Happier K9s on the Job


Written by: Kelley Weir

As a veterinary student, Nicole Giguere understands the human–animal bond. She can also appreciate the heightened bond that police dogs share with their handlers. Not long after her husband, a paramedic, called her one evening to ask her how to help an injured police dog, Nicole decided that there should be some kind of first-aid course for handlers with working dogs. Her next step was to study the most common causes of injury in police dogs.

Belgian sheepdog

A Belgian Sheepdog

“I deeply admire police dogs,” Giguere says. “I feel that these dogs and their partners are the true embodiment of the human–animal bond.”

Through Morris Animal Foundation’s Veterinary Student Scholars (VSS) program, Giguere participated in six weeks of hands-on training during which she studied injuries and illnesses of police dogs brought to Western University of Health Sciences in California. Police dogs brought in for a clinical problem were, on average, older than dogs brought in for wellness care. The most common reasons for veterinary visits were musculoskeletal disorders, followed by gastrointestinal disease and preventive medicine. The information she gathered mirrored much of the research completed over the past decade on working dogs, especially after the events of September 11, 2001. Her findings were also similar to those found in another Foundation-funded study of guide dogs, which showed arthritis and cancer were the top health concerns.

Giguere is now working at a small-animal practice in southern California and finishing her master’s degree in public health through the University of Minnesota. The police-dog project she completed as a VSS will serve as her master’s project. She hopes to continue studying the welfare of police dogs and eventually to develop a course on canine emergency aid so that police dogs can focus on their jobs and not their injuries.

For more information on Morris Animal Foundation, visit www.morrisanimalfoundation.org


Facts About Police Dogs
• The cost for training of a police dog is about $14,500.

• Dogs don’t sweat, they pant; hence the risk that working dogs will develop heat stroke on duty.

• Many breeds are well suited for police work, including Labradors, beagles, Belgian malinois, bloodhounds, border collies and mixed breeds.

• As part of their training, dogs use an agility course and face obstacles that they may confront while on the job.

• Police dogs are not trained to be vicious at all times. Most dogs live as pets with their handlers and families and are wonderful, albeit, protective pets.

• Police use dogs to sniff out illegal drugs or contraband such as firearms and even illegal DVDs.

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