For most dog owners, having a loving, well-mannered dog is all they need. Still, there are some dogs that take being man’s best friend to another level, specially trained and motivated by their handlers to put their lives -and hearts- on the line. One thing is clear, these dogs may not get paychecks, but the work they do is an important contribution to society that can’t be done by just any canine.
Keeping Crime Off the Streets
Bobby Fontenot, owner of Louisiana K-9 has been training dogs for police work since 1991. A retired police officer, he worked in the canine division for 21 of his 22 years on the force.
At his Youngsville kennels, dogs are trained to search for narcotics, guns and knives, track inmates, search and rescue missing persons and apprehend on command.
Most of the dogs Fontenot trains for sale come from breeders in Holland, Germany, Czechoslovakia and, most recently, Hungary. Ranging in ages from one to four, they arrive with basic obedience skills and have been vetted for their “work drives.” As early as six months, the canines’ natural drives to hunt, retrieve the ball and apprehend can be detected. But not all dogs have work drives as Fontenot explains.
“Out of a liter, you’re lucky to get two good police dogs,” he explains. “A good police dog has to have nerves of steel so that he isn’t fazed by the sound of gun fire or the screeching of an 18-wheeler’s breaks as it races by on the interstate during a car search on the side of the road.”
Most of the police dogs at Louisiana K-9 are German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois.
Some breeds are used for specific purposes, others for dual purposes. A human's nose has about 5 million scent-receptor cells, according to research. Dogs have 300,000,000.
German Shepherds and Labradors can be dual trained as police dogs and to pick up on a human scent for search and rescue. Narcotics dogs can distinguish between seven different drugs in addition to the smell of beer and whiskey. Some dogs are brought into businesses where smoking is prohibited to specifically smell for tobacco.
In four to six weeks, the dogs will learn to face just about every situation a police officer could face on the streets: potential stabbing, gun fire, chocking, kicking and punching.
These dogs perform many skills better than humans, according to Fontenot. “They track faster, running up to 60 mph, get around in wooded areas without being bothered by the briars, have to be able to jump an 8-foot fence and swim,” he says.
Training police dogs is serious business and brings a great deal of responsibility with it, so it may not come as a surprise that the average cost to purchase and train a dual-purpose dog is $12,500.
Two years ago, Fontenot and his staff trained 400 dogs for the government of Kuwait to work at a huge oil refinery sniffing cars for explosives.
The average police dog will work 10-12 years of his 15-year life expectancy.
Their greatest reward is play time. At home with their police partners, the metal collar and service vest come off and they are encouraged to run off energy, play with toys or swim on a hot day. And, after burning off calories in a day’s work, they enjoy their feeding time.