Here is an article which outlines the LawDogsUSA program.
America’s New Secret Weapon
They are smaller and much more nimble than a German shepherd; friendlier and safer to handle then the average Belgian malinois and shed less than a Labrador retriever. Records with the American Temperament Testing Society (ATTS) show them with a higher passing rate for excellent, friendly temperament than the golden retriever. And Washington’s premier law enforcement agency, The Washington State Patrol, one of the nation’s premiere law enforcement agencies, has more of them working the streets and in training as narcotics and explosives detection K-9s than members of any other pure breed. They are truly the best kept secret weapon in law enforcement’s fight against terror plots and illegal narcotics trafficking.
They are American Pit Bulls.
That’s right. You read that correctly.
After two decades taking their turn – like the Doberman before them – as the fad “bad boy” dog attracting irresponsible and even criminal owners, today’s press coverage of the American pit bull is predictably all one sided. “Killer Pit Bull” is a sexy headline – it sells soap as the old saying goes – but it is hardly a fair and accurate representation of this old and storied breed. More importantly, while focusing on the misfortunes of only the “pit bull”, the media ignores those involving other breeds, thus giving an even more one-sided bias.
Numerically the American Pit Bull is far and away the most popular and populous breed in the United States today. Thousands upon thousands live as loving and loyal family pets, but because of their popularity, shelters are filled with thrown away pit bulls, and backyard breeders peddle purebred puppies at flea markets for $50. With this tragic overpopulation comes the unavoidable percentage of animals which are mentally damaged and mishandled by cruel, ignorant or even criminally minded dog owners. Due to their being a fad you’ve heard about the damaged dogs – but here you’ll hear about some of the vast majority of American Pit Bulls, those living as loving family pets or valued working dogs.
Like any performance bred working dog, the American Pit Bull can be a lot of dog. Strong, agile, intelligent, determined and very, very willing to please its owner; both good and bad dog owners have figured this out and use it to their own ends. So, while you might find a pit bull whose criminal owner sets it to guard illegal narcotics, you will also find pit bulls owned by law enforcement locating those drugs. There is no “bad breed”.
WHAT MAKES THEM SO GOOD AT DETECTION?
To understand why the American Pit Bull is poised to become America’s premiere detection dog breed, it is first necessary to understand that the “damaged” dog presented by the media doing something tragic is just that – a damaged dog. Damaged by poor breeding practices, poor upbringing, poor management. Damaged by almost thirty years now of being used and abused by fad breeders, punks and criminals trying to create a dog as damaged and anti-social as they are. These damaged animals do not represent what a typical or true representative of the American pit bull breed is. Add to that, despite its popularity, it is a breed which remains a riddle wrapped in an enigma to the vast majority of police dog trainers. While tough on the outside, American Pit Bulls are gooey soft inside and crumble under corrections a German Shepherd or Rottweiler would shrug off. They want to please – desperately.
So what is a “real” American pit bull like?
They are a medium sized dog, weighing between 35 and 65 pounds. They come in many colors and ears can be cropped or left natural. A correct pit bull is not overly short or stocky, and has good length of leg and neck. Bred for centuries to grip run-a-way cattle by the nose (in effect becoming a living nose ring to bring the animal under control) they have a muzzle of medium length and a durable build. The short “bulldog” nose of the show breeds are useless to a real bull working animal. They have a friendly, outgoing nature and a “bombproof” temperament with humans. Their rough and tumble history provides that solid temperament. Dogs being set on bulls, boars, bears or other dogs could never lash out at owners or at referees in the “pit” with them, nor would a dog who bit while being tended for severe injuries be used for breeding. No matter how badly injured, a true pit bull will never lash out at a human. Amicability to humans is bred into the genetics of the purebred American pit bull.
Performance bred lines of these dogs are registered as American Pit Bulls, while show bred lines have become known as the American Staffordshire and Staffordshire Bull. While the three breeds have minor differences, most people cannot tell them apart. Today there is a growing trend among fad breeders to increase the size of their “pit bulls” by adding in mastiffs and other breeds but these larger animals do not have the stable temperament nor the sound physical build of a true purebred American Pit Bull. Any “pit bull” over 70 pounds should have its “purebred” status questioned.
Ironically what sets the American Pit Bull apart from many other breeds utilized by police is their love of humans. Pit bulls would make a poor choice as a “patrol” dog trained to bite suspects. Pit bulls with correct temperament would much rather lick than bite, and most lack the “defensive drive” to guard. Walking down the Seattle Coleman ferry dock past the Washington State Patrol cars with bomb detection dogs inside, pedestrians evoke sharp barking from the Labradors, German Shepherds, Malinois and other dogs, while K-9 Neville, K-9 Sampson and K-9 X-Dog, the American Pit Bulls, leans up against window barrier begging for attention.
What the pit bull has – in spades – is grit. A determination of mind not found in breeds created upon a lesser forge. Give him a job and he’ll get ‘er done. It is a common feature of the breed to have an extremely strong “prey” or “toy” drive, meaning the dog will do anything for the chance to grip and play with a toy. And that is where detection dog training comes in.
WHAT DETECTION DOGS DO
All detection dogs work on a simple principle: the target scent the trainer wants the dog to indicate is paired up with something the dog really wants, in most cases a toy. As the dog is trained, it learns that if it indicates the target scent the toy will appear. The dogs are not “hooked” on drugs; trainers must be careful the dogs do not come into contact with the real drugs as they can injure or even kill the dogs. Training is easy at first, but soon the dogs must search in “real world” circumstances, under cars, on top of loads in semi trucks, in tight spaces and on slick floors.
Narcotics detection dogs screen luggage, check vehicles on traffic stops, search buildings on search warrants and even look along the routes of high speed pursuits to check for drugs thrown from vehicles.
Explosives detection dogs screen vehicles and people for bombs, search shooting sites for spent cartridge shells, can locate hidden guns and ammunition. They can even find the source of an explosion – after the explosion. The amazing scenting ability of dogs are now being used to locate termites and mold in structures, oil leaks along pipe lines and experiments are being conducted which indicate dogs can smell cancer in humans.
WHAT LAWDOGSUSA DOES
Since September 11, 2001, there is an increasing demand for the dogs with the “right stuff” to do detection work. “Vendors” make a good living picking up pets from animal shelters for under one hundred dollars (often far less) and reselling them to law enforcement for thousands of dollars. Vendors can easily make over $6,000 for an untrained “green” mixed breed dog. The reason? Dogs with the kind of intense drive to make it as working detection dogs are not all that common. Add to that the dogs should be friendly with people, physically sound and under three years of age. With so many agencies vying for these dogs, the vendors can set their price high – and they do. Especially when you consider that an entire grouping of likely dogs is being ignored.
And few people question just how much money is being spent by government agencies on dogs. Recently the Department of Homeland Security authorized spending $400,000 on sixteen dogs coming from Israel. A University police department just paid $3000 for an untrained Labrador mix taken from an animal shelter by a vendor. These are not unusual examples.
LawDogsUSA was began by dog trainer, author and retired animal control officer Diane Jessup. She was surprised police were paying such high prices for dogs while a large population of highly suitable dogs were being euthanized in the nation’s animal shelters because of “racial profiling”. Drawing attention to this source of suitable and inexpensive dogs made sense to her.
Diane considers the American Pit Bull to be America’s premiere working dog. “Dog’s uses change with the times. The vast majority of German Shepherds no longer herd sheep and the vast majority of pit bulls no longer control bulls or fight other dogs. The future of the American Pit Bull is going to be much like its past; as a utilitarian dog and trusted family member. The pit bull needs a new job, and this one suits him perfectly. Remember Pete the Pup from the Little Rascals? Well, that was an American Pit Bull. In fact, his sire was a famous fighting dog.”
LawDogsUSA began with K9 Neville, a 60 pound red pit bull who wound up in an animal shelter in Ontario, Canada when that Province was passing a strict law against ownership of the “bull breeds”. Unless moved out of the Province, Neville faced euthanasia at the shelter or being sold off to die at an animal research laboratory. Luckily for Neville, he was removed to the United States by the rescue group Bullies In Need, based in Ontario. Ending up in Washington State with a foster home, he entered the LawDogs program and ultimately became an explosives detection K-9 with his handler, Trooper Dave Dixon. Dixon and K-9 Neville generally patrol the Washington State ferry system – considered the nation’s most “at risk” transportation system. Dixon and K-9 Neville have become favorites with frequent travelers, and Nev has been kissed (while on duty!) by the likes of Ellen Pompeo of Gray’s Anatomy, and played with the three young daughters of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Since its inception three years ago, LawDogsUSA has placed nearly a dozen American Pit Bulls with law enforcement.
Diane prefers to work with WSP because of the caliber of the trainers and troopers. “These guys are at the top of the law enforcement pyramid. You know how totally refreshing it is to work with an agency where most of the trainers don’t have a “racial profiling” mentality? Not even with the dogs they select for training! I understand that officers are often afraid of pit bulls because they have to interact with horrible dog owners who encourage their dogs to be aggressive toward strangers, but it is so refreshing to see officers who don’t use prejudice as a way of thinking. They treat each dog as an individual. I can’t help but feel that bodes well for how these troopers treat each person they interact with, as well.”
Prejudice against the dogs is “part of the game” Diane says. “These dogs are Jackie Robinson… when I get a call that an agency won’t accept a world class – free – dog; that they would rather pay for a lesser quality dog – I just shake my head and know that prejudice is part of human nature. Unfortunately.”
LawDogsUSA is small, but growing and searching hard for funding for a larger facility. Diane hopes that LawDogs can grow to the point where any police officer in the United States that wants a donated detection dog can have one – for free. “The great dogs are ‘Made in America,’” Diane says. “Good dogs. The best. There is absolutely no reason for the government to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for “green” dogs when we are willing to supply them for free. LawDogsUSA has extraordinary dogs looking to be hooked up with agencies wanting dogs.”