Now, imagine that partner with four legs, a beautiful fur coat, and a sense of smell 10,000 times better than yours. Welcome to the Wyoming Police K-9 Unit, a position that understands the importance of a dog being a man’s best friend.
What is the K-9 Unit?
The Wyoming K-9 Unit is a division within the Wyoming Police Department where officers are paired with dogs for a 10 year stint. The dogs do everything with the police officers they’re partnered with. They train together, work together, and come home under the same roof.
They are not only partners on the job, but they’re family on and off the clock.
How does an officer get involved with the K-9 Unit? Is prior dog handling experience necessary?
No prior dog handling experience is needed to handle the dog. However, that doesn’t mean anyone off the street can apply to be a member of the unit. The K-9 Unit is hired from within the Wyoming Police Department. If you’re not already a member of the police force, you won’ be considered.
Even though it’s a big commitment to work with a dog 24 hours a day, the positions aren’t difficult to fill when they open up. There are officers always willing to be dog handlers. It’s a unique experience and lifelong friendships are created with the dogs.
You keep saying ‘dogs’, what kind of dogs are we talking about here?
German Shepards are the dogs of choice within the K-9 Unit. As a dog, the German Shepard has the best package of skills necessary to be an exceptional police dog. They’re smart, agile, personable, and have a keen sense of smell good for tracking scents and sniffing out narcotics. German Shepards can also be trained to bite if they have to!
Bombs and narcotics!? That seems like a lot for one dog to handle. How do you know whether the dog has sniffed out a drug or a bomb?
The dogs are either trained for one or the other, never both. If a dog is trained to sniff out both, than the officer has no idea what to expect! Because of that reason, dogs are specialized on what to look for. Some dogs are brought in for bomb detection while others are brought in for drug identification.
Is that all these dogs are used for, drugs and bombs?
No, the dogs are used whenever their superior sense of smell and tracking abilities are needed. The dogs respond to burglaries, search for the elderly that are wandering about, kids that are lost, and situations where suicidal people are out in the woods and need help.
Which season works best for tracking and which season is the most difficult?
It’s easiest for the dogs to track in the summer and most difficult in the winter. However, the winter snow usually leaves footprints behind, and that makes things more manageable!
Where does the Police Department get these highly specialized dogs?
There is a facility down in Indiana the Wyoming Police Department likes to use to find their new dogs. It’s close in proximity and gives the department the flexibility to choose between 30 different dogs. Some of the dogs are even imported from Europe.
Hold on a quick second, they import dogs from Europe? Why would they need to do that? What’s wrong with dogs bred here in America?
It’s not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with American bred dogs, it’s more the way in which dogs are bred in Europe as opposed to in America. In America, dogs are bred for beauty and purity. A negative side effect of breeding dogs for purity are health problems earlier in life. If a dog has bad hips after two years on the job, they aren’t a very effective or reasonable choice as a police dog.
European dogs are bred differently, they’re stronger because they’re bred for sport. It’s more important for the dog to be healthy and athletic than it is for the dog to look ‘pure’. If they’re going to be a member of the police force, the dogs need to be reliable for an extended period of time. These dogs are expensive, and even though they’re great pets and friends, they have a job to.
Speaking of cost, how much are these dogs and how are they paid for?
The dogs are expensive, the newest addition to the team, a full German Shepard from Slovakia named Azar, cost $6,300. The department puts on a 5K the first week in October to help raise funds and awareness for the K-9 Unit. The 5K this year raised enough money to buy Azar.
That’s one expensive puppy! What do they feed the dogs to keep them work ready?
Meals consist of high energy foods. High protein and high carbs are a must! The most important rule, NO PEOPLE FOOD! If a dog is used on a house raid, and there’s food out in the open, it becomes a problem if the dog’s first instinct is to go to the food. It not only makes the job more difficult for everyone involved, but it could be detrimental to the dogs health if they eat something they’re not supposed to.
Something I still haven’t quite figured out, how do the dogs ride to work with their officer? Do they just hangout in the back seat of the cruiser?
Well, kind of! Although, the cruisers are specially built to accommodate the dogs. There is a special place for them where they can lay down with food and water readily available. The cruisers designed for the K-9 unit are used specifically for the purpose of accommodating the dogs.
How would you describe the dog’s relationship with their handlers?
It’s a very positive relationship in both directions. The dogs get excited when they alert about a find because they are consistently given positive reinforcement. The dogs all have a favorite chew toy or ball that they are given to play with when they do complete their job. They live to please their handlers.
The officers see their dogs not only as partners, but as family. The job is different everyday and it’s impossible to get bored.
The dogs all have their own personalities and quirks. They have good days and bad days, but at the end of the day, they’re a team!
What happens to the dogs after their service is completed?
After the dogs and their handler completes their 10 years of service together, the officer gets the reward of taking the retired dog home, to live life as a pet and a member of the family.