The police K-9 is an integral part of any police department.
Not only do these working dogs provide services such as search and rescue, suspect apprehension and narcotics detection, but they also serve as a bridge to the community.
So many of us love dogs, and whether it’s the German Shepherd in the K-9 vest or the little terrier sitting on someone’s lap, we struggle to resist going up and saying hello.
So it comes as no surprise that some of the biggest stars on the A&E Network’s Live PD are not the officers but the K-9s.
Live PD, which debuted to great ratings in 2016, continues to be broadcast live (with a slight delay) on Friday and Saturday nights, from 9 to midnight Eastern time.
The addictive reality show follows different police departments across the country, documenting the officers’ lives on the job.
“It’s a crazy, difficult show to produce,” says Executive Producer Dan Cesareo. “We’re the only live show on television where we show up at 9 p.m., we have 3 hours of television to make, and we have no clue where we’re going or how it’s going to unfold.”
And, as a bonus for us dog lovers, the police K-9s are a huge part of the show.
A lot of the K-9s on Live PD are “dual-purpose dogs.”
If you watch the show, you may have seen some of the handlers use this term.
It means the dogs are trained in both location (i.e., drug dogs searching for narcotics) as well as apprehension (when you see a dog help apprehend a suspect).1
K-9s trained in apprehension will give a “controlled bite” if necessary. They bite in a specific area and in a particular way to subdue the subject while causing the least amount of trauma.
Human officers will always give a warning before releasing the dog. In fact, they often repeat themselves 2–3 times, saying they are a police K-9 unit and will release the dog if the suspect doesn’t comply.
Sometimes this is enough to get a suspect or person of interest to give themselves up. But other times, people think they can temp their luck.
Police K-9s are expert trackers, though — so if you choose to tempt fate and hope you won’t be caught, the odds are stacked against you.
Sniffing Out the Suspects
Most of us know that dogs have a keen sense of smell, far better than our own.
This is what makes them an ideal partner for police in location. Location may be illegal drugs, search and rescue, or search and apprehension.
So, why do dogs have such a good sense of smell? Because they devote an awful lot of brain power just to interpreting various scents.
Dogs have more than 100 million sensory receptor sites in the nasal cavity. Compare that to a mere 6 million in people. And the area of the canine brain devoted to analyzing odors is about 40 times larger than the comparable part of the human brain.2
Plus, dogs have an additional olfactory tool that increases their ability to smell. It’s called the Jacobson’s organ. (Humans have one, too — but ours is nonfunctional.)
This special organ, located inside the nasal cavity and opening into the roof of the mouth behind the upper incisors, serves as a secondary olfactory system designed specifically for chemical communication in a dog.
The nerves from the Jacobson’s organ lead directly to the brain and are different from the other nerves in the nose in that they do not respond to ordinary smells. Rather, they respond to a range of substances that often have no odor.
In other words, they can help dogs detect otherwise undetectable odors.
Meet the Police K-9s of Live PD
Pasco County, Florida
Pasco County is located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, just north of Tampa. We commonly see a few K-9s on Live PD from this department:
- K-9 Shep and handler Deputy Nick Carmack
- K-9 Yogi and handler Deputy Mark Pini
- K-9 Yager and handler Deputy Mike Sentner
In an especially memorable episode from 2018, K-9 Shep and Deputy Carmack are pursuing a stolen vehicle that crashes into a telephone pole.
The driver flees on foot into the woods. The passenger is initially taken down by Shep so that Carmack can detain him, and then Shep takes off into the woods to apprehend the driver.
Carmack takes the first suspect and runs with him into the woods to find Shep. After running some distance with the passenger, Carmack catches up with driver, who by now has been apprehended by Shep.
It’s an amazing chase and apprehension, illustrating not only the amazing bond between police dog and handler but also the incredible training and skill level that this dog brings to the police.
Here’s an uncensored clip of the suspenseful moments as they unfolded live (contains strong language, including “the f word” yelled out multiple times):
If you watch Live PD regularly, you may have seen Shep in the studio with Deputy Carmack to host the show and have some Q&A time with the audience.
During this time, we’ve been able to learn some interesting things about Shep:
- Shep, a 5-year-old German Shepherd, knows both English and German — but he will respond only to Deputy Carmack’s voice. In other words, if a bad guy tried to give Shep commands, the dog wouldn’t listen.
- Deputy Carmack and Shep have been working together for 4 years now, and Shep lives at home with Carmack.
Deputy Carmack also responded personally to a few questions about Shep via email. Some of the Shep’s favorite things to do include eating meatballs and waking Carmack up at 2 in the morning to play with his KONG toy.
Greene County, Missouri
Although they are taking a break from the show, Greene County has a popular K-9 named Lor, handled by Cpl. James Craigmyle.
Lor, a Dutch Shepherd who is a dual-purpose K-9, gained attention on Live PD when Cpl. Craigmyle and the Green County Sheriff’s Department were in pursuit of a stolen car that crashed.
The suspects all fled on foot into the woods. Craigmyle, led by Lor, tracked one of the suspects through the woods and eventually apprehended her. This was impressive because the search happened at night in a highly wooded area with poor visibility.
It’s easier for Lor to see in the dark, however, because dogs have many adaptations for low-light vision.
They have a larger pupil that lets in more light, and the center of the retina has more light-sensitive cells (rods), which work better in dim light than the color-detecting cells (cones). The light-sensitive compounds in the retina respond to lower light levels and the lens is located closer to the retina, making the image on the retina brighter.3
But when it comes to vision, a dog’s biggest advantage is the tapetum lucidum. This mirror-like structure in the back of the eye reflects light, giving the retina a second chance to register light that has entered the eye.
Richland County, South Carolina
Another department appearing often on the show is the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in South Carolina. The dogs we see most on are K-9 Nero with handler Deputy Tyler Hazel and K-9 Emy with handler Cpl. Gavin Walmsley.
According to Cpl. Walmsley, Emy is a 4.5-year-old Belgian Malinois who lives at home with Walmsley, his wife, their daughter, 2 other pet dogs and a retired police K-9 named Rico. Yes, they have 4 dogs in all, but “Emy rules the roost,” Walmsley says.
The Sheriff’s Office has 2 K-9 teams that are out 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Unlike Shep, Emy listens to Dutch commands. But like Shep, Emy is a full-service patrol dog who specializes in illegal drugs. Also like Shep, Emy will listen to commands only from Walmsley.
At home, Emy enjoys stealing her siblings’ toys, finding a comfy place to lie down and getting lots of attention. She has been working with Walmsley only since December 2017, so she hasn’t had any major deployments, but she has a wonderful personality and does a lot of community work.
Emy brings awareness not only to the importance of police dogs, but also to help people understand that these dogs are not scary and they are not “attack dogs.” K-9 training standards are very high and well-regulated, according to Walmsley. This means training never stops as long as the dog is employed by the department.
When it comes to being a first responder, the police K-9s are on the front lines with the department and are often the first to come into contact with a dangerous suspect. They put their lives on the line without a second thought. In fact, a police K-9 is far more likely to be involved in a shooting versus their human counterparts.
Some of the other K-9s you may see regularly on the show include:
- K-9 Viking from the Warwick (Rhode Island) Police Department
- K-9 Will from the Franklin County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office
- K-9 Nemo from the Williamson County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office
Also, recently returning to the Live PD action is the Slidell (Louisiana) Police Department.
Keeping Up With the K-9s
If you’re interested in learning more about Live PD and the police K-9s featured on the show, you can check them out on the A&E website as well as on social media — some of the dogs have their own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
And of course, don’t forget to tune in on Friday and Saturday nights to see these amazing animals in action, live!
- Bradshaw, Jerry. “The Dual Purpose K9 vs. Single Purpose K9 Debate.” Tarheel Canine Training Inc. Sept. 12, 2015. http://www.tarheelcanine.com/2015/09/the-dual-purpose-k9-vs-single-purpose-k9-debate/.
- Buzhardt, Lynn, DVM. “How Dogs Use Smell to Perceive the World.” VCA Hospitals. 2015. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/how-dogs-use-smell-to-perceive-the-world.
- University of Wisconsin–Madison. “How Well Do Dogs See at Night?” ScienceDaily. Nov. 9, 2007. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071108140336.htm.