Sunday, December 6, 2015

Should Pit Bulls Be Trained As Police K9s?

Revised: December 7, 2015; 17:14 GMT
Revised: December 8, 2015; 02:41 GMT

Kiah, a pit bull rescued from an Austin animal shelter, has been accepted as the new K9 officer by the Poughkeepsie NY police department. According to the Associated Press article by David Klepper, Kiah will be used to detect drugs and track missing people.

Brad Croft of San Antonio-based Universal K9 was paid by the Animal Farm Foundation to facilitate the transfer of Kiah from an Austin animal shelter to the Poughkeepsie Police Department. "The breed isn't important" for a police K9, said Mr. Croft.

 Mr Croft is dead wrong.

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The feats of scent tracking dogs have become legendary. A bloodhound named Nick Carter is frequently cited as the archetype of the trailing bloodhound. Born in 1900, Nick Carter was owned and handled by Captain G.V. Mullikin of Lexington, Kentucky; he is credited with more than 650 finds, including one that required him to follow a trail 300 hours old (12 days). Sleuth hounds are known to have been used as early as 1307, when the English pursued the Scottish patriot Robert the Bruce.

K9 training is a rigorous, time-consuming and comprehensive process for both the dog and the handler. K9 candidates begin training as early as 10 weeks of age. Obedience training is essential for the dog's safety, for maintaining order at staging areas, for professionalism in law enforcement, and for providing good relations with the public.

Trainees also require socialization and agility training 2 to 5 times a week with each session lasting from 10 to 60 minutes. Scent training for Search and Rescue (SAR) K9 candidates takes place 3 to 7 times per week for 5 to 30 minutes. Scent training frequency decreases over time to 3-5 times/week but the length of each session increases to 20–60 minutes per session.

The pit bull Kiah's early training is unknown, but it is most unlikely that she received obedience training in the months or years before she came to the Austin shelter. Mr Klepper does not tell us how long Kiah trained for her position with Poughkeepsie's K9 unit.

Statue of Hansen, the 7-yo Belgian Shepherd (Malinois) who worked tirelessly at Ground Zero. In 2011 the original statue in Lindenhurst, Long Island, was vandalized beyond repair. The rebuilt memorial was re-dedicated on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
 Hansen died in 2004 at the age of eleven.
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In the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs like Apollo (German Shepherd), Bretagne (Golden Retriever), and Jake (Black Labrador), among hundreds of other dogs, worked 12 to 18 hour shifts under hazardous conditions. Dogs selected as police K9s, SAR, or scent tracking dogs must be capable of working without interruption under harsh conditions until their task is completed. As described below, these dogs must be friendly while also being high drive dogs:
Although most SAR dogs belong to working, herding, retrieving, or sporting breeds, dogs of numerous breeds, including mixed breeds, can be successful in SAR work. Important characteristics in a potential SAR dog are termed hunt drive, prey drive, and ball drive. A dog with high hunt drive will search for a hidden toy for prolonged periods without giving up or turning to the handler for assistance. A dog with high prey drive enjoys the chase and will enthusiastically pursue a person who runs away to hide or chase a toy that is dragged behind a handler. A dog with high ball drive is one in which a toy is extremely important, and the dog will play with and pursue the toy to the exclusion of any distractions. These qualities help predict the willingness and ability of a dog to search unendingly for a victim until he or she is found.1
The distinction between hunt, prey, and ball drive, as described above, requires close scrutiny when considering pit bulls as K9s. Greyhounds have a high prey drive -- for rabbits and other small furry creatures; otherwise they are indolent and extraordinarily gentle dogs, until they race. Rat Terriers have a high prey drive -- for rats. But the prey drive associated with pit bulls, otherwise known to aficionados of the breed as gameness, is erratic. Prey drive in pit bulls is meant to be directed toward killing other dogs in a fighting pit, but is too often misdirected toward our More Vulnerable Animal Companions, or worse, toward a human. There is no evidence that the pit bull's prey drive, i.e. gameness, is a trait that can be put to use in a positive way. It is impossible to understand how a dog with this kind of prey drive would be a suitable candidate for police work.

Sirius d. September 11, 2001
Sirius and Sgt David Lim served as the Explosive Detector Team for the World Trade Center.
* * * * *

In addition to the innate problematic behavioral characteristics of the pit bull, there are physiological characteristics that make pit bulls unlikely candidates for tracking or trailing dogs. Detection, sniffing, and SAR dogs depend on an extraordinary sense of smell.

A recent study states that "the phenotypic difference among breeds in scenting ability may be a function of differences in available olfactory epithelial surface area."2  In other words, brachycephalic breeds -- dogs which have been bred with shorter muzzles -- have a smaller olfactory epithelial surface area.

[Click images to enlarge.]

Recent studies show that breeding for short muzzles has a cascading negative effect on a breed's sense of smell. Not only is there less olfactory surface area, but the olfactory lobe in the brain itself has diminished capacity:
The dogs with the shortest skulls—such as the pit bull and Akita showed significant brain reorganization. It was found that when selective breeding by humans shortened the snouts of certain dog breeds, it also morphed their brains to compensate. The whole brain was shown to have rotated thus relocating the olfactory lobe towards the bottom of the skull. This has sacrificed the sensitivity of some breeds sense of smell somewhat and it is for this reason that bulldogs are no good at tracking!
   Balance Behaviour, 19 Savile St, Emley, HD8 9RX UK
The Chien de Saint-Hubert, the likely ancestor of the bloodhound, was first bred in 1000 AD by monks at the Saint-Hubert Monastery in Belgium. In the ensuing millennium breeders have been selecting for ever better scent trailing dogs. The pit bull, on the other hand, was bred during recent centuries as a fighting breed, with negative consequences for the breed's sense of smell.

It is difficult to understand why any police department would knowingly choose as a "sniffing" dog a breed known to have diminished capacity,

It is impossible to understand why Poughkeepsie would accept the risk of using a pit bull, the type of dog known to have killed roughly 30 humans a year over the last five years, when there are numerous breeds which excel at K9 work without the enormous risks associated with pit bulls.

Poughkeepsie's decision to accept Kiah as a K9 is a disgraceful public relations gimmick by the Animal Farm Foundation.

* * * * *
1   Search-and-rescue dogs: an overview for veterinarians
     By Katherine E. Jones, et al.
     JAVMA, Vol 225, No. 6, September 15, 2004
2   op. cit.

The vomero nasal illustrations for both the German Shepherd and the Pit Bull are based on the diagram found in The Anatomy and Physiology of Animals.

This is the second post in a series about Poughkeepsie's pit bull K9. See also the first post, Poughkeepsie's New K9.

Pit bull police dog defies breed's savage stereotypes
   by David Klepper
   November 13, 2015; Associated Press

Rescued pit bulls fight stigma by guiding people in need
   by Sue Manning
   February 11, 2015; Associated Press

See Also:
K9 & Service Dog Resources

Useful Wikipedia Pages:
[Note: Pit Bull advocates have infiltrated numerous Wikipedia pages, including some of the following.]
Search and RescueDetection (Sniffer) Dogs, NoseworkTracking DogsPolice DogSleuth Hound, BloodhoundK9

The Problem with Pit Bull Service Dogs
   February 12, 2015; Craven Desires

How the Americans with Disabilities Act has become the “Pit Bull Pushers Act”
   July 3, 2015; Animals 24-7

Service and Therapy Pit Bulls that turned pit bull
   September 16, 2014; Daxton's Father

LawDogsUSA, Pit Bull Detection Dog Program, Shuts Down
   November 5, 2008; Dogsbite

Recent NY Fatal Pit Bull Attacks:
Infant dies following dog mauling in Deansboro
   November 16, 2015; WKTV
Pit bull mauls 9-year-old girl to death on Long Island
   November 9, 2016; New York Daily News

Statistics quoted on SRUV are from the nation's authoritative source for current dog attack statistics, the 32+ year, continuously updated Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada.
View or download the current PDF

Dog Bite Studies Index

Today's pit bull attacks
   Google News

This page may also include information from Dogsbite & Fatal Pit Bull Attacks.

SRUV uses the definition of "pit bull" as found in the Omaha Municipal Code Section 6-163. As pit bulls are increasingly crossed with exotic mastiffs, Catahoula Leopard Dogs and other breeds, the vernacular definition of "pit bull" must be made even more inclusive.

Sources cited by news media sometimes refer to "Animal Advocates" or sometimes "Experts." In many cases these words are used to refer to single-purpose pit bull advocates who have never advocated for any other breeds or species of animals. Media would be more accurate to refer to these pit bull advocates as advocates of fighting breeds.

Similarly, in many cases pit bull advocates refer to themselves as "dog lovers" or "canine advocates" and media often accepts this usage. The majority of these pit bull advocates are single-purpose advocates of fighting breeds.



  1. This is a very important article. The current trend to force pit bulls into roles that should be unthinkable for aggressive fighting breeds is nothing short of opportunist. It doesn't matter what level of authority they have - it is ignorant, misinformed and potentially libellous.

  2. Every trait that was BRED INTO these dogs-explosive,
    disproportionate and unprovoked aggression, gameness, and their uniquely
    damaging hold and shake attack style-makes them defective, destructive, and
    deadly as a PET animal ( and stupid, dangerous, and
    defective as any type of therapy or service dog:

    There is only a controversy in the minds of people who want
    to avoid reality. Pit bulls are the number ONE breed for human fatalities and
    severe, life altering injuries (, serial attacks,
    rampage attacks, and failing a 'second chance' ( as well as
    mauling and killing pets and livestock ( This is no more
    an appropriate and safe pet than a tiger or bear and should be regulated the
    same way.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Ka D, Blogger is unable to handle these links. Please resend text w/o links and line breaks. Thanks, The Editors

  3. I'm trying to find ways to contact those in charge in Poughkeepsie. On Facebook... there is The Poughkeepsie Journal. Also if you look for City of Poughkeepsie you can find their Police Department and more. I'm passing on your article. What a horrible thing it would be to have Pit Bulls as police dogs!!!! The PD page on FB isn't letting me post. But if alot of us try to reach the city government and the PD and perhaps their lawyer's office, at least maybe they'll rethink this. I hope so.

  4. I was finally able to comment at this page.... ............ And I'm going to try and comment here

  5. Nice post.
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Please do not cut and paste comments or include extensive linking. Comments are moderated but we will post all comments which do not include profanity or ad hominem attacks. Play nice. The SRUV comment section is not a forum for the advocacy of fighting breeds.