Ever since dogs were first domesticated thousands of years ago, they have proven to be the most loyal and fearless companions humans could ever have. As early as the golden age of Rome, dogs have been used for protection and hunting. But it was not until the mid-to-late 19th century when the idea of formally including dogs as members of a police department gained ground.
The first city to ever be patrolled by dogs was Ghent, in Belgium, where pups were selected for their aggressive and intimidating behaviour. It didn’t take long for other countries to follow suit; police departments in Germany, France, Hungary and Austria soon began drafting dogs from large and agile breeds.
Before the emergence of the American K-9 agents, dogs were involved in some high-profile events that contributed to their recognition as valuable partners on the ground. Let’s go back in history.
On the hunt for Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper is arguably one of the most iconic serial killers of all time. Besides the highly publicised and gruesome murders, this case is especially notorious for being one of the earliest examples of dogs being used during crime investigations. However, the fact that his identity remains unknown to this day can give you an idea of how that went.
The year is 1888. Jack the Ripper’s second and third victims, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, have just been murdered in London. As a result of the police’s inability to uncover the killer’s identity, public criticism grew. One day, a breeder named Percy Lindley sent a letter to The Times, where he claimed that hounds would be capable of tracing the murderer through his scent.
Reluctantly, police commissioner Sir Charles Warren decided to follow Lindley’s suggestion and summoned him. Two bloodhounds, Barnaby and Burgho, were borrowed from another breeder called Edwin Brough and trained by police officers. Several drills were carried out in open spaces such as Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.
Once Sir Charles decided not to pay for the dogs, Brough ended his relationship with the police. A few weeks later, in November, the murder of Mary Jane Kelly took place. Inspector Abberline tried to reach Brough and ordered his officers to leave the crime scene intact until the dogs arrived.
Unfortunately, the hounds were no longer in London, and the experiment was called off. This didn’t stop the dog’s entry into the British security forces, though. In 1908, guardian dogs became ubiquitous along the Northern Eastern Railway and, from 1914, officers were allowed to take their own dogs on patrol.
Entry into US law enforcement
In spite of the fact that police dogs had been around for several decades in other countries, it was not until the ’70s when American cities and rural areas began to see this new kind of officer in action. Their usefulness became evident quickly, and laws criminalizing the injury or killing of a K-9 agent were enacted.
Breeds such as German Shepherd, Belgium Malinois and Dutch Shepherd became the preferred choices of American police departments. And just like their two-legged peers, law enforcement dogs display badges and even wear ballistic vests during potentially violent operations.
Prospective K-9 agents currently receive a two-year program of obedience and agility training. Once completed, only the best are picked for more specific tasks such as detecting drugs and explosives or tracking missing persons.
No department is complete without K-9 agents
With over 300 million scent receptors (compared to our 5 million), unmatchable agility and everlasting loyalty, dogs have become a crucial element in most law enforcement operations. Certainly, their human peers are irreplaceable, but the highly precise assistance that only a K-9 agent can provide makes an officer’s work so much easier.