Inside The World Of Police K9s

Officers Work At Making Man’s Best Friend Their Most Reliable Partner


What has four legs, a badge, and will bark your Miranda rights?

Police K9s are a specialized unit that most law enforcement agencies have, yet there are still many questions about what they do and how they do it. You might be thinking back to being at an airport and seeing a dog smell bags with an officer. Or a pup outside of an arena, waiting and watching by the side of its handler. You may have even seen videos of German shepherds taking down grown men who have fled from the police.

All of those are examples of the types of working dogs that can be used by police departments. 

Many different kinds of dogs can be trained to work as K9 partners with a human police officer. Some of the bite dogs might be shepherds or Malinois. Some of the bomb and drug-sniffing dogs might be labs, bloodhounds, or beagles. There are many variations of dogs that can be used for many different targets. 

The National Police Dog Foundation, an organization that assists retired and active duty pups, describes on their website some of what the dogs can do.

“A police dog, also known as K-9 or K9 (a homophone of canine), is a dog specifically trained to assist members of law enforcement. Dogs have been used in law enforcement since the Middle Ages. The most commonly used breeds are German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, but several other breeds are represented as having some unique talents. Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds, and Labrador Retrievers, for example, are known for their tracking, trailing, and detection skills. Used as a means of law enforcement widely across the United States, Police K-9s usually serve in the force for six to nine years. In many countries, the intentional injuring or killing of a police dog is a criminal offense.”

It added, “Police departments require a dog to first pass basic obedience training. The dogs must be able to respond to and obey the commands of their handler without hesitation for proper control.”

Depending on what a dog is going to be used for and their breed, the training and raising will differ. Tulsa, Oklahoma K9 handler Chad Murtaugh has a lot of experience as a K9 handler. Murtaugh’s current partner is a yellow lab named Mimi who is trained to find trace evidence and is certified in explosive detection by the ATF. 

K9 Mimi was raised in a program where they took special care to notice the dog’s personality, and they needed a social pup for the job. Her upbringing was quite different than other K9s at the start of their journeys.

K9 Mimi was raised in a prison from a young age.  During their development, they are trained to be very social.  They are placed on a career path for being a PTSD dog, or Explosive Detection K9, depending on their drive,” says Murtaugh.

“K9 Mimi is trained to locate trace evidence that officers could have trouble locating.  Because of this, she is able to locate such evidence and assist in building cases or providing leads to detectives. She is able to locate casings, firearms, and other items that contain explosive odors.”

K9 Mimi is quite a unique dog, her set of skills tends to set her apart from other tracking and locating dogs because of how well she can work trace amounts of evidence. Murtaugh goes on many different kinds of assignments with K9 Mimi ad gets called in to assist when her specialties are needed. 

There are other dogs that are trained on explosive odors.  Many of them train on larger amounts of explosives.  K9 Mimi is trained on trace evidence, which means that she can locate much smaller articles.  Currently, there are less than 100 dogs in the country that are trained like K9 Mimi.

“Because K9 Mimi is a food reward dog, this means that she needs to train seven days a week.  Oftentimes, I will work with another handler in the area or an officer to hide training aids.  We will create different scenarios that we can see if our patrol functions, and work through them to assure that when met with the situations we will be able to successfully work through them.”

 Murtaugh is an experienced handler for this job because K9 Mimi is not his first working dog. When he started on patrol, he had a patrol K9 named Riggs. Riggs was trained differently than Mimi, as he was also a different breed.

“When I worked with K9 Riggs, we were a patrol K9 team.  We were certified in apprehension and narcotic detection.  On our deployments, we would attempt to track fleeing felons, clear buildings on alarms, and assist in the apprehension of wanted felons.  Working with my current partner, K9 Mimi is pretty different as we are searching for evidence related to a crime or conducting protective sweeps.  Working with K9 Mimi is a little slower pace, and very detail-oriented.”

Riggs is a Malinois, those dogs tend to have quite the drive, and generally, when being taken as pets they aren’t for first-time pet owners because of their high drive. This makes them great for K9 work, as they need the regiment. “Being a Malinois, they are very high driven dogs to begin with.  They are full of energy, which is one of the reasons that they are selected to perform the work that they do. When I was working with K9 Riggs he was not around anyone else but other officers. He was so focused on doing the task at hand that they did not want or need attention from anyone else.  When we were off duty or at a demonstration, K9 Riggs had a great “internal switch” that he could flip.  He would become very social and love to be a pet.  If people that were afraid of him, but still wanted to meet him I would get down on the ground with him and Riggs would usually roll over and show them his belly.”

Since Malinois or even Shepards can be a large breed and can be used for apprehension, perception can sometimes be quite negative because of fear. “People often think that K9s are vicious dogs because of the work that they do.  But that is often not true.  K9s are very loyal dogs.”

K9s are assets of police departments and are a very intricate part of the team. They assist officers in many tasks such as tracking, apprehension, location and many more.

People think because they are patrol dogs that they are mean, and that they are used as a form of punishment.  This could not be further from the truth.  They are used to assist officers in their duties so that they can be safer and more efficient.  When confronted with this, I would educate the person and even let them meet my partner if they wanted to.  This would often change their mind or perception of what we do.”

Murtaugh’s dogs have been incredibly useful to him while on duty, both in different ways. “Mimi has found evidence that could have been missed by officers if she was not used.  K9 Riggs kept us and other officers safe while on patrol.”

Though sometimes, changes are unavoidable. “The biggest challenge in both dogs I am always wanting to find what we set out to look for.  Whether this is a wanted violent offender or a key piece of evidence.  Sometimes the offenders get away or the evidence you thought was there might not be there.”

For Murtaugh, he has found great joy in serving his community with his four-legged sidekicks by his side.” It really brings a lot of enjoyment to my life.  If you are having a bad day, you can just look in the kennel behind you and see your partner that is wanting to love you and will always have your back.”

Throughout the years, Murtaugh along with K9 Mimi and Riggs have seen a lot. Since K9 Riggs was a patrol dog they were in the thick of a lot of dangerous situations. “For the most part, people love K9s, and love to hear about the violent offenders that they are able to capture. When working with a patrol dog, you are often working to find the worst of the worst such as murders, robbery suspects, and other violent offenders.  Often these people run and try to avoid capture.  I have been injured and so has my partner trying to apprehend these suspects.”

Unfortunately, injuries can happen in this line of work to both humans and dogs. A viral story of a famous Tik Tok cop whose dog was shot in the line of duty brought this topic to the forefront of people’s minds. K9 Arlo has quite the following on Tik Tok and it was devastating when followers earned of his injuries, though he has fully recovered. Social media is helping bridge the gap between officers and the people, especially with the use of the adorable K9s. 

Fellow Tik Tok creator and K9 handler in Alpharetta, Georgia have been using their platform to educate and connect. Officer Phil Ritchey and K9 Raider are quite the pair. Similar to K9 Mimi, K9 Raider is also a lab. She rings in at 40 pounds, so she is very small. She too has a very specific set of duties.

“Raider is trained in drug detection and tracking. She is trained to detect five controlled substances and is able to locate persons who are lost or have fled from the police.”

“Raider’s high hunt and prey drive made her the best fit for detection work.”

Raider has made a name for herself on social media, and she is helping to change public perception of law enforcement and K9s as well.

“Our police department’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for the people who work, live and play in Alpharetta. We saw with social media, we could do that not only in our city but all over the world”. 

The department in Alpharetta, Georgia acquired K9s after realizing how much of an asset that would be, especially different kinds of training specialties.

“Our department has canines because they recognized how helpful they are in helping our officers do their job. From finding illegal drugs to locating missing persons or fleeing suspects, they help in a variety of ways.”

Training with Raider is something that has to happen often to keep her sharp, but also interested, as searching is a game for her. “I think most K9 units train in a similar way. We have to train as a unit for at least 16 hours a month but we like to train above standards and train much more than that.”

“Training days with Raider usually start with several narcotics searches. The odors are placed in either vehicles or various places inside buildings. We also train in tracking searches. I usually assist the other teams by getting in the bite suit and helping with the apprehension dog training. Labradors are usually sweet dogs. I’m sure you could train a Labrador for bite work if it had the right drives”. 

When Raider and Ritchey were first paired up he was also a student. He not only had to learn how to become a handler but had to learn who Raider was and her personality. “In the initial training process, I am a student and am constantly learning. Once I learn the basics, it’s really more of paying attention to Raider and observing what behavior changes she displays when she is in odor.”

Just like any human officer, Raider has her own set of challenges and fear, Ritchey works with her daily to keep her growing as a working dog.

“My biggest challenge is that Raider is not a fan of large crowds when she is just hanging out casually. Raider will work in those environments because her hunt drive overpowers her fear. We have constantly been working on her timidness by making the things she doesn’t like fun, it is just a lot of work.”

Raider and other working dogs rely on their strong scent. Just like K9 Mimi, K9 Raider’s nose is what saves the day. The way their noses work is far better than any human, so their skill set is irreplaceable. “People think they can disguise the drug odor with other odors such as coffee grinds, pepper or anything else with a strong overwhelming odor. This just does not work because dogs smell items individually. For example, we as humans smell pizza as pizza. Dogs smell every single ingredient in the pizza. Really the only way to fool a dog is if you completely eliminate the odor, period.”

Though they work hard to catch bad guys, having K9 Raider and the social media presence that she does helps to change public perception of K9s and officers and what it is they do for their communities.

“We just are ourselves. Most people’s only perception or interaction with the police is what they see on the news or if they have had a personal encounter, which is usually not a good one. We just like to show how we are people too.”

At the end of the day, these dogs do great work in assisting officers and helping them through very tough situations. They are also dogs, are treated with dignity and respect, and of course given all the pets. As people see K9s in public, always ask the handler if they can be pet and do not be offended if the answer is no, they are working.

Being a K9 handler has been a rewarding experience for officers. “It has taught me patience. I already had good patience, but K9 has really expanded it. It has also helped me with thinking and problem-solving. Dog training is really not a science. What may work for another dog may not work for Raider, so I am constantly trying new things to see what works and what does not.”

Working dogs do a great deal for their communities, but also are best friends to their handlers.

“Second to my wife, Raider is my best friend. I spend more time with Raider than any other person. We work, train and vacation together.”