Lassie…Old Yeller…Marley… American culture is just brimming with the bond between man and dog, and, as it happens, Tech is no exception. We may be the Yellow Jackets, but buzzing around, keeping us safe from nearly all forms of explosive devices are the dogs of the canine unit of the GTPD, which recently received a new member.
For the past several years, Officer Rob Turner has been a handler for the GTPD, working with the department’s bomb dog, Hooch, a massive German Shepherd with an overactive salivary gland.
Hooch was trained for finding explosives, including recently discharged guns and patrol work such as suspect apprehension. Thanks to his superb olfactory senses, three murder weapons were found for cases in the Atlanta community. Sadly, his days on the force are numbered.
“He’s got a bad hip,” said Turner, “You can really tell when he tries to get up on a table or something. He gets his front paws up and then looks back at me like, ‘Wanna help me out?’”
While his body may be ready for retirement, Hooch’s mind isn’t. When Turner took paternity leave for a few months, every time he and Turner went to get the mail, Hooch tried getting in the car to head to work.
Luckily for GTPD, there is a replacement ready and willing. Toby, the seventeen-month old German shepherd and new GTPD recruit, may not be as sizable as Hooch, but he certainly has serious credentials (and of course, plenty of time to fill out in size).
He was picked in Germany and then shipped to the U.S., complete with passport and all.
“He’s got several documents that he had to travel with, that amount essentially to a passport,” Turner said, “It doesn’t have a picture of him though.”
Toby spent his first few weeks in the U.S. being trained at a kennel in Chatham County, Florida, where Turner went to meet him and finish training with about three weeks ago.
While Toby isn’t trained for patrol work like Hooch was, he does have the explosive training and of the 30 different odors that are associated with bombs and explosive materials. He can discern twenty-seven.
To get their certification, Toby and Turner had to pass in three categories: open areas, buildings and cars. Apparently, the two make a good team because they passed with a one hundred percent score, finding every hidden bomb in the training, a rather unusual and impressive feat.
Training doesn’t end at the kennel, though. Turner exercises the dogs by running with them and taking them for swims. Both dogs live at home with Turner.
Some days, he and his partner Officer Jonathon Gibbons, whose black lab, Spike, makes the third member of the canine team, will take the dogs to practice sniffing out explosive odors in buildings and fields. These practice sessions give the officers the exercise equivalent of running about five miles.
Officer Turner allowed the Technique to watch one of the dogs’ training sessions where the dogs practiced finding and responding calmly to balls traced with explosive odors.
“One of the distinctions between these dogs and pets,” said Turner, “is their prey drive, and the want to please their handler.”
Those characteristics, and their clear pet-like love of the ball, became glaringly evident as soon as Hooch got out of the car to show off his skills.
After greeting Turner with the usual dog-love, he was all nose for the game, especially once Gibbons brought the training ball into sight.
The idea is that the dog associates the smells of explosive materials with the ball so that once the ball is thrown, he tries to find it by sniffing out the smell. After the dog locates the bomb or, as in this demonstration, common explosive powder, the handlers give him the ball as a reward.
Toby was just as excited when it was his turn to get the ball. He performed just as well as the experienced Hooch, even sitting on his haunches when he located the powder that Gibbons had placed behind the car tire, a skill which Turner had said earlier he hadn’t quite gotten the hang of yet.
The two dogs, and Hooch especially, certainly look the part of police dogs, but their looks and skills too go beyond mere training.
“There have been studies that show that German shepherds have the most smell receptors of all the dog breeds,” Gibbons said, “with labs in a close second.”
Their prime sense of smell is what makes these dogs the best choice when it comes to police work, so while they may not be Lassie, Tech should feel pretty safe in the capable hands, or paws, of the canines of the GTPD.
As members of the GTPD K-9 unit, the dogs are treated as almost the same status as officers, respected as partners in keeping campus safe.