I promised in passing that I would talk about this, and the time has come.
I was delighted on being accepted as a ride-along for a day to view the action of the 2007 Washington State Police K9 Association Fall Seminar.
These seminars take place twice a year. A police dog handler needs to host a seminar to achieve master status. It took local K9 officer Kevin Miller and Forest Service K9 officer Chris Fairbanks (since tragically killed in the line of duty) a year and a half to plan this event.
The tests were sometimes breathtaking. Sniffer dogs had to find explosives in a room baited with a zillion tennis balls and the leftovers from the previous night's salmon dinner. Patrol dogs had two search scarnios at a school, one with a quarry hidden in a room and one with the suspect fleeing. Miller noted that the handler has to understand how scent works. . .such things as cold air draws scent, so in a room scent may go up and down walls. Outdoors, a fleeing person may run along aridge top, but the scent will be drawn down into the ravine. After a few unnecessarily strenuous searches of descending into thick brush in the ravine only to ascend back to the ridgetop, handlers learn to have their dogs check the ridgetop and follow scent there if possible.
The hardest test of all was again for the patrol dogs. The officer approached a parked van, one person got out and ran, and the driver refuses to show his hands or get out of the van. The dog is sent from the patrol car to "take" the driver. Naturally, the dogs want to chase the fleeing suspect, but for the safety of their human partner, they have to follow directions and take the driver. Dogs were having a hard time with this one.
Kevin noted that of patrol dogs nationwide are composed of about 35 percent Malionis and the rest German Shepherd. He didn't recommend Malinois for a first-time handler because he considered them wired, ADD-type dogs. He also noted that almost all the police German shepherds come from Europe, and that in the U.S. we get their castoffs.