By: Leah Alsept
Dog’s are a man’s best friend – or not?!
As the saying goes: Dogs are a man’s best friend. But what kind of work do dogs do with people?
Officers Matt Paugh and Jake Adkins are part of the K-9 unit in the Findlay Police Department. They train and work with German Shepherds, Shadow and Deke. Officer Matt Brunswick is a K-9 handler and a deputy for the Sheriff’s office in Findlay, Ohio.
German Shepherds are just one of the breeds that can be used in police work, with other breeds being the Labrador Retriever, Belgian Malinois, the Dutch Shepherd dog, and the Giant Schnauzer, according to nonprofit organization Dogs in Law Enforcement.
Shadow and Deke are both trained in narcotics detection, article search, and suspect apprehension. They were brought to the University of Findlay’s campus for a campus demonstration.
“Shadow’s good in all those aspects, except for articles,” Paugh said. “He’ll find one, get his toy. And then he’ll just wanna sit around and eat grass, like a cow,” The students laughed at Paugh’s teasing of his dog. “All of our dogs have very good strong suits and weaknesses that we try to work on,” the officer added. Articles can range from knives, guns, shell casings — and even in one instance during training, a golf tee.
Showing UF students how the dogs were trained to catch suspects and apprehend them, the officers let the dogs run at Matt Bostdorff, a civilian dog trainer who helps with training K-9s at the police department.
“They have no problem humiliating me. It’s fun,” Bostdorff joked with the crowd. “We have what’s called a ‘hidden sleeve,’ which goes underneath my clothes. It’s a pretty thin sleeve and it’s a pretty small target, but that teaches the dog that even if the person doesn’t have any gear on still go ahead and go with the bite.”
“Bark bark, bark bark!” said the dogs.
“I get called to a guy… possibly armed with a firearm. It was a lover’s quarrel, you had a boyfriend, a husband, and a girlfriend [who was] dating both,” Atkins gave context of the situation. “When I got up there, the husband actually did a pit maneuver on the boyfriend and crashed him into the ditch. He took off running.”
Atkins chased the suspect into the tree line but lost sight of him. He was able to use his door popper, a device that automatically opens the police car door. His dog, Deke, was able to down the suspect by biting and latching onto his knee.
“I didn’t know at the time ‘til after we got him in custody that he had a gun in his waistband, stolen out of Lima in a burglary, and when the dog hit him, it knocked that gun out,” Atkins said.
K-9s are trained in narcotics detection similarly to article search. The dogs are trained to sniff out drug smells and alert the officer to the narcotic once it’s identified. They are trained using a large wall with holes stuffed with different items, including drugs, to test the K-9’s ability to sniff it out. In 2019, Shadow was able to assist the Ohio State Highway Patrol and locate 5.4 pounds of heroin stashed in a spare tire on a vehicle during a traffic stop.
Fun fact: Heroin smells like salt and vinegar potato chips, Officer Paugh says.
“In the city, [tracking is] a [expletive]. It really is,” Officer Paugh admitted. “Everybody’s out walking around, especially in the summertime. The tracking is a lot harder in the city because of all the different odors and campfires and all that kind of stuff.
”And we’re not just looking for criminals, we use it lot for missing children and adults with Alzheimer’s, something like that,” said Atkins. So if they wander off in the corn fields, we can locate them. We’ve actually had that happen several times in the last couple years.”
How do officers even get to become K-9 handlers? Officer Brunswick describes the process he took to get into the K-9 unit.
“When I was a reserve deputy with the SO [Sheriff’s Office], I would use that as my hours of service for the month I would go… see what [K-9 handling] was about,” Brunswick said. “I say I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I got into law enforcement.”
But to officially become a K-9 handler, some paperwork is required.
“[We submit] a letter of interest. Our strengths and why we would be good at it,” Brunswick continued. “Do we like to work a lot of drug, narcotics things? Do we make smart decisions? [Because] it is a great tool, but at the same time they also have a lot of liability. It’s not just every time somebody runs from us, we’re just gonna let our dog go. So you gotta show that you use good judgment.”
Having a background in working with dogs helps too.
“I had a dog who I took to a bunch of obedience type things before and classes. I mean, it’s different with this kind of work, but along the lines of how to reward a dog and things like that,” Brunswick said.
“I actually helped train the dogs before I came a cop,” added Paugh. “I been training ’em for like three or four years doing bite working, that kinda stuff.”
Chasing down and biting offenders, sniffing out narcotics, even cadaver location – it’s a lot of work for a dog. A police dog’s career can last for several years – even past a decade if the dog is in good shape. Officer Paugh says Shadow is already 10 years old and still going strong.
“Some guys, as their dog progresses in age, they’ll actually get ’em off of bite work and just do just strictly narcotic. Bite work is a lot of stress on the dog, a lot of stress on their mouth or teeth or joints, all that kind of stuff,” Paugh said.
Dogs and handlers at the Findlay Police Department will train five to six hours every Monday and recertify their status with the State in the fall or spring, every year. The officers also train outside of work with their K-9’s. Their proudest moments come when their dogs implement the training they’ve learned.
“They just had a pursuit back in, it was like February — the guy ran under the Martin Luther King Bridge, and the guy ran and was hiding down by the river. I let Shadow out and he found him and bit him,” Paugh explained. “Honestly. That’s the probably the proudest moment is when we get a good bite.”
“We train for these hypothetical scenarios,” Brunswick continued. “When the opportunities show up and we get to use our dog and they do what they’re supposed to do, it’s like when a dad teaches their kid to play baseball and then they hit a home run.”