Red Deer RCMP’s newest police dog Nyak has a nose for explosives, but the two-year-old German shepherd is also ready to lend a paw to help out with other investigations.
Handler Cpl. Terence Dunphy said tracking is what police dogs are called on to do most often, which is also the hardest things to teach the dogs. It’s unnatural for dogs to sniff with their nose almost to the ground and track a scent for a lengthy period of time, but it is possible to train them through repetition, play and reward.
“(Tracking) is the highest risk as well. If you’re looking for a motivated individual, it’s risky to the dog and it’s risky to the handler. If you’re looking for a five-year old who is missing, it’s risky for them if they’re not found,” Dunphy said.
On Sept. 22, Red Deer police dog Kitzel was stabbed in the neck and jaw by a suspect in Sylvan Lake.
“We came very close that night to losing him. He lost an incredible amount of blood. Surgeons did a fantastic job patching him up and getting him home,” said his handler Const. Tim Reid.
It took a month for Kitzel’s injuries to heal after developing abscesses and infection caused by the dirty knife used in the attack. Hours were spent at the vet clinic to flush his wounds and treatments.
“It was pretty up and down for 30 days. There were hours when I would sit in his kennel with him, when I would apply a hot compress to the wound because the muscles were seizing up.”
The five-year-old dog also needed weeks of retraining to recover from the trauma, but on Oct. 25 he was back on the job.
“He’s happy and back to who he was before. We’re back to full duty and he’s doing really well.”
Reid said Kitzel is a high energy dog which really helped him during his recovery phase because he wanted to get back to work.
He said it’s tough on handlers when the dog they care for is injured, but as much as they are loved, it’s the dog’s duty to protect officers and the public.
Dunphy said police dogs do wear equipment to try and prevent injuries, but accidents can happen and dangers on the job are increasing.
“The reality is it’s becoming more violent for police officers in general over the past five or six years.”
It takes years for officers to get the opportunity to become a dog handler. Dunphy spent nine years raising German shepherd pups born at the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre near Innisfail before he trained at the central Alberta centre.
Elsewhere in the region, Blackfalds RCMP Const. Danielle Lohmann and Sundre RCMP Const. Tim Stevens are each currently raising a puppy that will be tested to train at the Innisfail-area centre where about 110 dogs are bred annually.
“The only bigger breeding program for working dogs in the world is in Sweden. They do all their police dogs and military dogs at the same time,” Dunphy said.
Red Deer has four RCMP police dogs, and Alberta has a total of 24.