How Police Dogs Are Trained To Track Suspects

It takes a whole lot of effort to train a police pup.

Here's how police dogs are trained to track and search for suspects.
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It takes a whole lot of effort to train a police pup.

There are therapy dogs who provide emotional support, service dogs who help people with disabilities, and there are police dogs, who help law enforcement conduct their day-to-day tasks. Much like service dogs, canines go through rigorous training before graduation. They are specifically trained to aid police and other law enforcement officers in the field.

According to the American Kennel Club, police dogs should be able to apprehend, detect, search, and rescue. This article will be focusing on the skills police dogs needs to capture a suspect.

The United States Police Canine Association or USPCA have some rules in place which set a standard for dogs who want to become working canines. The USPCA was established in 1971. As such, it is the oldest Police K-9 Organization in the United States. The association focuses on training and certifying police dogs in patrolling, tracking, protection, detection, and search and rescue operations. More than 48 U.S. Supreme and Federal District Courts have high regard for the USPCA’s police dog certifications.

Police dogs often help police or law enforcement personnel apprehend suspects. There are many skills police dogs need to catch the suspect, among them being the ability to track or locate a person. The USPCA conducts two trials to test a dog’s tracking ability.

In the first test, dogs must able to track the scent of a specific person and find evidence left by the target. It involves finding the specified person and left behind articles within a 150- to a 300-yard radius, depending on the available space. The dog will be brought to an area with markers and be told that the trail or scent begins somewhere between the markers. The dog must find the trail and accomplish the task. There are 180 points total in this test. The dog and handler team must score at least 130 points to pass.

Then there is the Tracking Exceptional Certification which — as it names suggests — is a bit more challenging. In this test, participants must find the Chief Judge who is within an 880- to a 1,760-yard radius. There will be two types of surfaces the dogs must sniff through which can include roads, streams, and parking lot crossings. There’s a total of 270 points in this test. Teams must get a score of 190 points or above to pass.

For both tests, the dog is given an unlimited amount of time to find the target. Although a judge may end the test if the team — the dog and the handler — seems to have stopped working or it is obvious they have failed the test.