K9 Kato and Fuze—and their “drivers”—took time out of their duty day to give our readers an inside look at what it takes to maintain law and order while being television stars.
Is it really playtime when you are chasing a bad guy?
KATO: It sure is. For us dogs, it has to be fun for us to want to do it. Also, since I’m a dog, I don’t really see people as good or bad, so I’m not angry or trying to punish anyone. I’m just trained to do what my handler asks; when I hear his voice, I know what he wants. He is Happy-Fun guy with a high-pitched voice when things are good, and when he speaks in a low voice, I know it’s time to go to work. We train a lot like that; repetition of commands helps me recognize the difference. He uses a lot of German words so I don’t confuse his commands with his everyday talking. Plus, the people I chase won’t know that telling me to STOP in English is useless.
FUZE: Kato is right, we love working. Even though I specialize in explosives detection, we are both Belgian Malinois, so we are the happiest when we are active and busy. I am always alert to what my handler is up to, so I read her body language really well. If she opens the door in a relaxed way and speaks in a nice voice, I am relaxed and ready to be her companion or visit with people. But, when our car pulls up quick, she jumps out, and I can see her body tension, I get right in the zone. Even though I don’t really understand what the words mean, her vocal inflections tell me everything I need to know.
So do you have a preference for chasing, say, a peanut butter Kong, or a suspect?
KATO: I like both, but if you watch my episode on “America’s Top Dog” you’ll see just how high I’m willing to jump to get hold of my Kong. This is another thing that is just part of being a dog; we like to bite and chew things. Being eager, and able to hold on, is one of the things they look for when they recruit us for law enforcement. Really, it’s all about the exercise; that is our purpose, and loving it makes us good at it.
FUZE: We are a lot like kids; if we like something, we enjoy doing it and we get really good at it; if we don’t like it, we’re not doing it. Part of why we were chosen for this job is a thing called prey drive. That is our instinct to search, stalk, chase, and bite. Kato and I have a bite pressure of about 195psi, so it’s easy for us to hang on, and also best not to encourage us to get that far.
What was your favorite part about being on television?
FUZE: “Top Dog” was a new experience for us; pretty much all of it was a bit weird. For the most part, the obstacles were designed to be similar to what we do every day, which is fun and we enjoy it.
KATO: We appeared in one episode with four other dogs, then there was a champion at the end. I’m hoping there will be a Season 2 and we will be invited back to compete. If you didn’t get to see it air, you can see our scenes on YouTube. #TopDogAE
Is it difficult to focus on the work now that you have been a television star?
KATO: I have a good “switch.” I go to a lot of social events with crowds and children and I have a great sense of where I am and what I’m there to do. But if my human says the right thing, I’m ready in a second to turn around and bite. We’ve been partners for 2-1/2 years and he has a lot of patience with me. With all the changes lately, due to the sickness all the humans are worried about, I really miss going to demonstrations to see the kids. Mostly I miss all the petting!
FUZE: TV and work were much the same. I still wait for the quick movements and serious voice when it’s time to rush; or just be a sweetheart when my human has the leash, a sweet voice, and easy body language.
How do you keep in shape for the job?
FUZE: Every dog in the unit trains and works on obedience at least six hours per week, but I need playtime every day. My human also works hard to build her upper body because there are some fences I can’t jump over, or places I can’t get to; she gives me a great assist. But even we have our limitations. Working narcotics searches in cars, in the heat of summer blacktop, is rough on us dogs; we usually just look forward to getting back to chasing. But we Belgian Malinois handle the heat better than the German Shepherds people typically mistake us for. My human tells me we Belgians are built better and we don’t have some of the health issues that the Shepherds have, so we are able to have long careers.
KATO: When we aren’t training, we run and play fetch with our handlers for an extra 20-30 minutes a day. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes we have our own agenda. One of the things about us working dogs is that our skills make us great for the job, but we always have a lot of energy so we need a lot of patience as “pets.” It all boils down to our humans; if they are confident, we feel that and we will be too.
Follow Kato and Fuze, and their friends Nemo, Enzo, Max, Bohdi, and
shelter superhero, Bolo, on Twitter @WilcoK9 for fun, adventure, and catching bad guys