Police dogs sniff out danger in national competition

Sergeant Tracey Stuart and her partner Hemi, a chocolate lab, sniff out danger as part of a national competition among four-legged law enforcement.

“We are doing the 2018 United States Police Canine Association National Detector Dog Trials. It’s a series of tests that not only are training for a national certification, but it’s also a competition for narcotics dogs, cadaver dogs and explosive detection dogs,” said Stuart, who works at the Stockton University Police Department.

About a hundred canine teams from police departments across the country and federal agencies participated in the two-day competition at Stockton University. There are numerous breeds of dogs, but they all have one special sensory skill.

“They have the capability of smelling so much more than we can. They can smell about 40 times more than we can,” Stuart said.

While Hemi showed off his stuff sniffing for explosives, other K9s worked to find drugs in parked cars. Just like humans, some of the dogs had good days, while other had bad ones. Jay Curiel, from St. Paul, Minnesota, is one of the judges.

“Looking for the dog to find the odor and give us a perfect alert. Some are passive, some are aggressive, they’ll either scratch or they’ll sit. So, we’re looking for the dog to show us indication, find the source and then sit,” said Curiel.

If you wonder who the boss is in the human-canine partnership, the humans are quick to point out that it’s not them.

“We use this saying that we’re basically a chauffeur for the dog. If a dog had thumbs they could drive a car and wouldn’t need us. We drive the dog to the venue and the dog comes out and does the search,” said Sgt. Louis Kaelin from the Camden County Department of Corrections.

The competition may be fun, but dogs play a critical role in public safety. Recently, Stuart and Hemi found real explosives during a police search in a nearby municipality. Police agencies are quick to point out that the dog’s safety is a priority and when one falls, they are remembered for their sacrifice on websites such as the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Their partners note, that unlike other work colleagues, their canine partners come home with them at the end of the day.

“We’re together 24/7. We go to work together, he comes home with me, he sleeps in my house,” said Kaelin.

The canines train for 10 to 14 weeks and then work for about 10 years. After which, they retire, often to the same homes they lived in their whole life.