LONG BEACH — Bites were as big as the barks Saturday as police dogs demonstrated their skills during the 10th annual AKC/Eukanuba National Championship.
While the contestants strutted their stuff for the judges at the Long Beach Convention Center, dogs from the California Narcotics Canine Association showed how they search for drugs and explosives and apprehend suspects.
The competition continues today, featuring judging for the Working, Terrier and Herding Group, Breeder of the Year, Eukanuba World Challenge Finals, Best-Bred-by-Exhibitor-in-Show and Best-in-Show.
The police dog demonstration showed the benefits of using dogs to search items like vehicles, luggage and mail.
"The obvious advantage to having dogs is their keen sense of smell," said Carl Nielsen of the CNCA. "They're a lot more efficient, it's a lot quicker to utilize a dog than it is to hand-search things, and it's a lot safer for people."
According to Nielsen, the CNCA has 600 members, federal, state, local and international agencies ranging from one-dog teams to 60-dog teams.
Police officers who serve as handlers regularly receive training on how to care for their canine partners.
"We put on annual training days throughout the year and we have an annual conference where we have teachers from around the world come in and teach dog behavior and dog training to the
Each dog is trained in a specific area like:, such as drugs, explosives, cadaver or search-and-rescue.
"We don't want to cross-train, because if you had a dog trained for both narcotics and explosives and the dog alerted, and you didn't know which was which, it could be dangerous," Nielsen said.
But no matter what, each dog has the same drive; whether it's drugs or narcotics, it's the hunt, he said.
During training, each dog is trained as if the search is a
Statistics seem to show that criminals tend to commit fewer crimes when they have knowledge of K-9 units on a police force, Nielsen said.
"We have people giving up left and right," he said. "We've had officers say a dog is en route and they (suspects) give up even without a dog being there. It's a great tool. Word gets out that they (the dogs) are out there and criminals start to remember they are out there and crime goes down."
After work, the dogs live at home with their handlers, where they adjust to going from cop by day to family dog at night, said Nielsen.
"All the dogs you see are sociable -- you can bring them out in the public, people can work with them and pet them," he said.
Police work, however, is not encouraged in the home.
"We explain to the handlers that the dogs need their down time just like everyone else," Nielsen said. "Once they get home, they turn into a pet. They are accustomed to the family members, they are spoiled at home. It's amazing how they can turn it on and off."
Benefits to having a K-9 unit are numerous, said Nielsen.
"There's the handler protection phase. We've personally had instances where people are willing to be shot. They get the suicide-by-cop mentality and we're trying to talk to them and we get a dog there and they give up quicker, he said. "It's a nice understanding with the public that dog teams are efficient and it's not a lot of reasoning with him (the dog), it's business."
The AKC/Eukanuba show returns to Orlando, Fla., in 2011. The 2011 show is scheduled for Dec.17 and Dec. 18 at Orlando's Orange County Convention Center, the second-largest convention center in the nation. In addition to Long Beach and Orlando, the show has also been held in Tampa.