Illinois Police Work Dog Association

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PO Box 4102   Joliet, IL.  60434-4102

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Frequently Asked Questions

What breed of dogs do  K-9 Officers use?

We use a variety of dogs depending on what their specialty may be. For patrol work we primarily use the German Shepherd and the Belgian Malinois. For Explosives and Narcotics detection we may use the Labrador and Retriever breeds.

Do the dogs live with their handlers?

Yes. Each dog is assigned to only one handler who is responsible for the care of the dog. The dogs live at home with their handlers and thier families.

How old are the dogs when they start training?

Dogs are carefully screened and tested before they begin training. To properly test the canine's drive, they must be about 1 year old.

How old are the dogs when they retire?

It largely depends upon their health, but generally a Police Dog can look to retire anywhere from 7 to 10 years of age.

Where do they go when they retire?

It is common practice to let the dogs live out the remainder of their lives with the handlers whom they worked their career with.

How do officers get selected to become canine handlers?

Officers must pass a rigorous screening process first. Things considered are dependability,  fitness, ability to work without direct supervision, and soild knowledge of case law, use of force, and search and siezure laws.

How much do the dogs cost?

That varies depending on the breed, age and any previous training the dog may have had. A good figure could be between $5000.00 and $9000.00

Are the dogs' safe when left in their patrol cars while the handler isn't there?

Yes! The canine vehicles are equipped with the most up-to-date canine safety devices on the market. Heat sensors in the car will activate the car's horn, roll down the back windows and turn on a fan in the car if the dog's area gets too warm. Remote control door opening ensures the dog can get out of the car to assist the handler at the touch of a button or in any other emergency situation.

How is a dog able to smell so well?

A number of things contribute to the dog's keen sense of smell. Their long snouts have a large turbinate bone structure that holds millions of scent receptor cells, plus the olfactory lobe of their brain is much larger than that of a human being.

Can dogs search cars on traffic stops?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-2 on January 24th 2005 that using a police dog to detect drugs during a routine traffic stop does not violate the Constitution.

Justice John Paul Stevens said in his majority opinion using a dog, even without a warrant, to sniff the exterior of a vehicle during a routine traffic stop "generally does not implicate legitimate privacy interests."

A state trooper stopped Roy Caballes for speeding in LaSalle County, Ill., in 1998. However, the trooper discovered from the radio dispatcher that Caballes had two prior arrests for the distribution of marijuana.

The trooper called in a drug-sniffing dog, which helped find a large quantity of marijuana in Caballes's trunk.

A divided Illinois Supreme Court ruled the search was unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court threw out that decision, and ordered the state court to come up with a ruling consistent with Monday's majority opinion.

Today, even with advanced technological tools, the Police Dog is irreplaceable. The dog's nose is thousands to millions of times more sensitive than a human's. And that sense of smell aids police in apprehending criminals, searching for drugs and bombs, even locating the source of arson. Dogs’ superior hearing, speed, and agility make them a top candidate for police work. The Police Dog has become an invaluable addition to any police force and its popularity has been on a steady incline since the early 1900s. Advancements in training and the understanding of dogs has served to increase the Police Dog's efficiency over the years. Police Dogs are trained to work in a variety of potentially dangerous situations. Training includes: obstacle courses to overcome physical and mental challenges on the job, obedience training, and specialized exercises designed to teach the dogs how to focus under heavy distractions like, gunfire, loud noises, and crowds.

Tracking Dogs

These dogs are trained to track down and apprehend suspects who have fled on foot, usually into wooded areas. When we think of tracking dogs, the Bloodhound generally comes to mind. Although the bloodhound is renowned for its incredible scenting abilities, in actuality, the breed of the dog is less important than the individual dog's motivational drive to work and its ability to track scents. Other breeds commonly used are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. These dogs have an instinctive drive to locate prey and the will to follow a scent on ground or in the air with utter determination. Tracking dogs are trained to follow the scent of a suspect, and then once located, to apprehend the person by either the "circle and bark" method or the "bite and hold" technique. In either case the handler of the dog should be able to call the dog "off" the suspect automatically.

Explosives Detection Dogs

In the same way that dogs are trained to sniff out narcotics, they are also successfully used to detect explosives. With the recent surge in domestic terrorism, bomb dogs are in high demand. These heroic dogs save lives by quickly searching out buildings, leaving bomb squads with more time to clear explosive devices.

Drug Detection Dogs

Drug traffickers are finding increasingly sophisticated ways of hiding drugs for transport. The scenting ability of the Police Drug Dog often provides the only hope of locating illegal narcotics. Drug Dogs have proven so successful that they now work in many airports, bus stations, border crossings, and sea ports. These dogs are trained to sniff out drugs, then alert authorities by either by scratching at the surface near the source of the smell or sitting down next to the source. Such a signal from a sniffer dog gives police probable cause necessary to search luggage or vehicles.

Arson Dogs

Fire investigators use Arson Dogs to solve crimes. These dogs sniff out traces of gas or other flammable liquids in arson situations. Arson Dogs are invaluable because they can pinpoint traces of arson more efficiently than any electronic detection device. In fact, their amazing noses can smell traces about the size of a thousandth of a drop!

What is the difference between a search dog, cadaver dog, decomp dog and a forensic evidence dog?

A "search dog" has little or no training in finding deceased humans. The term "cadaver dog" came about after search and rescue dogs started to be trained to look for expired lost persons and suicides. The term "decomposition dog" better describes how dogs will indicate decomp human scent which includes blood, feces, urine or other material with human scent on it. 

What are the qualities and skills of a Forensic Evidence Dog?

The forensic dog is trained to alert on residual scent along with other faint scent sources like dried blood. The dog is taught not to disturb the crime scene by digging or retrieving evidence. An important skill the dog is taught is how to search a home or vehicle without causing harm to property. The dog is taught to discriminate between live human scent and cadaver scent, and animal bones and human bones.

My dog is trained for search and rescue, can I also teach him to do forensic evidence work?

Yes! Dogs are capable of understanding several disciplines at the same time. Potential problems are: dogs trained in disaster must be very clear and have a different alert for live and dead, occasionally dogs trained in both live and dead scent will alert and we are unable to determine which of the two they have alerted on. As the need for forensic evidence dogs increases we see more handlers who are training specialty dogs. They feel that a dog that has been imprinted on one type of scent is more accurate that a cross trained dog.

Is evidence searching the same as forensic evidence?

Terminology gets confusing, people use different words to mean the same thing or the same word to mean different things. We define evidence searching as an article with live human scent on it. Forensic evidence searching can be cadaver, decomposing human scent, or any body fluids from a deceased person. These scents can be on an article, the actual body, in the ground or residual. The main point is a forensic evidence dog is never looking for live scent.

When would I use a search dog and when do I need a forensic evidence dog?

Obviously if you have an assumed live person you need search dogs. Searches for suicides or expected recently deceased persons should also use search dogs. Its a very good idea to use search dogs that have been imprinted on cadaver scent. Dogs that have never had any training on cadaver scent will sometimes act strange or will not know how to communicate their find. The handler does not see the " normal" behavior and may not recognize what the dog has found. Some dogs who have no training will avoid the deceased person. We are learning that at the moment of death changes in the body are occurring. Factors like heat and the condition of the body will also make a big difference in the decomposition. The training of a forensic evidence dog comes into play for cases like: buried bodies, disarticulation, old cases, bone searches, blood evidence, residual scents, crime scenes, building searches, and vehicle searches.

In Human Remains detection, the Nose Knows.

In a missing persons case it is hard to prove a crime happened without some evidence. In cases where a dead body will be the likely outcome of a search, Cadaver dogs are used to search, rather than standard Search and Rescue dogs. Why? Because a Search and Rescue Dog is trained to find living humans, and not detect decomposing flesh.

Cadaver Dogs are trained to locate and follow the scent of decomposing human flesh. Not a pretty thought, but their job is vital to both families of the victims, and to a justice system that often times needs a body to prove a crime. These dogs work both on and off leash and are trained to detect the scent of decomposition that rises from the soil, same principle as when a dog knows where he last buried his bone.

Dogs must be trained as trailing dogs and air-scenting dogs. Trailing dogs follow a scent that has fallen on the ground. These dogs can pick out a human, or in the case of Cadaver dogs, a decomposing human's scent that was carried on a breeze, or "fallen" from a person carrying a body to it's location. Air-scenting is similar to trailing, but an air-scenting dog must be able to pick the scent out of a breeze and follow it to the source.

Special chemicals are used to simulate the scent of decomposing human flesh in training Cadaver dogs. Unlike simulated narcotic smells, or other training scents, simulated cadaver smells are not available to anyone but a certified training facility.

Both whole bodies and body parts are located using Cadaver dogs, and each team member must be trained in evidence preservation.

It isn't just crime investigations that use Cadaver Dogs. In disasters as well, these dogs are used in conjunction with Canine Search and Rescue teams to locate both victims and survivors of disasters, natural and otherwise.

ILPWDA would like to thank the Arboretum View Animal Hospital for their continued support.

Arboretum View Animal Hospital is located at 2551 Warrenville Rd in Downers Grove Illinois.


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