The use of dogs to capture suspected criminals and to aid in solving crimes has been commonplace in the U.S. for nearly two centuries. In England, canines helped track suspects as early as the 15th century. Dogs' amazing sense of smell, strong drive to please and willingness to work hard make the animals an essential tool for police officers. However, some breeds make better police dogs than others.
Sense of Smell
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Dogs with strong senses of smell make valuable police partners. Bloodhounds, for example, are a top choice for police departments because of their powerful noses. Bred to hunt animals, the breed has strong scent membranes that allow the dogs to detect scents more than a thousand times better than people. The dogs can be used not only to find suspects, but to sniff out drugs and weapons. Beagles are another breed often chosen as police dogs because of their keen sense of smell. Beagles' noses are low to the ground so they do not have to stop to pick up a scent. In addition, the breed's droopy ears aid them in trapping scents and keeping the smells close to their noses.
Experts estimate German shepherd dogs account for nearly 10,000 police dogs in the U.S. A key personality trait that makes the breed an ideal police dog is his intelligence. German shepherd dogs were bred to be service dogs,. They first used their intelligence to aid the German military in World War I and World War II. Dutch shepherds are another breed whose high intelligence makes them prime service companions. The breed's smarts and desire to please make them easily trainable, another key recruitment characteristic in police dogs.
Labrador retrievers often are chosen by police departments to locate explosives and narcotics. When searching for bombs, officers generally want a more passive breed that can work carefully and with great discipline. Labradors -- Labs for short -- are intelligent and possess a high level of obedience and intensity, making them a prime choice for this purpose. When Labradors detect an odor linked to potential explosives, they are trained to sit near the object. This more passive approach prevents a jarring impact to the object that could detonate the device. Bloodhounds also generally react gently to their targets, often laying down or pausing by the subject. This tender attitude makes bloodhounds and Labs desirable in finding missing children and abducted adults.
Because of its tempered aggression, the Belgian Malinois has become the dog of choice for many police agencies and military units. The Malinois has the same strength and agility as the German shepherd, but a more elegant build. Malinois have powerful jaws and scissor-like teeth, making them aptly suited for catching and holding suspects. The Doberman pinscher has also made a name for himself as a police dog due to his fearlessness and trainable aggression. Dobermans are known to be strong, quick and intimidating -- important attributes of a police dog. Both breeds have excellent temperaments for police and military work and are fierce defenders.
- PBS: Underdogs -- The Bloodhounds' Amazing Sense of smell
- Animal Planet: Dogs 101 -- German Shepherd
- Animal Planet: Dogs 101 -- Belgian Malinois
- Journal of Law and Criminology: Dogs in War, Police Work and on Patrol
- Animal Planet: Dogs 101 -- Beagle
- Animal Planet: Doberman Pinscher
- Military.com: Animal Planet Shows Glory, Trauma of Military Dogs
Alicia Gallegos is a journalist in northwestern Indiana. She previously wrote for the "American Medical News, "a Chicago-based health newspaper published by the American Medical Association. She began her career at the South Bend Tribune, where she covered public safety, courts, food safety, education and health care.