Sgt. John Sheneman spoke to us in 2015 about his work on his SWAT team, which was assigned to the Second Precinct. He next went to the 4th Precinct, where he was a patrol Sergeant on Middle Watch and then the Dogwatch (overnight) shift. When he decided it was time for a change of assignments, Asst. Chief Mike Jones called to tell him he’d been assigned to the K-9 team. This was a good fit for the K-9 Team
For background, the K-9 team was established in 1971. It’s gone through some changes through the years, so the info we heard several years ago is not entirely valid any more. The kennels are still near the river. That’s the place they do their training, including training for certification. They do have some kennel space there; if someone needs to leave their dog for a while the other officers will take care of it.
The unit now includes two Sergeants and 10 officers. They have 12 dogs right now. Only two of the dogs are trained in narcotics detection; the other ten are bomb detection dogs. Additionally, all of the dogs are Patrol Dog Certified meaning they have passed certification testing offered by the United States Police Canine Association. The Narcotics and Bomb Detection certification is through the same association. We have a lot more bomb detection dogs because Minneapolis has many events that require the use of bomb dogs. If you ever go to Vikings games or other sports events, you’ll see the MPD K-9s there. They start doing sweeps many hours before the event, and remain on site through the event and clear the building. You may remember a couple years ago, we had the Final Four in Mpls, which required many dogs to do the sweeps. The Sgts who lead the team want to add one more narcotics detection dog this year, which will bump us MPD K-9s up to three with that certification.
Our dogs come from all over, including from the U.S., from Eastern Europe, Western Europe. We look for dogs that are appropriate for our work. They are expensive, ranging from $10,000 to $12,500 for a completely untrained dog. The team works with vendors they know can provide dogs that can be successful at this work.
Once the dogs get here, they spend about a week in the kennel, are taken to the U of MN Veterinary Services for additional x-rays and other evaluation to make sure they are sound. The dog is then assigned to a handler who takes the dog home. The dog lives with his handler, travels with his handler back and forth, all of which starts the bonding. The relationship between the dog and handler is a very strong bond. Once the dog is with the handler, they complete a 12-week course together. This is required for new and for experienced handlers with new dogs. Sometimes you’re training both the dog and the handler.
The dog will learn to trace/track by scent. People are leaving scent wherever they go, shedding DNA, skin cells, etc. The dogs can detect that scent even if it’s very faint. You want to be able to give them a scent, take them to an area and tell them to find — whoever is leaving the scent. The dogs will start to scan the area until they lock on the scent; then they follow it. One of the difficulties for a new handler is to learn to “read” his dog’s signals, to know what the dog is signaling. It takes a lot of practice — he’s been with his dog since 2018 and still makes mistakes.
Another necessary skill is the “article search”. This happens when the K-9 team is called to a crime scene. Perhaps Officers believe a suspect has thrown a gun or other article, but they can’t find it. The dogs are trained to search an area near the crime scene and search for an article that has the suspect’s scent. The dogs tend to make a methodical search, sweeping the area by going back and forth. Many dogs prefer their own pattern, but they do use one.
The most challenging part of operations for Sgt. Sheneman is apprehending a suspect. He was 48 years old when he went to an apprehension class for the first time. It’s the part the public wants to see, so you go through an exercise with a decoy in a protective suit, but it’s the least challenging part of the job. We don’t train our dogs to fail [EQ: I took this to mean use unnecessary aggression.] We try to turn everything into a game, so if a dog finds the target item on an article search or a person search, the dog is rewarded by getting to play with a toy. One game technique is to let the decoy (person in the “bite sleeve”) start to play with the dog using the sleeve. If the decoy then takes off, wearing the sleeve (now a toy in the dog’s mind), the dog is naturally going to run after him to start playing. MPD K-9s are taught to apprehend, meaning stop the target person with an appropriate bite, AND to release on verbal command. MPD K-9s are never allowed to be mean or to use unnecessary force. [More detail in 3rd paragraph down.]
We spend time doing building (inside) and area searches (outside). His dog is a bomb dog. When the dog finds an odor he’s been taught to find, he sits. One of the detection training tools is called “pop-up boxes” [EQ: a Google search (dog training “scent detection”) yielded over 78,000 responses] When the dog sits in front of the correct box, a remote “pops-up” a reward for the dog giving him a strong incentive to succeed.
The class typically lasts 12 weeks (some last longer). His class lasted 22 weeks because of a break in the middle of training. Both people and animals go home sore and tired.
To graduate from the class, the team must pass a certain number of tests. They include an “out” — on an apprehension you must be able to verbally make your dog let go. You must have a recall — you send your dog after a decoy who is running away, and you verbally call them back from the chase. Locating an object — the dog must locate an article in an “article pad”, a place where they let the grass grow all year.
Detector certification is pretty similar. The dog must locate a “hide”, that is, find an object that is in a vehicle, or in a bag, or concealed in a room. It might be multiple bags or multiple rooms or multiple vehicles.
Once a team graduates, they work city-wide. They are not assigned to a precinct. They are a support unit called to support officers or investigators. They are called to locate persons or evidence. They are called to help clear buildings after events or burglaries. They get called to work in bomb detection, partnering with the bomb squads. When they are not called for a specific task, they go out in squad cars and uniforms to help patrol the city.
After the team (human and dog) has “graduated” the training goes on. Sgt. Sheneman said that training never stops. If you stop practicing, the human would not be good at a skill or procedure any more, but that is only true of the person. The dog might shut down out of boredom. This was hard for the Sgt. to work around, because his way of learning a skill is to practice until he is good. This doesn’t work with the dog. The teams are required to train 16 hours a month, with others. The training sessions are good because the human on the team can get another trainer’s perspective.
One of the challenges is to learn when you want to use your dog and when you shouldn’t. When you are out with your dog, you must constantly assess if you’re in a good place to have your dog. Doing a track at night, you won’t run into as many people which is good. Doing a track in the afternoon, you may find there is too much going on. He was once asked to track a person through a neighborhood, but when he showed up, the place looked like they were having a block party, with lots of people, unleashed dogs and more. He refused. Too many things could go wrong in a crowded situation. Usually you can go around a situation. The block party was not so.
Sgt. Sheneman related that when he started working with the dog, he was perhaps a little too cautious because too much was new. Now, as new K-9 handlers join the team “they” go out on calls and help the new officers assess new situations, to learn when and how it’s appropriate to use their dogs.
Question: What is an “appropriate” dog for your unit?
Answer: An appropriate dog has drive, not aggression. He has the desire to work. We want the dog that goes when we need to go.
Question: Do you ever cross-train? [example of a dog who had different expectations from two different people and refused to respond when both of them were present]
Answer: We might run into that with our dogs, except we vary verbal control/leash control together. Ultimately, when we renew certification every year with the US PCA, it’s off lead. You have to pass verbal commands off-lead. You are limited to only a certain number of commands. Because the dog knows those commands, but only from me, he would not respond to another person using the same commands. We do use the lead in training to enforce the command we just gave. As we train, we go to lighter and lighter leads, until we get to a “cat lead” which is a thin line the dog can’t feel. Then we’re ready to practice verbal control only.
When I go on actual patrol, I go back to using the lead to reinforce, “This is what we’re doing now.”
Complete recording of the Dec 13 meeting: https://youtu.be/N-rzRWB5TEc
Emilie Quast, board memberMPD 2nd Precinct Advisory Council (2-PAC)firstname.lastname@example.org
Attachments areaPreview YouTube video MPD 2-PAC: MPD K-9 Teams