10 Ways You Can Help Your K9 Unit

By Art Carlos  |   Jun 2, 2021

The call’s hot. The perimeter is tight. The channel is secured. The K9 unit is logged on and is rolling to your location to assist in locating a suspect. Here are 10 things you can do to increase your success when the K9 team shows up:

Confirm the criminal elements early and identify the factors that fall within your or the assisting agency’s K9’s use-of-force policy. Do you have a qualifying felony crime vs. violent misdemeanor crime? Has physical force been used or does the suspect(s) have qualifying violent criminal histories? Are weapons suspected? Does the suspect being sought, if you know they’re ID, have a violent history? Being able to accurately and succinctly answer these over the radio will help your K9 Officer to respond better.

Containment – area security. Is the location to be searched able to be secured from innocent bystanders and can you isolate the ingress/egress to the area being searched? Does the area have domestic or feral animals? Some dogs simply aren’t able to work houses or areas where specific critters may be such as domesticated rats, snakes or chinchillas. Can you lock down the building or location?

Familiarize yourself with how the K9 team works. Does your K9 team work on-lead or off-lead in various search conditions? Are you working with a young “hot” Malinois or an even- tempered “seasoned” Shepherd? Do you know what language the handler uses for commands and do you know a couple of key commands for that specific dog? What happens if the handler were to get injured or go down? Could you tell the K9 to load up or put them on a down/stay to render aid in the event of a critical incident?

Understanding the basics of air scenting. and the basic principles of the K9 olfactory system can make you more successful and SAFER! With everything being equal and given the opportunity, ALWAYS begin the search downwind. Your handler team knows this, but it can influence many things you can do prior to them showing up. Where you choose to gather resources and the specific location where the search can be launched can all be coordinated prior to the K9 team’s arrival if you understand these basics. Knowledge of principals of perimeter containment, assignment of search team dynamics and terrain issues can help you be the K9 team’s favorite patrol officer.

Searching assignments. Get picked to be the one providing cover for the handler by knowing what the K9 handler needs. Understanding a little about what the K9 handler is actually doing can make you more effective in providing them security and often times will give them more confidence in selecting you to go with them on the searches in the field during hot calls. Being able to spot when a dog is “in odor” can make you that better cover officer.

What to do on contact. You can increase usefulness and efficiency in the situation by understanding a couple of key things. Pack mentality and Alpha behavior are instinctual to the K9 but how you handle yourself in the moments of application can help ensure that you are not inadvertently bitten in the apprehension phase. Some dogs may re-grip often in the apprehension, especially younger K9s. Other K9s prefer specific regions of a suspect’s body. This is vital to know if you haven’t worked with this K9 team before. The K9 may not distinguish your hand from the suspect’s thigh. The dog may prefer a specific targeted area but initiated contact in a different location. Some agencies, either by policy or training, practice utilizing specific target areas more than others. As an example, if a K9 unit extensively uses sleeves, those K9s will be much more predisposed to direct their applications to the forearm or tricep area of a suspect.

Writing up the K9 use of force. This is going to vary greatly by agency and by the individual handler because most handlers have specific areas they generally want to cover themselves. This being the case, there are still a number of things you can do to re-enforce important facts in your documentation by understanding the use-of-force policy the K9 team is utilizing. If you are the primary officer or case agent on the call, you are in the unique position of laying out some details and insights that may not be covered otherwise. Remember, as the primary officer or case agent you will be the one tying together all of the incident and supplemental reports.

Article searches, contraband searches and other dog uses. A K9’s olfactory capacity is truly amazing and to a large degree still being understood, but there are a few things you can do to help leverage that strength without being a scientist. Resist the temptation to go through the scene when possible! Your K9 team will have much more success finding contraband during a vehicle search if everything inside hasn’t been touched, moved, and contaminated by 4 other officers. The K9 can differentiate people scents, but why ask it to distinguish between the 12 different pairs of boots officers were wearing when they tromped through the scene from the suspect’s shoes if you can avoid this. A K9 can easily rule things out as easily as they can find the article, contraband or subject you are looking for. Help the K9 team and your mission out by showing some discipline and minimizing unnecessary contacts and initiating the K9 team’s call out early.

Advocate for your K9 team. I can’t emphasize this enough! You don’t have to be a K9 handler to celebrate the good work a K9 team has done or how useful they have been during a particular incident. This can easily go unnoticed, especially by other agency personnel and administrators who weren’t there. The countless hours the K9 team has put in will never accurately be reflected in a “surrender” situation where no actual K9 application was executed. Usually that “surrender” is a direct result of the working reputation of the agency’s K9 unit on the street and the K9 team’s confidence obtained from those endless hours of training out of the spotlight. You can help your fellow officers, deputies, and the public realize the value of this highly specialized unit by sharing those stories of success. Look for opportunities to connect successful incidents to the specific K9 and handler involved.

Find new locations. When possible, find willing community members who could share an unusual building or location as a future K9 training location. Those can not only be helpful to the K9 teams but can serve as valuable public relations alliances for both. The community loves showing off social media photos taken with the K9s and your handlers will love you for turning them on to a new location! That is a win/win for everyone.

Thoughts? Anything to add? E-mail us at: [email protected]