, recently elected me to serve as official spokesdog, so I’m here today to address a few of our concerns in advance of the upcoming contract renewal. It wouldn’t hurt private citizens to pull up a chair and listen as well. So here goes, and I suggest you take notes.

1. We notice that you wear shoes to work every single day of your life. And we know why. Oh, boy, do we know why! Snow and ice are COLD. Concrete and asphalt are HOT. And, for goodness sake, would you walk barefoot over broken glass? Well, no one, including dogs, should be forced to walk on those surfaces. So take your narrow hips to the store and buy us some booties! They make and sell them every day. We don’t mind looking goofy if it means no frostbite, blisters, or cuts. Use your head, Sherlock.

2. We enjoy biting a bad guy as much as any dog, but our internal temperatures can skyrocket while tracking and searching on really hot days. That’s right, Ace, you try wearing a thick fur coat in the August sunshine. So keep one of those thermometer things in your pocket. No, we don’t enjoy it when you poke them into the place where the sun doesn’t shine, but it’s better than keeling over from heat exhaustion. We’d do it ourselves, but … no fingers, you know.

3. Another good idea, and goodness knows you’d never think of it, is to wet us down before a search on hot days. It helps keep us cool. But, please, not when the humidity is really high, because the water in those instances would only serve to hold the heat in.

4. Bring some water with you if the search is going to be a long one. We don’t like drinking from mud puddles and creeks. Do you know what’s been there? Well, we do, and it’s not exactly the most sanitary thing to do. Would you drink from something that turtles and frogs use as a toilet? I didn’t think so. And let’s not even think about all the mosquito larvae swimming and squirming around in those places. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Do us both a favor and bring some water, okay!

Speaking of water … how about changing the water in my bucket a few times during the day (the containerl in my kennel). You know me, I drool in it, and even sometimes step in it to cool my hot feet (and you know where my feet have been). Besides, I don’t like tasting the green slimy stuff that can build up in the bowl if the water sits for a long time.

5. If you do insist upon leaving me in the car while you’re off doing who knows what (probably biting someone behind my back), then please have the decency to leave the car and air conditioning running. Also, have the motor pool mechanics install an alarm that notifies you if either of the two malfunctions or shuts off. Remember, I don’t have fingers to operate the power locks and those window roller-downer-things.

6. Shade. I can’t stress this enough. We want our kennels placed in the shade. If your yard is treeless (heaven forbid) then march your butt down to the hardware store and purchase a roll or two of shade cloth to place over the top of our kennels. It’s an easy project. We’ll even help, if you want.  If so, merely place the roll near us and I promise we’ll have it unrolled and divided into bite-size pieces in no time flat. Now that’s what we call fun.

7. Speaking of fun … we demand a few hours of play time each day. You cannot expect us to work every minute. Throw something for us to retrieve. Hide something and let us find it. Let us roll around in the dirt, etc. Tug of war with a rope. Anything like that will suffice. Besides, it helps to keep us fit.

My friend Ralph (below), poor guy, has a handler who never allows him any exercise time at all. Take a good look, because you’ve been a bit slack lately and I’m now about five tennis ball throws away from looking like him.

K-9 Ralph

 

8. And whatever you do, please don’t forget to tell us what a great job we’re doing. We absolutely adore praise for a job well done. Also, a little loving goes a long way.

Don’t go getting all mushy on me, though. A pat on the head and back and an occasional hug is all we’re asking. You can save the kisses for your spouses. Besides, you have more germs in your mouth than I do, and I’ve been known to chew on some pretty nasty stuff.

Okay, that’s it for now. We look forward to your response in advance of our next meeting.

By the way, if you happen to see that poodle again, tell her to give me a call.

 

 

I can easily see things quite a ways in the distance. As Louis Armstrong sang in one of my all time favorite songs, What a Wonderful World

“I see trees of green,
red roses too.
I see them bloom,
for me and you.
And I think to myself,
what a wonderful world.”

I, like other humans, am able to easily see things at a distance of … say, 1/3 of a mile or so. If we were switch that “seeing distance” to that of using our noses to detects scents at an equal distance, well, dogs would be able to detect the same scents, and more, at a distance of a whopping 3,000 miles away. That’s how much more acute a dog’s sense of smell is compared to ours.

Let that sink in for a second. If our noses were able to smell at distances equal to how far we can see, and humans smell a steak sitting on a platter that’s positioned 1/3 of a mile away. A dog has the built-in ability to smell that same steak placed in a location that 3,000 miles in the distance.

Okay, we agree. A dog’s nose is a dog’s superpower. In fact, it’s so powerful that a dog could, if it desired to do so, detect a single spoonful of sugar in a million gallons of water (two Olympic-size pools).

As a former K-9 handler, tales (pun intended) of amazing sniffers fascinate me. For example, the dog who detected 35 pounds of marijuana wrapped in watertight material and submerged in a car’s gas tank that was filled to the brim with gasoline. Another dog, a cancer-sniffing dog insisted on melanoma in a spot on a patient’s skin that doctors had pronounced as cancer-free. Finally, after more testing (because the dog insisted), a biopsy confirmed melanoma in a small fraction of the cells. This SuperDog, of course, dropped the mic and left the building.

So, in the field, how do dogs use that extraordinary group of sensors to zero-in on their targets (narcotics for drug-detection dogs, explosive for bomb dogs, etc.).

This is where Scent Cones come into play. Before we dive in completely, first remember that the best conditions for a dog to search (outdoors) is when the temperatures are cool, but rising slightly, a bit of humidity, and little or no wind. Wind is not a friend, but doesn’t stop the dogs from getting the job done. It does, however, alter the direction of the scent cone.

A scent cone is simply an imaginary cone-shaped area that begins at the source of the odor/scent (a body, drugs, a firearm, explosives, etc.).

The handler ideally starts the dog in a position that’s downwind from the area to be searched. If the area is hilly and the temperatures are hot, the dog should start in an elevated position since the air (scents) will be rising.

Once in position, the dog heads toward the scent, criss-crossing its way back and forth through the scent cone. I know, clear as mud, right? Let me see if I can find that sketch … Okay, I have it and I’ll tape here so you can see it while I describe what you’re seeing.

Okay, the dog starts its search at the wide end of the scent cone (to the right in the image above). The cone represents the space the scent travels along the breeze/air. It’s strongest in the center, but gradually fades the further you move away from the middle of the cone.

Therefore, when we see the dogs running back back and forth, what they’re actually doing is running until they no longer smell their target. When that happens they make a U-turn and run in the opposite direction until they no longer smell it in that direction. Then they once again turn and go in the opposite direction until they scent is no longer detected. They continue this pattern all while moving closer and closer to the scent. As they move toward the scent as it grows stronger.

Finally, they reach their target and the handler gives them their toy as a reward for doing a fantastic job. The toy, after all, is what they’re after. Not a dead body or a package of cocaine. Finding the target of their search is merely the means they use to get to their beloved toy and a bit of fun time with their handler. Believe me, these dogs are full of energy and they love to run and play and jump and … well, they love being dogs, and that’s part of what keeps them in such great shape, physically.

Remember, scent cones move with the breezes, heat, cool, etc. Dogs know where to go and what to do. If mistakes are made, they’re made by handlers who think they know more than their dogs. We don’t. As my instructor at the Virginia State Police Academy used to tell us, “The dogs are on the smart end of the leashes, not you. Stop trying to think and trust your dogs!” Then we’d run a zillion miles. It was his gentle method of helping those words sink in. See, Lieutenant, it worked. I still remember!

 

1. Do Not Touch a police officer. You’ll definitely want to keep your hands to yourself unless your immediate plans include new dental work, a visit to the ER, and a fitting for new black and white striped wearing apparel.

2. Do Not Touch an officer’s gun. See above, but include an abundance of Maglight-induced knots on your head.

3. Do Not Spit on a police officer. See 1 and 2, but include tears … yours.

4. Do Not Urinate inside a police officer’s car. See 1, 2, and 3, but add bloodshed … yours.

5. Do Not Throw Things at police officers. See 1, 2, 3, and 4, but add the surgical removal of the officer’s shiny shoe from the part of you where the sun doesn’t shine.

6. Do Not Run from the police. If they have to chase you they’re bringing a butt-whuppin’ to the party.

7. Do Not Touch a police dog. See 5 above, but replace “shoe” with K-9 teeth.

8. Do Not Make Jokes about the officer’s mother, wife, or kids. If so, expect to not see your own mother, wife, or kids for the next 5-10 years, except during Sunday visits.

9. Do Not Tell officers that you pay their salaries. See 6 above. The butt-whuppin’ in this case is for officers not receiving a pay increase for the past 10 years. And, prior to your startling announcement they didn’t know where to take their complaints. So thanks for taking one for the team, Sparky.

10. Finally, unless you have a line they haven’t heard before, keep them to yourself.

You know the ones …

  • Aren’t you that guy from the Village People?
  • I almost decided to be a cop, but I decided to finish high school instead.
  • Is it true that people become cops because they’re too dumb to operate a spatula and/or a milkshake machine?

Pig Chef

  • Hey, you do realize that if I was doing 97 mph then so were you, so write yourself a ticket.
  • I was speeding so I could get back to your mother. She misses me.
  • What are going to be when you grow up?
  • Your breath smells like donuts.

Note – Obviously this post is intended as a tongue-in-cheek bit of humor. The information above is fictional, unless you were there and have video evidence to prove otherwise. If not, it’s fictional. Really, it is. Maybe.