Police dogs, “tireless and fearless”

The police rely on the physical abilities and highly developed senses of dogs to carry out a whole range of missions with their masters. These pairs complement each other naturally and lend a strong leg to other departments if needed.

They are called Escobar, Loki, Thor, Lexy, Lenox, Junkie, Zippo, Ruby, Poison, Menotte or even Peaches. These are some of the 17 dogs of the canine group of the Grand Ducal Police. Their name sometimes betrays their specialty. We spent a morning watching them evaluate with their master. Some dogs are all-around athletes, others excel in a particular area. All are attached to their human and ready to do anything for him. A beautiful complicity and a strong bond unite these men and women to their animal.

“The dogs belong to the state, but the dog handlers take care of them even after they retire. We accompany them until the end”, explains the chief curator, Christian van Wissen, deputy leader of the group. “It is not possible to have worked with your dog for so many years, to have experienced so many situations with him and then abandon him.” A police dog retires at the age of ten. A dog handler commits himself for a minimum of five years in the canine brigade.

The places there are highly coveted, but both animals and humans must pass strict tests to be able to integrate. “Our job is not to walk around all day with our dog”, tempers Christian van Wissen. The canine brigade is active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the territory.

16 week training

You have probably already met them on the sidelines of demonstrations, in the streets of Luxembourg or on public transport, among other places, but this is only a tiny part of the tasks carried out by these pairs. Dogs can sniff out narcotics, explosives or fire accelerators, provide protection or surveillance measures and for three years track individuals according to their natural predispositions.

Some dogs are said to be “passive”, meaning they don’t bite, just search and when they find, mark the location without moving. Others are trained to attack. The duration of basic dog training lasts an average of sixteen weeks. Twelve additional weeks for specializations. Training takes place once a week, although the dogs – and their handlers – gain experience in the field.

Christian van Wissen unleashed Zippo on an intern learning the ropes. The police dog will only let go if his master gives him the order.

“All-Terrain Dogs”

A glance at the training ground is enough to see that the police dogs are all shepherds, mostly Belgian, but also German and Dutch. Beautiful, healthy animals with shiny hair, well-defined muscles and frank, even slightly amused looks. Dressed ears, they follow the instructions with pleasure while waiting for their toy whether it’s about finding marijuana hidden in my shoe, explosives in a facade, stopping an offender’s escape in their tracks or jumping above a low wall.

“These breeds exhibit all the qualities we look for in police dogs. They are tireless and fearless,” explains the chief commissioner. “Dogs also need to be all-terrain and able to follow their master because he trusts him absolutely.” Recently, the dogs were trained on the Haute-Sûre lake.

They learned to navigate and approach. They must also be able to board a fire pod or police helicopter, rappel with their handler, and be unafraid of detonations, gunshots, projectiles, or pain. In short, the ideal dog is a hothead who knows how to keep calm when the situation requires it.

A presence that is enough to calm the spirits

Size plays a role too. “For passive dogs, breed doesn’t matter. But they must reach the height of the belt and it is easier to find a one-year-old Malinois to adopt than a Labrador or a border collie, ”says Christian van Wissen.

On a daily basis, the pairs patrol the four parts of the country and most often in the station district in Luxembourg. “A policeman, with a dog, does not go unnoticed”, notes Christian van Wissen. “Normally, the presence of the dog is enough to calm the spirits. Dogs rarely go into contact. Sniffer dogs are not trained to bite or attack unlike others. “They are trained to attack, although we are looking for sociable dogs. Sometimes we make muzzled attacks. We teach the dog to push someone during general fights in particular”, specifies the dog handler.

“Attacking is not a game for the dog unlike research. His behavior changes. Their pupils dilate, the heart rate goes up and they produce adrenaline. They love it.” That’s no reason to let them in. The last time a police dog bit on duty was eleven years ago.

Serge and his new dog in training, Escobar, are looking for explosives.

Super-trained and very good

In all circumstances, the behavior of police dogs must be exemplary. No question of barking for nothing or being distracted from his mission by a bird. “Our dogs aren’t drug addicts and don’t eat dynamite for breakfast,” jokes the deputy squad leader. “They are super-trained and very good.” Serge doesn’t need to give orders to Kia, his drug-sniffing dog. They have been working together for almost ten years and the dog will soon be taking a well-deserved retirement.

“I don’t need to give her an order. She acts on her own initiative when she sends something that smells like her toy. Whether it’s people or objects, she’s not mistaken” , testifies the policeman. “She sits or lies down in front of the person. If she does not stop, the dog follows her. She wants her toy. As long as I do not tell her with the clicker that she will have his toy, the dog won’t let go.” But like a good so-called “passive” dog, she does not bite.

Dog handlers must also be beyond reproach. There are many candidates, but few elected. “It’s not enough to love dogs. You have to be a good policeman first. A motivated policeman, because our work does not stop after eight o’clock. We must take care of our dog’s needs. He must also like to be on the front of the stage, because we do a lot of public presentations”, sums up Christian van Wissen.

A great responsibility for the master

“A dog handler a great responsibility. He has an animal that has learned to bite. He must be able to work individually. We are often alone with our dogs in support of other units and make decisions,” adds Serge. Like the dogs, these police officers regularly undergo training with trainers recruited within their ranks or abroad.

It can also happen that these men and women perform tasks without the dogs. In particular the coordination during searches, the test of candidate dogs with a veterinarian and a trainer or the capture of dangerous animals lost on the roads or present during searches carried out by intervention groups. Dog handlers are trained in blowpipe tranquilizers and handling snares, among other things.

A handler without his canine partner is a sad handler. “It’s a way of life, a passion”, concluded Ivo, trainer.

Who has drugs hidden in the shoe? Without hesitation, this sniffer dog will find the answer.

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