The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Canine Unit is proudly celebrating 50 years of service to public safety in this province. The Unit was formed in 1965 when three teams of police officer and dog were deployed to help track criminals. The unit has come a long way since then.
The organization currently has 31 police officers and 36 canine partners who have received specialized training to support police services within the OPP. Teams are located across the province to support search and rescue operations. Some of the canine partners and their handlers have had specialized training and are used for detecting narcotics, finding dead bodies and searching for explosives.
“The work these dogs and handlers do has greatly enhanced the OPP’s ability to fight crime in an effective way. Dogs have the skills to accomplish things that no police officer can. In the past five years, OPP canine teams have conducted an average of 1200 tracks per year for criminal apprehensions. The OPP takes great pride in this elite team of dogs and officers who are respected by police agencies across North America,” OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, Provincial Commander of Traffic Safety and Operational Support.
Since the creation of the OPP Canine Unit fifty years ago, officers and their dogs have also tracked hundreds of lost persons, and have located dangerous drugs and explosives in their line of duty. The teams are also involved in community service work, fund raising events and public demonstrations.
Canine teams undergo 16 weeks of intensive training at the OPP Academy Canine Training Centre. This training includes promoting obedience, exposing the dogs to obstacles such as stairways, heights, ladders, tunnels and water. The emphasis is on tracking. Training the dogs to follow specific human scent over various terrains in all weather conditions requires determination, concentration and patience. The dogs are taught to protect the handler on command even in the face of gunfire.
Within one year of completing the training, teams return to be trained to detect narcotics.
Specialty dogs, usually Labrador retrievers, are trained for specific duties. There are currently 6 teams trained to detect explosives, 6 additional teams are trained to detect human remains, and 3 teams are trained to locate people buried as a result of a disaster.
Careful consideration is given to the selection of both dog and handler. German shepherds, aged 18 to 24 months, are chosen for general service duties. This breed is renowned for its’ keen sense of hearing and smell, its’ even temperament, stability, alertness and for its dependability in various weather conditions. Handlers must be in top physical condition in order to keep pace with their dogs.
Each dog lives at the handler’s home and stays in an outside kennel provided by the OPP This develops a proper heavy undercoat that will protect the dog during cold weather assignments.
Teams use a specially designed vehicle to provide proper security for the dog and storage for equipment the handler requires. They are on call 24 hours a day for assignment anywhere in Ontario.