Working Dogs

I was watching a news program the other day and came to realize that the general public knows very little about working dogs.  It is amazing the number of times that someone will asked if you get an animal hooked on drugs to become a narcotics sniffing dog.  The answer is hell no, that would be really, really stupid.  So, here is the 411 on working dogs.  For the record, I trained military working dogs in the Air Force utilizing sentry dogs, patrol dogs and narcotics dogs.  I later trained and utilized dogs on the Mexican Border looking for narcotics for the Treasury Department.  My dog and I had racked up seizures amounting to two tons of marihuana.

Okay, so back to the dogs; there are basically three types of dogs, patrol dogs, narcotics dogs and bomb dogs.

Patrol dogs are people finders.  They use their sight to detect movement,  their hearing to target noise, and they use smell to detect a person upwind or who have left behind a trail-scent on a path of travel.  These dog’s primary task is to protect their handlers.  In the old days dog were not trained to release from a bite; they would keep biting the suspect until the dog’s handler force the dog to stop.  Let me tell you, I had one dog named Sampson that didn’t like me stopping him from biting.  Sampson taught me to be very quick so that I didn’t find my own hands in this mouth.  Sampson was a sentry dog.  Most dogs today are trained to release on command.  These dogs are called patrol dogs.  The advantage of controlling the dogs by voice prevented two dogs going after the same suspect and then getting into a dog fight over the suspect.  Now, one dog can be called off of the suspect and can be directed to a secondary target or recalled.  Using voice command was a critical aspect of utilizing these dogs.  We went through a phase that I call the “stupid phase” in which police departments would hire trained dogs from Germany.  Yep, you guess it, the dogs were trained in German.  When you are in a tense situation, the first thing you lose is your command of the German language.  Besides, dogs are smart enough to learn English.  Or, just keep your mouth shut and the dog will do what the dog does.

I’ve ALWAYS believed that handlers should train their own dogs.  In the training process the handler and dog form a bond and the handler begins to understand the dog’s world.  Anytime I went to search a building, I would be constantly working the air currents; how is the air moving through the building?  To find drugs or a suspect, it was important to think like a dog and to use your environment to the dog’s best ability.

Narcotics dogs are trained to be aggressive towards narcotics and sees it as a game.  Once the drug is found, the handler throws a toy down to the dog and a game of tug-of war would ensue.  Many years ago the US Customs folks attempted to use small dogs off leash to clear ventilation systems of ships; but, the presence of vertical shafts and keeping the dog from biting into the hidden drugs proved that dog teams must be connected by a leash.  Because the dogs are aggressive towards the drugs, dog handlers would carry three vials of Narcan so as to administer to the dog and/or the handler in the event that the handler had not be watching close enough to stop the dog from biting into the kilo of cocaine and the drug became airborne.  We were directed to get the dog to a veterinarian and then seek treatment for ourselves (thus the third vial).  Fortunately, I never heard of anyone needing to administer the narcotics antidote.

Is it possible to mask the scent of marihuana?  Yes and no, given sufficient time a sufficient number of marihuana particles will rise to the level of detection.  You could experiment and spend the a few years in jail,  or you could just move to a State that has legalized it.  One of the common ways that people would attempt to smuggle marihuana into the United States was putting the drugs inside a spare tire.  But, these damn fools could never sufficiently clean off the smell of marijuana from the exterior of the tire before throwing it into the trunk of the car.  Could the smell escape from the interior of the tire, who know?  All I know is that we were constantly tearing tires apart on the Border.

In most cases, the drivers of the vehicles were just as effective as our dogs in telling us that their cars were loaded.  If a car smelled usually strong of vanilla or baby powder, it was probably loaded.  The Mexican Border gets pretty hot in the summers, cars waiting to enter the Border would start to get hot and the marijuana would begin to bake in the car.  We found that most drug smugglers were not too bright.

Bomb dogs are trained to sit when they smell an explosive substance.  This is one of the reasons that dogs are not trained to search for both narcotics and bombs.  It would become rather annoying to have to call the bomb squad every time your dog alerted on a marihuana joint.  When the dog sits, then, like the narcotics dogs, it becomes playtime.