K-9 Police Dogs and Public Safety
K-9 police dogs and their handlers are integral members of the modern day police force. From airports to concert venues, these loyal members of the police are trained to detect, search and rescue, and assist police forces in routine assignments. K-9 police dogs are celebrated nationally on March 13th for their heroism. In honor of our four-legged heroes, below is a selection of titles aimed to educate handlers, students, and police leaders.
Books for K-9 Training and Handling
- Detector Dogs and Scent Movement describes how dogs detect scent from a source that is carried to them in a plume by the wind. The most important tool for a detector dog handler to have on searches is a knowledge of scent plume movement or "scent dynamics" (the science of scent movement). Detector Dogs and the Science of Scent Movement: A Handler’s Guide to Environments and Procedures retrieves, reviews, and interprets the results of pertinent scientific research on scent dynamics and presents these results in terms that are easier for handlers to understand.
- Death, Decomposition, and Detector Dogs is designed to help canine handlers, detectives, death investigators, crime scene personnel (including forensic laboratory personnel, technicians, and supervisors), and attorneys understand the science involved when utilizing human remains detector (HRD) canines as a locating tool.
- It is essential that those in the criminal justice system understand the tasks that police dogs perform and the evidence that their work produces. Police and Military Dogs: Criminal Detection, Forensic Evidence, and Judicial Admissibility examines the use of police and military dogs for a wide variety of functions and explores canine biology and behavior as it applies to police work.
K-9 Specific Titles
An interview with Susan Stejskal, author of Death, Decomposition, and Detector Dogs
Q: Sue, you have worked for decades training and working with detector dogs. Tell us about this.
A: My dog ”career” first started in the early 1970s when I went through the veterinary technology program at Michigan State University and got my first dog, a shepherd mix who I started in obedience classes with. Through the years, I got involved with whippets—a hound breed that normally hunts by sight and much less by scent. Finishing championships, obedience, and field trialing, I then got involved in tracking with a local obedience training club, I got involved in tracking in 1976! It was interesting training a sighthound to track, but with the right dog and the right motivation, I was able to learn the basics of scent and how environmental conditions could affect that as well as the success of the dog. Fast-forward years later to when I got my first scenthound—a miniature wirehaired dachshund named Chili Dawg. After completing her bench (conformation) championship, a few obedience titles, and a tracking title, I knew there was more potential for her since she was essentially a working dog trapped in a wiener dog body.
Somehow, we ended up in cadaver detection (both land and water searches). Then fast forward a few more years, I partnered with K9 Buzz, a chocolate lab, who allowed me to further expand into disaster search and recovery, etc. I now partner with K9 Maple, a springer spaniel, and K9 Sheriff Woody, another mini wire dachshund who both work in cadaver detection. I use Maple as the primary on land searches and Woody as the primary on water searches.
As far as my journey, I went back to school and completed a PhD in toxicology and pathology and worked for about 20 years in the veterinary school at Michigan State University. I taught in the vet tech program and worked in the pathology department where I became very familiar with death. After finishing a post-doctoral research fellowship, I moved into the private sector where I worked as a research scientist and technical writer. During that time, I became a reserve deputy for a county sheriff’s department and worked with them for over 10 years, with eventual focus with the Criminal Investigation Division. I joined two county sheriff’s department dive team as a water recovery canine handler.
Then, as often happens in corporate America, my position was relocated with a company merger. As a result, I had the opportunity to volunteer with the county emergency management department and became an instructor at the US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Center for Domestic Preparedness in Alabama. Teaching one week a month for almost 5 years gave me a lot of experience and exposure to first responders from all over the country. After 5 years, I was called back to the private sector but worked in a part-time capacity so that I would have the time and flexibility to train and deploy as needed with the dogs. When I retired from that, I was hired to set up a crime lab for the sheriff’s department, as well as help train and deploy with the county’s major crime task force (MCTF). I now continue with the sheriff’s department in a volunteer position as a special deputy/HRD (Human Remains Detector) K9 handler and member of the MCTF. I have also served as an expert witness in canine olfaction, forensic taphonomy, and the training and deploying of HRD canines in murder trials, as well as consult with prosecutors in trial preparation.
I have been a member of both the Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines (SWGDOG) as well as NIST’s Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC) for about 15 years as well as a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) ASB Dogs and Sensors Consensus Board. I am a member of the International Association for Identification (IAI) as well as the United States Police Canine Association (USPCA). A few years ago, I became a regional detection judge (certifying official) for USPCA.
Q: That quite a path you’ve tread in your career—and amazing cases and experiences during that time, I’m sure! As far as your motivation in writing the book, who is the audience you had in mind for both editions of the book
A: Because of my passion for teaching, and my past educational and professional experience, about 15 years ago I started putting together training for law enforcement canine handlers, detectives, and crime scene personnel. When a friend of mine who has written books for CRC mentioned me to her editor, I was approached about putting what I had learned into a textbook. My goal was to write a book that reviewed the “basics” of olfaction, taphonomy, and search variables, all written in a format that was understandable to those who chose to read it. That was the first edition which was written 10 years ago now. The goal with the second edition was the same – helping people understand how a dog is able to do what they do, what goes into deploying with an HRD canine, how to most effectively deploy a dog in the environmental, and considerations of the physical conditions that they are searching in. This information is obviously important to HRD K9 handlers, but also to detectives, crime scene personnel, and those involved in judicial proceedings.
Q: Now, I understand that the new edition has a lot of new coverage. Can you point out some of what you’ve added and included—for those who may already own the previous book or may even be new to the field? Give us some of the top-level highlights.
A: The first obvious difference is the amount of research and new information that has surfaced in the ten years since the first edition. I have incorporated as much as I could, as well as adding more information about searching for human remains in water settings. More cases have been added to the book, which I think is better organized and may be easier to read than the first edition. A major difference is that photographs in this edition are now in color, providing better visualization of taphonomic changes, etc.
Q: If there is anything you want people to take away from the book, what would it be?
A: I would like people to appreciate what a fantastic forensic tool that a well-trained HRD canine team can be! I hope to help the handler understand how the tool works (canine olfaction), how the target odor is created and dispersed (forensic taphonomy and environmental factors), how or where to search to help the dog be successful, factors that may affect a dog’s performance in specific scenarios, and how to explain all that to others—including possible jurors. I hope that detectives and investigators learn both what is involved in a training as well has how to maintain a successful team to be able to work with handlers in locating missing persons.