But breed alone is not enough. In fact, a great deal of work goes into selecting the dog that will be physically and temperamentally strong enough to be part of a K-9 team. In years past, police would get donated dogs and train them for K-9 work; however, today that has changed. Training has become so specialized for modern police work that the demand for better dogs has resulted in many departments-especially those in large cities-importing dogs from Europe. Says St. Paul K-9 trainer Mark Ficcadenti.
It doesn’t mean that there aren’t good breeders here in America. There certainly are. But those good American breeders don’t produce enough quality dogs. And because we train handlers not only from our department, but from lots of other places, we need to order usually between 12 and 18 dogs each year-in fact, one year we ordered 39. There was no way we could get that many quality dogs here in the United States, at least as things are right now.
Minneapolis K-9 trainer Andy Stender agrees, adding that the worries about the overbreeding that is done by breeders in the United States. He says: “With many of the American breeders there is a lot of inbreeding-breeding the same dogs too often-and that can create physical problems. You see a lot more genetic problems with hips and elbows. Those dogs won’t be able to handle all the jumping and running K-9s need to do.”
There’s a Cool Dog
But not every dog-no matter how strong its police dog bloodlines-is cut out to be a K-9. Importers or police trainers evaluate the breeders’ puppies to see which ones have possibilities. They look at the physical health of the dogs, often making sure with X-rays that the dogs do not have genetic weaknesses in their joints that could lead to problems later on. They look for signs of skin problems in the dogs’ ears and coats. One thing they do not necessarily care about is choosing the biggest puppy of a litter. In fact, a dog that is far bigger than its littermates can be at a disadvantage on the job, says Tacoma, Washington, K-9 expert Bruce Jackson. “A lot of people think bigger is better [for a puppy], but that’s not true,” he says. “Big is clumsy.
Big is slow. Big lacks agility. Big has a hard time leaping off your back onto a twelve-foot-high roof during a chase.” But there is more to evaluate than physical health. Trainers want dogs that are not aggressive toward other animals and who can be social with all people. They also look for a dog that is curious. “I used to kind of jangle my car keys real loud when I went into an area to investigate. The dogs would re-act in such a way; many reactions differed from one another. I wanted a dog that was curious and eager to see what I was holding.