The daily life of a dog in the Halton Region police service - Storm is part of a family.

News 100 blueBy Pepper

June 22, 2015


Sometime later today Halton Regional Police are expected to announce the name of the new dog that will join the K9 unit of the police service. A Burlington public school is one of the finalists.

Last week the Gazette visited with an officer at the K9 unit to learn about how the dogs are chosen, how they are trained, what they eat and where they live.

We met with Constable Matt Lawless who came to police work a little later in life than most police recruits.

Lawless points to Storm

Halton Regional Police dog handler Matt Lawless points to pictures of dogs in the K9 unit – storm is the dog he handles.

He served in Oakville as a uniformed patrol office and after six years of driving around in a police car he leaned of an opportunity to work with dogs and applied.

“It’s a tough competition but they chose me and I’ve been working with storm ever since.”

“A lot of people think we work with the dogs and tell them what to do – that’s not the way it works out” explained Cst. Lawless. “We are actually chauffeurs for the dog. We take them to work with us in the morning and take them home at night. The dog is like one of the kids that you have to drove everywhere – instead of taking kids to hockey, I take the Storm wherever he is needed.”

HRPS storm running

Storm – a part of the Police |Service K9 unit. When he has to move – he can move very very quickly.

Where do the dogs come from we asked. “The best dogs are bred in Germany but we don’t often get dogs direct from Germany. We tend to work with kennels in both Canada and the United States. We have people who work with us selecting the dogs we need.

There are now six dogs in the K9 unit – Cst. Lawless would like to see more. “They are very effective in police work – each dog tends to have its own strengths – some are good with explosives; others are good with drugs and others are very good tracking down or finding a person.

Cst. Lawless is assigned a car that has been modified for the dog. The day we met it was hot, very hot and when it came time to do some work with Storm I thought we were heading out to a kennel on the police property but we walked towards the police cruiser. “Am I going to ride to the kennel with you I asked.“

“No” responded Cst. Lawless. “Storm is in the cruiser.”

In the cruiser I thought – its roasting outside – I thought it was illegal to leave a pet in a vehicle. And it is – but Storm doesn’t live in any run of the mill police cruiser. The vehicle is outfitted with its own air conditioning and the engine of the car is never shut off when the dog is in the cruiser.
There is a complex set of measuring devices that know when to turn on the air conditioning on and when to turn on the fans that circulate the air so that the dog has a combination of fresh air that is conditioned.

Cst. Lawless reaches into the front of the vehicle and picks up the lead, opens the back door and snaps the lead on the dog’s collar and off they go. While Storm can certainly run, he tends to walk in a zig zag path with his nose pressed into the ground. This dog can sniff.

He paid no attention to me other than to sniff my hand when I held it out – after that it was as if I didn’t exist. The dog kept his eyes on Cst. Lawless watching for his hand movements and listening to his words.

The selection of a dog is an arduous process. Once selected a dog goes through a four month, 40 hours a week training program.

After the training the dog is tested. “Halton has worked with different groups on the certifying of our dogs. The RCMP used to do a lot of that work – but now we are working with trainers in the Niagara Region.”

HRPS Storm sniffing

The biggest thing Storm has going for him is his nose. He runs in a zig zag pattern with his nose almost glued to the ground.

The training isn’t limited to just the policed dogs – the dog handlers take part in ongoing training and trade notes with other police services across the country.

In Halton the police dog handlers meet once a week to work together and learn from each other. At the same time there is always a cruiser on the road with a member of the K9 unit in the back of the car. “Storm can tell there is something up just from the sound of the voices coming over the police radio. When I rev up the engine and turn on the police siren Storm begins to pace around in his space in the back of the cruiser – he knows he is going to be put to work very, very soon.

“Not all dogs make it” explained Lawless. Some turn out not to be cut out for this kind of work and new homes are found for them.

And where is home for a police dog I asked. The dog lives with the family. The police provide a unit that is kept outdoors for the dog to live in. When the dog retires he stays with the Storm is a member of the family.

Dogs like Storm will work for a number of years – the length of time they serve can range from four years to ten years.

The thinking in the K9 unit is that Storm has about another year before he gets retired from the K9 unit and Cst. Lawless returns to normal police work.

HRPS Storm waits for a command

Everything Storm does is the result of a command – given either by hand or by voice from his handler Cst. Matt Lawless

What will Cst. Lawless do next – he’s not sure. “I might write the examinations to qualify as a sergeant.”

Storm will live the good life of a retired police dog – Cst. Lawless didn’t say if he would get more than the one meal a day he gets now.

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