AK: Police Dogs

Dog owners know the challenges of dog training – first to get them housebroken, then to stop jumping on people or perhaps to pull on their harness on command. But police dogs have to meet a remarkable level of obedience. KNBA’s Joaqlin Estus recently met up with Aerie, a police dog with the Anchorage Police Department, and his handler in an Anchorage parking lot, and has this story.

Download Audio

Aerie’s sitting on the asphalt, alert and focused on his handler and the thick rubber stick Anchorage Police Officer Lonnie Brown is holding in both hands.

(Photo by the Anchorage Police Department)
(Photo by the Anchorage Police Department)

“So I’ll give the command to… see he’s looking at the toy right now,” Officer Brown said. “And I’ll give him the command that he can have it, which is the free command. Free! So he’s biting the toy right now.”

Aerie tries to try to rip it from his grasp.

Brown tosses the toy a couple dozen feet away, and frees Aerie to go after it. Then he gives the “Stop!” command. Aerie stops in his tracks. Then, on command, Aerie walks backwards away from the toy.

Brown has been a handler in the Anchorage Police Department’s K-9 unit for almost 15 years. His 2-and-a-half-year-old K-9 partner Aerie is black and brown. You can see a few of Aerie’s ribs, which Brown says is a sign Aerie’s at just the right weight for a Belgian Malinois.

“Belgian Malinois’s are considered… they kind of look like a shepherd but they’re real skinny,” Brown said. “But they have the play drive and the activity drive of a Dalmation. So they’re really an active dog.”

Along with that high drive, Brown says, police dogs have to have the right personality or character – a strong hunting and chasing instinct, and loyalty. They need to be obedient to a fault, but also independent enough to work alone and to make certain decisions.

“If you became aggressive and you shoved me right now, he’d automatically bite you,” Brown said. “Because that’s a trained behavior, because you became aggressive toward the handler, or aggressive toward another police officer.”

Brown says Aerie’s trained to track people through scents on the ground. Aerie has tracked down several suspects – his latest, for example, was finding a burglar who had fled and hidden behind a wooden box – and apprehended two in his year and a half in service, including a man who took a shot at a police officer. Brown says Aerie is trained to take a flying leap to get the suspect on the ground.

“If a dog apprehends somebody when they’re running away, and hits them high center of mass, between the shoulder blades, it will force the suspect to the ground,” Brown said. “Because you know you have a 70-pound dog, going certain miles per hour, launching through air, it will topple somebody over.”

Brown says once the dog launches, it’s trained to bite the suspect. It sometimes gets an arm or leg, but it’s trained to bite in the upper back, between the shoulder blades.

“Because there’s not a big muscle group there,” he said. “Not a lot of injury is inflicted by that. They can’t really get hold of any bones and break them.”

But if the suspect stands still, or is passive, Brown says Aerie is trained to hold them in place and bark. He’s also trained to bark when he finds a suspect, and to not bark on command.

“So say you have him barking at a door, and you gave commands for the guy to give up,” he said. “And you want to see if the guy’s going to answer you back, you don’t want this dog to bark. So you give the command down and quiet.”

“So I’ll give him the command to bark, and to be quiet, which is the command ‘still.’ Give it up!”

Aerie pulls the wind sock off my microphone! He thinks it’s a toy. Brown gives the rubber stick to him, who looks pretty pleased as he chews on it. Judging by its tattered look, he’s made some progress in tearing the tough toy to pieces, which is not surprising since the Belgian Malinois can exert hundreds of pounds of force through its jaws, another characteristic of the breed that makes it a favorite for police work.