NBC 5 has learned the Dallas Police Department is rapidly expanding its K-9 unit this summer, going from seven police dogs to 11 over the next few months.
That means new, young dogs are being partnered with new officers. Some of the new K-9 unit officers are experienced handlers, while others will be getting their first assignment with the unit.
The newest police dog finished up his training this week and is now patrolling the streets of Dallas with veteran handler Susan Millard.
“I’m dog crazy. I love working with dogs. It’s the best job in the world,” Millard said.
Her dog, Yoll, is 3-years-old and has been training since early March. Like all of the department’s dogs, Yoll is a German shepherd.
“He’s doing really good. He’s really enthusiastic,” Millard said.
During one of his final run-throughs before sending him to work in the streets, Yoll, along with veteran 8-year-old Orry, demonstrated several skills.
Yoll is a little rough around the edges, but he gets the job done. In his final exam, so to speak, he successfully completed obedience exercises, scent detection drills and locating dropped or hidden objects.
During the exercise Yoll located a set of keys dropped in sand and dirt. In real life, it’ll often be a weapon, clothes or a bag of drugs.
“You can tell there’s still a lot of puppy in him. Very impatient,” Millard said.
“He’s still in that training mode, if you will. But he’s all there, he wants to do whatever it takes for that reward,” said Orry’s handler, Curtis Steger.
Yoll found marijuana hidden in a kitchen in another test.
“You, for example, might say I smell pizza cooking. They can say, I smell yeast. I smell flour. I smell basil, oregano. They can break it down the smallest level,” Millard said. “They’ve spent piles of money trying to find something as sensitive as a dogs nose and it just can’t be done."
Yoll is also highly skilled in “bite work,” and can attack a suspect and release the bite upon his handler’s command.
“It’s pretty rare, usually the sight alone of a big, menacing German shepherd barking at you is enough to get you to stop if we can see you. Because most suspects know what’s coming,” Millard said.
NBC 5 did not witness the aggression drills but saw videos of the training exercises.
“The point of the bite command isn’t to seriously hurt a suspect,” Millard said. “It’s really just to have an 80 pound weight hanging off your arms until you slow down or stop. They won’t let go. It’s not fun.”
Handlers said a common misconception is that police dogs need an article of clothing from a missing person or suspect in order for the dogs to be effective. The Dallas Police Department’s dogs, like many police departments, rely on the freshest odor available and the canines will track it for as long as possible.
“For the most part, we just run on the freshest track,” Steger said.
Yoll is now the department's eighth active dog in the unit.
At $13,000, he’s not cheap. But the K-9 unit responds to more than 2,000 calls a year and is directly responsible for dozens of arrests. Last week alone, police say the unit responded to more than 40 assistance calls.
“So many times people will think it's no use, it's too late, the dog won't be able to find the suspect or the missing person. And, it's great, it's amazing what they can do,” Millard said.
Two new K-9 handlers will head to Florida later this month to pick up their new partners and begin months of training. The department is still sifting through 30 applications for the final handler spot available.