Three Washington Metropolitan Police dogs and their handlers won the top individual honors and Washington scored first in team competition last week at the United States Police Canine Association's 13th national dog trials held here.
Jim Walson, of the Second District Police Station, and his white German shepherd, Baron, came within 22 points of a perfect 600 score to win the competition. Harry Armbruster, of District 3, and his dog Sabbath were second and Paul Wyland, of District 5, and his dog Mac were third.
The three-day competition held at the Duke Ellington High School field included exercises in obedience, agility, search skills and attack training for the 78 dogs and handlers who came from throughout the Eastern United States for the event. Dogs were asked to respond to verbal and physical commands from their handlers, go through an obstacle course that included a burning hoop and a six-foot wall, find a hidden credit card in the field, search out a hidden man, chase and attack a man firing a gun and, also on command, give up a chase of a man who fired a gun at their handlers.
Although the canine corps is perhaps best known for its ability to attack, dog handlers assembled for the convention said the dogs are gentle unless instructed to attack, and the officers, professed a deep affection for their dogs. Most departments, including the District's, send the dogs home with the officers to live and most become family pets as well as working partners, a situation that normally requires approval from the officers' spouses before an assignment to the canine corps can be made.
"He (the dog) give you total devotion that no human will give you," Walson said about police dogs. Baron, he said, is his full-fledged partner.
Richard Rogers, chairman of the association and a member of the District police force, said families often become very attached to the dogs. He said his dog will be retired from the force this week, but his family would not dream of getting rid of the animal.
"You mention it to the kids - there's no way," he said. "The kids adapt with the dog . . . He's just like a member of the family."
Rogers said that the dog, which is trained to attack on command, will take untold abuse from his three-year-old daughter.
"She's pulled his ears, stepped on his tail, all he's ever done is shrug his ears and walk away," Rogers said. Most dogs used by the police are donated or come from dog pounds, but Rogers said the police are not interested in any dogs that are being given away because they are biters. The dog's intelligence and ability to obey are more important, he said.
Living with a family is good for the dogs, Stanley Lehigh of the Sparta, N.J., police department, said. "It's good for the canines because it gives them a bit of a social setting - rounds them out," he said.
Lehigh said a deep understanding and respect develops between the dog and his handler, a relationship that begins during the standard 14-week training sessions for the dogs. The most important aspect of the training, however, is complete obedience from the dog, he said.
"He (Lehigh's dog, Thunder) does everything smart as a whip, he works his heart out for me," Lehigh said. "I don't think there's anything he can't do . . . (But) if my dog questions me when I send him loose for a bite, I don't want him.
"The dog is an extension of the officer, he's only as good as the officer. The feelings of the handler go right down the leash to the dog."
The work of the police dog is invaluable, Deputy Sheriff E. B. Milner of Palm Beach County, Fla., said. Besides attack, dogs are used for tracking, building searches, narcotic and bomb searches and crowd control, he said. In his department, which has used dogs for just over a year, 27 felony arrests have been credited to the dogs, Milner said. Only one of those required the dog to bite a fleeing suspect, he said.
"Five officers and dogs standing in a line in a crowd have more effect than 20 officers with shotguns," Milner said. Suspects are also more likely to try to avoid a dog or fight with a snarling dog than with police officer, he said.
"When they (men) back away from a (police officer) they lose something in the eyes of their friends," Milner said. "But they hunt and live with dogs and know what a dog can do."