The Michigan State Police (MSP) Canine Unit was officially established in 1960 by Tpr. Richard Abott and "Jocko." After the first year, the department noted the team's effectiveness and added four more teams.
Upon completion of the 2012 Basic Canine School, the department has 33 handlers and 39 canines, providing services. These teams are strategically placed throughout the state to answer calls for service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More than 60 percent of calls are from outside agencies.
All of the unit's canines are German Shepherds due of the breed's ability to handle the various functions and stress with intelligent problem-solving abilities and a high work drive.
All of the training is conducted in-house by members of the Canine Unit. Tpr. Tim Johnson is the lead trainer for the canine unit, graduating from the the 107th Trooper Recruit School and becoming a member of the Canine Unit in 1996 and lead trainer in 2011.
All handlers and canines are required to through an intensive 14-week basic canine school to become an official part of the MSP. Each team is trained in narcotics detection, building search, area search, property search, aggression and obedience
Below are the uses of the canine and what must be passed prior to being assigned to their posts. This is also what the annual certification and evaluation covers and must be passed annually:
- Tracking: MSP canines are trained to follow the human scent. If it is known where a wanted or missing person walked, the canine can be placed on this track and will generally follow it. If it is not known where a wanted or missing person walked, the canine can search an area and will follow any track found which leads out of the area.
- Building Search: When a wanted person is believed to be in a building, the canines can search the building by direct, free-floating and airborne human scents.
- Area Search: An area search permits the canine to search an area for airborne scent when no track can be established. This type of search can be used for missing or lost persons as well as fugitives where a track is not practical because of contamination or age.
- Property Search: MSP canines are trained to search for any article with human scent on it. They do not have to smell the person who handled the article before searching for it.
- Obedience: MSP canines are trained in obedience, which covers basic commands like "sit, stay, down and come." These are used for control and are also utilized in other areas for conditioning.
- Aggression Training: The MSP's tracking canines are taught to defend themselves and their handlers. However, the canines shall only be used for personal defense in situations where the likelihood of serious injury to the officer or other person is imminent.
- Narcotics Detection: Our narcotic detection teams (8 from the two schools) are trained to located five odors in several environments, such as buildings, vehicles, packages and other objects.
The Canine Unit also provides services in explosive detection, accelerant detection, cadaver detection and the tactical entry dog program, which provides services to the MSP Emergency Support Team.
The basic canine school is an intense course that requires both mental and physical toughness, similar to those demands of a trooper recruit school. The environment is more relaxed than a recruit school, but the responsibility and physical demands are as intense.
The basic canine school handlers undergo lectures and intense study of the "Principles of Conditioning." Also covered is tracking theory, detection training and other blocks of study that are tested and must be passed. This is the foundation to the training and gets them started to intelligently condition their dogs properly. The physical demands are daily, with the dogs covering more than 100 miles in a school.
The canine unit runs approximately 4,500 calls annually, making the unit one of the largest and busiest in the country.
The MSP's canines retire to their handler's or another loving person's home after working eight years.