July 22nd, 2024

Cop’s best friend — and protector

By Mo Cranker on March 10, 2017.

NEWS PHOTO MO CRANKER Police service dog Flint attempts to take a bite out of Const. Ben Sklarchuk on March 9, 2017, during the MHPS K9 unit's monthly training session.

mcranker@medicinehatnews.com @MHNmocranker

The Medicine Hat Police Service has begun an eight-week training program in hopes of having its newest member Astor on the streets and in action as soon as possible.

Astor is an approximately one-year-old German shepherd born in eastern Europe before being recently purchased by the MHPS K-9 unit. Over the next eight weeks, Astor will undergo the same rigorous training that all police dogs have gone through. Sgt. Clarke White says the MHPS buys dogs young so they can survive the training.

“The basic training is very intense and puts a lot of demands on the dogs — if they’re too old or two young, the training can really crash the dog,” he said.

The MHPS first started its K9 unit in 1980, doubling in size since then, with four dogs working regular shift work with their handlers at any time of the day or night. The officers spend almost every hour of their days with their dogs and White says each dog needs to meet a very long and specific list of criteria to join the force.

“The dogs have to have a high drive and a high energy, and they need to be very curious by nature,” he said. “When we walk through buildings, we want the dogs to be very curious and to notice every little thing or smell — we want a dog that is deeply committed because this job becomes their life and it is what they live for.”

Each dog costs about US$10,000 says White, and the MHPS will only use German shepherds because of their high versatility.

“We use German shepherds because of their high trainability,” he said. “Certain breeds of dogs can do certain things, but German shepherds can do everything we need them to do — we need them to catch and track bad guys, as well as find drugs — they’re the jack of all trades in the dog world.”

White says the MHPS generally use the dogs for tracking suspects down after they have left a potential crime scene.

“Typically the dogs are used when a suspect is wanted and have fled a scene or are hiding” he said. “We deem it safer for a dog to be deployed to search a building before we go in, or if they flee on foot, dogs are our best means of tracking them down.”

While the dogs can do some exciting work in their careers, a lot of the time all they need to do is show up to a scene says White.

“The dogs really help keep the public, and our officers a lot safer,” he said. “When officers show up at a scene, we have a presence that can calm things down usually, our dogs have that same presence — people know what these dogs are capable of and do not want to get bit, so when we present a dog to a suspect, 99 per cent of the time they surrender.”

Like a lot of us, the dogs do their job until they start showing signs of slowing down and not being able to complete biting or tracking, which is generally around eight or nine years old says White. After retiring, White says the dogs usually spend the rest of their lives as any other dog would, and almost always go home with the officer they served with.

More information on the MHPS K-9 unit can be found at http://www.medicinehatpolice.com/posts/post/67

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