It can be one of the scariest situations that a police officer will face in their career.
Chasing a suspect down on foot and cornering them in a dark alley, or an abandoned building or a confined space that doesn’t allow the line of sight that allows for evasive maneuvering or proper cover.
That’s where the dog comes in.
More often than not, according to Manteca Police Department sergeant and canine division supervisor Chris Mraz, the very presence of a dog like Havok, his Rottweiler, will prompt somebody on the run to simply give up rather than suffer the consequences of being discovered hiding in a corner.
The skills of the Manteca police canines – and those from throughout Northern California – will be on display this weekend at 44th annual trials at Morenzone Field where they’ll be put through the paces and tested in real-life and specialty situations that will test their ability to perform and the relationship they have with their handlers.
“Predominantly, it’s a training day,” Mraz said. “It’s a chance from handlers from all over the area to get together and face scenarios that are a little bit different than what they’ll see out there on the street. It’s all geared towards training and problem-solving and providing a higher level of competence, and just to make things interesting we have things judged by retired canine handlers and hand out trophies at the end.
“But for the dogs – it’s all fun. For the narcotics dogs it’s an advanced game of hide-and-seek. For the apprehension dogs it’s an advanced game of tug-of-war. There’s no aggression there. You’ll see an apprehension dog locked on a sleeve and the guy will drop it and he’ll just stand there and wag his tail.”
Just last week Mraz’s dog was responsible for arresting two suspects – one of which took one look at him and decided that he didn’t want any part of trying to outrun it or its strong bite.
What was once the most popular police dog, the German shepherd, have been replaced with more slender and agile breeds like Dutch shepherds and Belgian malinois – dogs that are less prone to hip displacement and other physical ailments that are known to plague their larger relatives.
Labrador retrievers remain one of the more popular detection dogs for both narcotics and explosives.
And it takes a lot more than just selecting the right breed.
According to Mraz, it can take a minimum of six months before a dog is employed and fully able to work on the street with its handler. That’s only after its owner searches for a dog based on lineage and appearance and puts in the time and effort needed to build the compliant bond.
Even then, officers and their canine partners train at least once a week to keep their skills sharp.
Manteca currently utilizes seven apprehension dogs and two narcotics detection canines. A third could be on the street at the end of the week if it passes all of its clearance tests.
“We work with our dogs for all eventualities,” Mraz said. “You need to be able to rely on your dog to go in somewhere after you make the call out and get the bad guy. Everyone that works here has a family to go home to, and you need to be able to trust that’ll happen.”
The event, which begins on Friday, May 9 with a closed-to-the-public narcotics session and continues on Saturday at 8 a.m. with a community apprehension session, will also include the Manteca Fire Department selling tri-tip lunches for $5 and give residents a chance to purchase K9 Trials T-shirts to support the organization.