Life with a Former K9
By Joy Tiz, MS, JD
©1995 J. Tiz
Police dogs are extraordinary animals. A police K9 must be intelligent, brave, loyal and dedicated. Future police dogs are selected with care. Prospective K9 handlers are chosen from an elite group of experienced patrol officers. There are times however, when a dog just doesn’t quite make the grade. Some of these dogs end up in civilian homes. Life with one is an Experience. After a series of odd twists of fate, I became the owner of a former K9.
A dog can be disqualified from police service due to some physical problem that doesn’t affect the dog’s ability to be a fine companion. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to speak to my Jet’s former handler. So I don’t know exactly what went wrong. After four years with Jet, I’ve got some pretty good hunches. Before you call your local police department and offer to adopt a former K9, stop and ask yourself: Why? Is it their intelligence you admire? Do not make the mistake of thinking that MENSA dogs are easier to train. They aren’t. A dog with a high I.Q. has the skills to outwit you constantly. Personally, I do not want to own another dog who is smarter than I am. Do you think a well trained K9 will make an efficient guard dog? Possibly.
Jet has, on occasion been known to guard items she considers worthy of her attention. Jet applies a two prong test: 1) relative value of the item to her; and more importantly, relative value of the item to the other dogs in the house. This explains why she will fight to the death to guard a fossilized Gummy Bear on the floor but cares nothing about my stereo. What would she do if someone actually attacked me? My guess is, dive for cover and await the arrival of back up. When I first adopted Jet, I made an effort to learn about police dogs. What I discovered was alarming. It was apparent that Jet had learned some obedience commands in German.
Handlers worry that criminals will get together (perhaps at their annual symposium) and learn the same commands. So, some handlers invent secret commands. A lot of cops have a sense of humor, so this worried me. What was her “Attack!” command? What if she had been trained to go into a flesh-tearing frenzy at the sound of some common household phrase like: “TAKE OUT THE TRASH!!!!!!!!!!” I needn’t have worried. There was no danger that Jet would obey any commands. Fortunately, I was working with good trainers at the time and they wisely assigned her to the Basic Obedience class. She loved it. It reinforced her belief in her superiority and gave her a chance to show off.
Everyone really enjoyed having her in the class. I cleverly pretended she had not had any previous training. She was the only dog in the class who did a nice heel and automatic sit on the very first day. She sat sideways. At home I taught her a long down stay. She likes to create the illusion that she is watching her handler, eagerly awaiting the next command. Actually, she was waiting until I looked away so she could inch out of position on her belly, like a soldier crawling out of a bunker. Of course, if you adopt a K9, your friends will think it’s really cool. They will all come over to see your Police Dog in action. Jet understands this and accommodates by flopping down for a nap when guests arrive. She makes quite an impression by not so much as raising her head.
Jet’s willing to make an exception, however if the visitor is a fellow law enforcement officer. And undercover detective dropped by to chat about the drug dealers across the street. Jet sat nicely to greet her former colleague. When he reached to pet her, she grabbed his wrist in her teeth. The extremely gracious detective wrote this off on a theory that she had been trained to sniff out concealed weapons. We were able to settle out of court when I agreed to let the Department move into my spare room for a stake out and spring for the pizza. Are police dogs dangerous in civilian homes? Absolutely.
Not long ago, I was pulling my car into the driveway. Jet raced up to my other Shepherd and delivered a full body slam, shoving him directly into the path of my moving vehicle. This was not the only incident of Attempted Vehicular Dogicide. The same male Shepherd once tumbled out of a truck under rather suspicious circumstances. If you are considering adopting one of these dogs as a playmate for your other dogs, forget it. The only game Jet knows is Pursuit and Felony Hot Stop. This involves running up behind the subject and chomping down on a rear leg. The other dogs don’t like this game.
She did, however come equipped with a Frisbee Fixation. No, she never retrieves them, she invented Frisbee Solitaire. The game, as I understand it requires punching the Frisbee in the center with a paw so she can grab an edge in her teeth. She’ll gnaw at it for awhile and start over. To keep it interesting, she will sometimes roll it down the creek bed and watch it float away. One of the hazards of owning a really smart dog is that she will miss no opportunity to make a fool out of you. I once had to request a sheriff’s deputy to chase some drunks off the vacant property next door. Jet didn’t seem to mind the drunks. No, she waited until the police arrived to show off her skills.
The deputy, an amiable young man, was interested in seeing my former police dog. I assured him that she was just fine with new people. At that moment, she grabbed a mouthful of chain link fence, tearing at it with a bloodcurdling snarl. Evidently, she holds a grudge. I would be remiss if I failed to warn you that these dogs often have dominant temperaments and sometimes require firm handling. A former boyfriend once confessed that when I was not around, he relied on Jet to discipline my younger male Shepherd. Every time Cassius misbehaved it was “Get him, Jet!” I had no alternative but to place the boyfriend in a more suitable home. The rumor I heard when I got Jet was that she “lacked sufficient aggressiveness for police work”. Don’t worry, they grow into it.
Actually, Jet usually gets along well with the other dogs. After all, working K9s are supposed to be level headed about such things. The only time she attacks my little Sheltie is when he’s asleep, posing an obvious menace. The problem with not having met Jet’s handler is that I have no idea what type of police work she did. My guess is the bunko squad. That was probably where she refined her skills as a con artist. She’s an expert at framing the other dogs for her capers. Truthfully, her true calling is the theatre. She’s a good actress. If I have to give her a stern correction, such as telling her to “knock it off”, she will hurl herself to the ground whimpering and yelping. Guests must think I beat her mercilessly.
She pulls this same routine when she’s brushed. Even the vet has been known to fall for it. This is a dog who went through the police academy! She can tear a fake bad guy in that bomb proof protective stuff to shreds. But no. She is a frail and delicate flower. Jet easily identifies humans who are easy marks. A friend of mine, a very intelligent attorney is completely snowed. If I tell my friend Jet got out of control with another dog and had to be corrected, do I get any sympathy? No. It’s: “Noooooooooooooooo, not my little Jetty! She’s sooooooooo sweet . . .” Right. My lawyer friend doesn’t know she’s been had. This is Jet’s hedge against the day she does something truly heinous (like bite her owner). She wants to be certain she will have good legal representation.
Maybe Jet was one of those Search and Rescue dogs. That would explain her special gift for excavation. Should a 300 story building collapse, rest assured my Jet could tunnel clear through to the underground parking structure in under three minutes. Provided, of course there was something under there that she wanted, like a two inch Frisbee Fragment. There are, every now and then, special joys in owning a K9.
A friend once brought a crazy person to my house. You know the type, always busy stockpiling incendiary devices in his basement. Claims the FBI is shooting microwaves at his head or something. Jet plastered herself to this guy. If he was in the bathroom, Jet was lying in front of the door. If he was on the sofa, she was next to him. He tells everyone the Police Dog really liked him, “She followed me around everywhere.” Of course she did. Jet knows a Bad Guy when she sees one.
This article has been reprinted numerous times in such publications as: Police Times, Texas Dogs, The Criminal Post and other magazines.