Field Operations Administration
Chief Brad Watkins
The Thurston County Sheriff's Office has a Canine Unit consisting of three K9 Deputies partnered with three German Shepherd dogs. The three canine teams are all assigned to the Thurston County Sheriff's Office Patrol Division and all are assigned routine and general patrol functions; including answering general calls for service, but also have the capability and responsibility to deploy to any scene in which those teams are needed. Our canine teams are all single discipline dogs trained in the tracking of human odor, finding discarded evidence or property, searching buildings and confined areas, as well as handler/deputy protection work. So when criminals run from our Deputies and Officers from surrounding police agencies within Thurston County, our Canine Teams are called and respond to locate the fleeing or hiding criminals.
The primary duties of our Canine Teams are to track criminals who flee from law enforcement officers. They do this by using their noses to smell a distinct odor of the person they are trying to find. All of us lose thousands of skin particles every second and the odor those particles emit are just as unique to a particular person as a fingerprint or DNA. Our German Shepherds detect that unique odor of a human being, and will track that person based on that unique smell to wherever that person flees.
A German Shepherd is not only an extremely intelligent dog, but they have a unique ability to smell things that humans cannot even begin to comprehend. The ability to smell is all done through a part of our brain called the olfactory lobe. If you were to take an average human being’s olfactory lobe out and roll it out with a rolling pin, it would be about the size of a US Postage Stamp. A German Shepherd's olfactory lobe however would roll out to be 1 square yard in dimensions, which shows the huge difference and their clear superiority in their sense of smell.
In order for a canine team to be certified through the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) and the Washington State Police Canine Association (WSPCA) the dog and handler must complete a minimum of 400 hours of basic training which encompasses Obedience, Protection, Locating Evidence, Tracking, Building Searches and Area Searches. Once the handler and canine complete the basic certification training and pass the certification test, they are able to perform the duties of patrol dog teams in the state of Washington. However, just like a 16 year old who just obtained their license, the teams have much more training and learning to do. Our canine teams participate and train a minimum of 20 hours per month in order to advance their skills and proficiency. During the past three years, they have all achieved the certifications and standards to meet that of Master Patrol Handler Teams with WSPCA and continue to strive to improve their skills and abilities.
The philosophy of Canine Units in the past was always to have the
biggest, baddest and meanest dogs that the agencies could find. Our
philosophy toward our Canine Unit has changed and evolved quite
drastically from what it used to be. We now get smaller more social dogs
and disciplined training is the key to our programs huge success. Our
canines are trained to a high level of discipline and proficiency which
replaces the old philosophy. Our dogs no longer need to be these huge
mean aggressive animals; instead they are focused on obedience and
Our canines are assigned to one specific handler and stay with that handler 24/7. When the handler goes home, his canine partner goes with him. Our handlers are always on call and have the obligation to be called out to an emergency situation at a moment's notice. Because of that, they need to have a supportive family and be aware that this obligation is part of that assignment. Because the canines are taken home and live with the handlers, they become a part of the handler’s family and a strong bond with that handler is developed.
The average working career of a canine varies, ending when they are no longer physically fit to perform the duties and tasks of being a working canine. The typical age of retirement for a law enforcement canine is between 8 and 10 years old and the dogs do not even begin their careers as a working police canine until they are nearly 2 years old or older.
Our Canine Unit prides itself on being a “no cost program” to Thurston County and the tax payers. Our handlers seek donations to make this program run completely on those donations in order to cover all of the costs associated with the canine programs and the care of our animals in these lean financial times. In this day and age of shrinking budgets, cost reduction and employee layoffs (including deputies), our canine handlers have solicited and raised donations to pay for all the costs associated with our program; to include equipment costs, training costs, upkeep and food four our canines. In fact, in these times where we are laying off deputies; if it were not for the donations of our public and local businesses, we would not have a canine program, as it would be one of the programs that would end up being cut in order to keep from losing more deputy sheriff FTE’s.
Our canine units participate in several public education and demonstration events throughout the year and we all look forward to seeing you out there and introducing you to our teams.
We appreciate any and all donations, no matter how big or small. If you are interested in donating to the Thurston County Canine Program, please call the Thurston County Sheriff's Office Canine Unit at (360) 786-5500.