Memoirs of a Former Explosives Detection Canine Handler: What It Really Means to Work Like a Dog

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Sanders and I. His curiosity is what made him such a great bomb dog.

We’ve heard the phrase “work like a dog” but how many of us really understand what that means? I know and from my first-hand experience I’ll tell you why.

I was an explosives detection canine handler. My partner Sanders was the epitome of the working police canine. A German Shepherd, he was smart, inquisitive, active and we created an unbreakable bond. When he was working, he was working at 100% capacity. His nose and brain were totally engaged, his body was following his brain’s signals. He could not be deterred nor distracted, whether by sight, sound, movement or even food. He never deviated until a search was complete.

While in canine school, we would be tested regularly and of course there was a final exam. The day of the final exam was 85 degrees, moderate humidity and the exam would cover building, field, luggage and vehicle searches. The catch was that there would be multiple searches of each type, varying in length that would take most of the day. By the time we began the last search, Sanders and I had conducted 61 searches, all 100% correct. The final search was a field search, sparse vegetation at the height of the heat of the day, on report of a buried explosive device. My incredible canine partner, mentally and physically exhausted, put the same 100% effort into that search as he did the first, again successfully.

Over the years, we conducted many searches of buildings, fields, trains, trucks, cars, buses and ferry boats looking for explosives, firearms and ammunition. There were days when multiple teams had to search multi-story buildings due to bomb threats and days when we searched football fields, dozens of train cars, or 30-40 buses, and never once did Sanders waver in his searches. There were days when he wasn’t physically at top performance, yet his searches were. There were cold days, hot days, and beautiful days; there was trash and food on the ground, vehicles passing within inches of us; we went into tunnels, on bridges and railroad right of ways; we inspected cargo planes and trains carrying luggage, caskets and mail. The amount of information flooding into his brain at any moment is beyond our comprehension, yet to him, it was all in a day’s work. I was blessed and honored to have such a partner.

Imagine being able to work at 100% capacity, no matter how tired you are, no matter the conditions, time of day or your health. THAT is what it means to “work like a dog.”


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Positively Expert: Sam Wike

In addition to Sam’s work as a successful trainer and behavior consultant endorsed by Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training and the Best Friends Animal Society Community Training Partner Program, he is also a behavior consultant to the Monmouth County (NJ) SPCA and local rescue groups.


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