During the police K9 Academy, the dog is trained to react in a certain way to a specific stimulus whereby the dog’s trained behavior is to be interpreted by the handler. Whether the response is to sit and stare for a drug/explosive locate, or to scratch and bark for a hidden suspect, or whatever the scenario, the K9 simply is responding to its training. These trained responses should glaringly slap the handler with complete understanding of what the dog is telling him/her. Frequently, human interference ignores the K9’s behavior and handlers oftentimes are to blame for the deployment’s failure.
A case in point was when patrol flushed out a wanted man who bolted from a house, plowed through hedges, vaulted fence lines and disappeared into the residential neighborhood. A loose perimeter was established and Rocky and I arrived to track the fugitive. With his nose down and pulling strong on the 30’ tracking line, Rocky easily conquered obstacles encountered along the way while following the scent trail. We ended up on the bank of a canal and he convincingly kept pulling until he suddenly stopped and briefly lifted his nose as if taking another test sample from the air. Without notice, he launched down the embankment and splashed into the slow moving, muddy canal water. With tracking line still in hand, I watched him flounder in the water, clumsily circling under draping willow branches that lightly touched the water’s surface. Frustrated that he was wasting time and energy, I reeled him in to recast him on top of the bank to reacquire the fleeing man’s track. Rocky again darted back into the water for a repeat performance where I again, hand over hand on the wet line, extracted him out from under the willow.
“C’mon Rocky! I know he was there, but he’s moved on. Let’s find him!”
Escorting him further away from the distracting tree, I restarted him for the track and as if patronizing me, he plodded along a faint grassy trail. But, he then scampered across the canal on a wobbly plank that was serving as a makeshift bridge for neighborhood kids. Shuffling across the weathered board, it threatened to break, but the creaking stopped as I stepped onto the opposite shore. Rocky pulled upstream and, confound it, he plunged back into the water and went back under that willow!
Untangling the tracking line from marshy plants, and cussing Rocky under my breath, I was stunned when suddenly there was the fugitive standing in the canal in front of me. Blood trickled from his forehead and he had a glassy, distant stare with Rocky attached to his forearm. In the nearly waist deep water with a gentle current pushing against our legs, and with cover officers on standby, I removed Rocky.
“Where in the hell did you come from?”
The man later explained bobbing in the water under the dangling willow branches and having watched our arrival. When Rocky hit the water, he took a deep breath and submerged himself while Rocky literally began stepping on him. Gloriously, he watched our departure but Rocky soon returned and the timing eventually came where the man’s mouth breached the water’s surface for another breath and Rocky grabbed him by the face. Panic stricken and coughing canal water from his airway, he stood as Rocky transferred to his forearm. Amazingly, and despite the injuries and enduring additional court proceedings, he still held Rocky in high regard by claiming, “That’s a great dog!”
I knew full well that Rocky had the superior ears, eyes and nose, and I wrongly interjected my perceived logic. And, even more embarrassing, I physically took him away from solving the problem. Fortunately, Rocky demonstrated being the more intelligent creature of our partnership and returned to finish the puzzle with a nearly unheard of apprehension of a fugitive who was literally hiding underwater.
While heading back to our patrol car with squishy boots and water cascading from Rocky’s body, I apologized to him while reminding myself on the important words of wisdom that was engrained during our K9 Academy.
“Trust your dog!”