The Town of Tonawanda Police Canine (K9) Unit was reformed in 2009 and currently consists of one Police Service Dog (PSD).
Currently our patrol dog is a German Shepherd. The breed is chosen for their physical ability, strength and intelligence. A strong temperament is very important as these dogs are expected to perform in stressful situations.
Police Service Dogs have many responsibilities. Their expertise includes tracking, agility, article search, building search, open search, chase and apprehension, and handler protection. Our Police Service Dog also assists at every tactical call. They are utilized to provide containment and to assist our SWAT Team. Our handler is on call twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. All handlers must complete an extensive fifteen week course where the handler and dog learn as a team. All our training and certification is handled by Niagara Regional Police in Ontario, Canada.
Most of Police Service Dogs are imported from Eastern European countries such as Belgium, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and Slovakia . We are very grateful for private donations from the community which have assisted with the purchase of dogs. A quality source is imperative as these animals have a huge responsibility to keep our members and the public safe.
These are highly-trained and assertive animals, however, they are able to interact with the public. The Canine Unit is responsible for numerous public demonstrations each year. The team attends public functions and school presentations.
These demonstrations allow us to showcase the abilities of our canine partners and inform the public of their importance.
Currently, the unit consists of one team which serves the Town of Tonawanda. We are also requested to assist with surrounding jurisdictions, as well as Federal Agencies. Our primary purpose is to respond to crimes in progress that may be solved with the assistance of the PSD. Examples are (but not restricted to) include purse snatching, robbery, break and enter or a prowler. We respond to all tactical calls in conjunction with the SWAT Team. Also, we assist uniform officers with non-emergency calls for service to ensure quicker response times.
The K9 handlers take their dogs home at the end of their shift and are responsible for them at all times. They are housed in kennels that are provided by the service. The dogs remain as part of the K9 unit as long as they are physically able to perform their duties. The average years of service for a PSD is five, but can extend up to ten years. Upon retirement, PSDs remain with their handler for the remainder of their life.
The K9 teams are deployed in specially outfitted cruiser. The rear seat has a professionally designed metal canine kennel. This provides a clean, safe and protected environment for the dogs. Affixed to the kennel system is a "Hot dog/bailout" system. This permits an instant exit and an immediate response of his canine partner.
The primary purpose for the deployment of PSDs is a safe, effective and efficient search tool. Their sense of smell is far superior to a human, which makes them a valuable asset. Police Service Dogs have helped to solve many offences where the perpetrator would never have been captured or identified. These dogs are invaluable in searching for missing persons, patients that have wandered away from a nursing home or other health facility. Without the ability to re-trace their steps, they might never have been found.
These animals are truly a resource that cannot be understated.
Our team must successfully complete a fifteen week course prior to certification. It is instructed by Sergeant Johnstone of The Niagara Regional Police Service and includes all facets required for graduation of a General Patrol Dog.
The course begins with confidence building, general socialization, and obedience. During this time, the team develops a foundation as it learns together. Each task is introduced separately to the dog. They are introduced to the next step on successfully completing the first task. This builds a strong base and allows the dog to progress at a steady pace.
This course is physically and mentally challenging. It places many demands on the canine team. Sergeant Johnstone must ensure that the team can meet all the expected requirements in stressful situations. These dogs have a huge responsibility to keep our members and the public safe.
On completion, the canine team is ready for general patrol. Canine teams must recertify twice a year. There is a spring and fall refresher course where teams are tested on all tasks. Each team must attend two training days per month. Weekly training with various police services allows different teams to share valuable information and new training ideas. It is a constant flow of information and a great resource.