CrimeBeat Q&A: What do police dogs do off-duty?

How are police dogs handled when they’re not on duty, and are they kept in cages at the station?

At the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, the Santa Rosa Police Department and in most other jurisdictions, police dogs are in the round-the-clock care of their handlers.

But they don’t spend lonely nights alone in cages in the halls of a police station at the end of their shifts. Dogs go home with their human partners and are often treated as one of the family.

“He’s my partner (and) comes home with me every day and interacts with the family,” said Deputy Greg Myers, who works the northern Sonoma Coast with his 2½-year-old Belgian Malinois named Colt. “But he won’t have the chance to be a true pet until he retires.”

Colt isn’t trained to sniff out drugs or explosives - his job is to keep Myers safe as he patrols a large swath of the coastline out of Sea Ranch and rugged mountains to the east, often alone with backup more than an hour away.

“When he’s at the house he can relax and not be on high alert,” Myers said. “He’s a great dog and super friendly, but it’s in his nature to bite so he’s always supervised.”

While all dogs live in a home, most spend their nights in the security of a kennel so not to get spooked, Myers said.

The Sheriff’s Office has 10 dogs on its force. For the three resident deputies working remote areas of the county a canine partner is required. That requirement for Myers was part of the appeal of moving from the Guerneville substation to taking a job as a resident deputy at Sea Ranch more than two years ago.

Some dogs, like Colt, are trained for deputy protection. Others are trained to sniff out narcotics and one, a friendly golden retriever named Boomer, sniffs out explosives. All are in their handlers’ care 24/7.

In Santa Rosa, there are four Malinois on the force trained in narcotic detection, suspect location and handler safety.

When it’s time for dogs to retire, typically before they hit age 10, they often find a home with the same cops they worked with for years.

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