They’re invaluable members of the police force, that at times, may go unrecognized. But March 13 is National K9 Veterans Day, a day aimed at showcasing that the four-legged officers of Delaware State Police’s K9 unit take the phrase “man’s best friend” to a new level.
Assistant K9 Trainer Leonard Aguilar said the first use of K9s was in 1925, with each K9 was stationed as a guard dog at one of the many guardhouses throughout the state.
“Back in 1958 was when we got our first patrol dogs at the Delaware State Police (DSP), and they have been in place since then,” said Aguilar. “Those are the patrol dogs that are used for suspect apprehension, officer protection, and then they got cross trained for explosive detection and narcotics detection. [These K9s] are a valuable piece of equipment.”
Each patrol dog is usually shipped here from Europe and begins training at 2-years old and retires around age 9.
Prior to becoming a patrol dog, each K9 and their handler are put through a 12-week training program, which challenges both partners to work together as a team, which will become vitally important for their relationship.
“Their ability to detect odors makes them invaluable for finding suspects as well as missing people, and also drug odors, and bombs odors,” said Benjamin Nefosky, a K9 handler for DSP. “These dogs make my job safer and everybody else safer.”
Nefosky and his K9 Mako, who is a 2 ½ year old Belgian Malinois, are both new to the DSP K9 Unit. With weeks left in their training, the two tackle obstacles aimed at building confidence.
They also get a look at some of the on-duty situations the duo could face. For example, if a K9 handler is in trouble or needs back up, these K9s are trained to be released out of the K9 Unit vehicle and assist their handler by grabbing hold of a suspect, allowing the handler to step back and out of harm’s way.
“One [obstacle] is an in-closed tube that moves around, and we have them go through it to get them used to running on surfaces that aren’t exactly steady, jumping over different jumps, going underneath a little crawl, [and] jumping through a simulation of a window,” said Nefosky. “Kind of a simulation of what the dogs might experience out on the road.”
Nefosky said that training these dogs takes a lot of patience and dedication, but he appreciates all that these dogs can do. Being able to see the progression from day one until now has been very rewarding, he said.
Once a veteran, each K9 remains with their handler and enjoys retirement at their home a home dog.