Man’s best friend can also be a police officer’s best friend when they are lending a paw to an investigation.
Barrie police Const. John Lamont, who was recently awarded an Exemplary Service Medal from the Governor-General’s office recognizing 20 years of service, has a four-legged partner and he wouldn’t have it any other way at this point in his career.
“I was supposed to get that medal a year ago, but COVID threw a wrench into that,” Lamont says with a chuckle after another day of training with his police dog, Thunder.
After starting his career with Waterloo Regional Police in 1999, he came to Barrie in 2003 and became a member of the tactical unit in 2006.
“I began to work pretty closely with the canine unit there and that’s where my interest really developed,” Lamont tells BarrieToday. “I became good friends with one of our dog handlers and he showed me the ropes and the interest just grew and grew.
“When the opportunity came, I pounced on it.”
Like a dog jumping on a squeaky toy.
Police dogs are trained in tracking, criminal apprehension, building searches, area searches, narcotic and firearm detection, and article searches, whcih is looking for evidence with a human odour on it.
“As officers, we’re using the dog basically as a search tool. That’s the primary reason,” Lamont says. “But, obviously, it develops into a relationship. You ride around with that animal in the back of your vehicle and it’s at home. You work 2,000 hours a year together. And then you go home and it’s almost like another family member.
“I spend more time with my dog than I do with my family," he adds.
The majority of that time is spent training: human and canine.
“Initially, it’s a 16-week course. That gives you a dog that is ready to hit the streets for general duties,” Lamont says. “Then we have another four- to six-week firearm and narcotics detection course after that.
“So you’re looking at five to six months of initial training to get a fully trained — or as we call them, general purpose — police dog.”
The biggest challenge of being a canine handler is the training time, he says.
“Training takes place very day, even on your days off, but I really enjoy it,” Lamont says. “We’re scheduled for training for probably 500 to 600 hours a year, but I’d say the actual training is probably twice that. It’s to keep the dogs sharp and myself sharp so we can work together as a team."
So both of them are learning at the same time.
“One dog, one handler. We don’t share dogs,” he says.
The bond created between human and canine is strong.
“Dogs do become pretty attached to their humans — especially certain breeds, and especially when you’re getting into handler protection. That works better when you have just one handler.
“But probably more importantly is that we use our dogs for tracking and detection work,” Lamont says. “Reading the dog’s body language and what not is training that takes many years to become comfortable with and to understand what it is he’s trying to tell you.”
The police dog may not speak English, but they can certainly communicate.
“Absolutely, and that’s mostly through body language," Lamont says.
While Lamont and Thunder continue their training every day, the officer has fond memories of his partner Thor, also a German shepherd pure bred — but jet-black in colour — who is now part of Lamont’s family at home.
The two began working together in 2011.
“A lot of my highlights are with Thor, just because I handled him for a little over eight years before I transitioned to Thunder, my current dog, who I’ve only been with for a year and change,” Lamont says. “I’ve got a lot of memories with Thor, a lot of nice captures.”
There may be good memories, but being a canine cop also has its challenges.
“It’s a little more emotional than I thought it would be,” he concedes. “Retiring a dog is pretty tough, because most times when a dog retires, they still want to work.
“They’ve been super effective coming up to retirement, but then there is just a time when they are physically not as capable of doing the job as a younger dog would be.”
Lamont also gives a nod to his wife and kids when it comes to his sometimes crazy schedule.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my family because it’s not just a regular job when you go home at night and relax,” he says. “You’ve got that dog with you. You have to keep it fed and watered and trained. It becomes a lifestyle and a family contribution.
“We’ve had police dogs at the house since 2011 when my kids were really young. And now they’re in their teens, so they don’t know life without a police dog around the house.”
So Thor does what any retired professional would do. He chills.