The Colonie Police Department recently purchased Vader, a 16-month-old German shepherd who will complete patrol, tracking and narcotics training and become the 11th dog in Colonie history to join the K-9 Unit Patrol Division.
Photo by Zan Strumfeld.
continued Shaw said they often get started with tracking by dropping pieces of hot dogs to keep the dog’s nose to the ground.
Drug training, which Vader will learn after he is patrol and tracking certified, is done placing insides a toy what’s called a “pseudo,” or a chemical compound of a drug that has the actual drug’s odor.
“I can’t sniff out narcotics. A lot of criminals are smart, they’re going to hide things from the police, especially inside a vehicle with hidden compartments,” Shaw said.
Even with a simple game of fetch, the dog quickly learns the drug’s smell, imprinting it into his memory.
“When we tell the dog to look for a drug, in the dog’s mind he’s actually looking for his toy. When they find an odor, they scratch. The dog is scratching because he’s trying to get to it, because his toy’s in there. So what we do is we reward the dog with an (actual) toy, thinking that he made it appear. Then he’s happy, and we can find out whatever it was that he scratched on,” Shaw said.
Ultimately, Shaw said, the dog is trained to seek reward.
“He knows through his training that if he (does something right), he’s going to get something out of it, and that’s why he does it. The dogs that we purchase are toy-driven. All they want to do is chase after a toy,” Shaw said.
As for people, Vader knows how to latch on to an arm. Shaw said this is mainly for the officer’s protection.
“If I’m out with him and someone tries to harm me, he will automatically protect me. I’m dad. He’s not going to let anything happen to me,” Shaw said.
If, for example, a criminal is armed with a weapon and running away, Shaw said the dog is trained to give chase until the officer can catch up.