If you have traveled through Piedmont Triad International Airport before, you may have noticed a few of the Airport Police Officers roaming around the terminal accompanied by their canine companions who have a special job.

We are very proud of our K-9 unit and the work they do for our traveling public, so for this month’s blog, we are giving you the inside scoop on the team!

Sergeant Trip Hendrix is our most senior K-9 officer, and he agreed to share some background information about K-9 units. He has been with the PTI K-9 Unit since 2005 and is very knowledgeable about the airport’s program.

PTI’s K-9 unit consists of three officers and three canines: Sergeant Hendrix works with a 7-year old Malinois named Sasha, Officer Stocks works with a 9-year old Labrador named Benji, and Officer Cook works with a 4-year old German Shepard named Nico.

All the canines in the PTI K-9 unit are bomb-sniffing dogs only. Their job is to check baggage, abandoned vehicles, the airport terminal, and dignitary planes. The K-9 unit may also be assigned to supervise events held at the airport, such as ribbon cuttings, social events, and others.

If you visit the airport and see the K-9 unit working in the terminal, please do not pet the dogs. When they are on their rounds, the canines and their handlers are working to keep people safe, and it is important that they stay focused on their job.

Most of the dogs used at PTI originate from the Netherlands and are then sold to the Lackland Airforce Base in Texas.  At any one time, there could be as many as 1,500 dogs at the base being trained in different areas of service. The German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd, and Belgian Malinois breeds have the best overall combination of keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence and adaptability to almost any climatic condition. Sporting breeds (such as Labrador Retrievers) are used when there is a requirement for dogs to be trained only as drug or explosive detectors.

K-9 training begins by establishing the handler – dog relationship through constant close association of feeding, grooming, exercise and play. This stimulates and develops the dog’s natural instinct for companionship. Once this relationship has begun to develop, basic obedience training is introduced. Obedience training for working dogs is not significantly different from training conducted by professional civilian trainers for personal pets, except that it never stops.

When the handler goes to Texas, they are taught how to finish training their dogs. The animals are usually 2 ½ – 3 years old when they are placed on the job. Once a year, they have to be recertified by a representative from the Lackland Air Force Base to be able to continue their work, and they are tested thru out the different areas of the airport. The dogs are trained by either food or toy-based rewards. Specifically, our K-9s at PTI are trained using toy rewards, noting that this is the processor for the majority of K-9’s.

When the handler goes to Texas, they are taught how to finish training their dogs. The animals are usually 2 ½ – 3 years old when they are placed on the job. Once a year, they have to be recertified by a representative from the Lackland Air Force Base to be able to continue their work, and they are tested thru out the different areas of the airport. The dogs are trained by either food or toy-based rewards. Specifically, our K-9s at PTI are trained using toy rewards, noting that this is the processor for the majority of K-9’s.

There are two types of K-9 training: aggressive and passive. Our K-9 unit is trained to be passive, which means that they are taught to sit when they have detected something that could be dangerous. The canines are trained this way to ensure the safety of our passengers and other visitors at the airport.

K-9s usually retire when they are around 10-11 years old. However, that really depends on the dog, their abilities, and their drive to continue to work. Each dog goes home with the handler at the end of their shift, and even when retired the canine will stay with their handler. The bond between a handler and their K-9 is very deep and long lasting. While it is sad to see a K-9 retire at the airport, you can be sure that they’ll be spending their days with their best human friend.

Thank you for reading this inside look at PTI’s K-9 unit, and we hope to see you flying easy at PTI!

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