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Canine Corps on Patrol

August 30, 2018

Police Department canine Hugh and his handler, Officer Andrew Depolo, take some time each day to go through training exercises that keep Hugh ready to respond to a variety of situations.

Hugh is an eight and a half year old German shorthair pointer. He’s been working with Depolo for the last six and a half years.

Port of Seattle canine program

Each of the POSPD’s 11 canine units takes some time each day to practice in between responding to calls and patrolling the terminals, airfield, and seaport. Depolo said staying on top of training every day is crucial.

“It’s like teaching a two-year-old to tie his shoes; it takes repetition after repetition,” said Depolo. 

Port of Seattle canines work to detect explosives at the airport and seaport and play a key role in keeping air transportation safe for travel and commerce. Their speed and flexibility in discovering the presence of explosives and their ability to follow suspicious odors give them a real edge over currently available mechanical detection devices in many circumstances.

The handlers and their dogs spend most of their time together on and off duty; the canines live with their partners and become part of the family.

Canine training

Handlers and canines train throughout the airport and seaport to ensure that sniffing out a threat is second nature. They practice on and around aircraft, in warehouses, waterfront cargo, vehicles, and through open fields to keep them efficient and effective, said Port of Seattle Police Department Sergeant Hannah Minnehan, who supervises the department’s canine program.

“We like to put them on odor each day; there are so many different kinds of odor, we want them to remember what they are doing,” she said. “If they know what they are doing in training, they’ll know what they are doing during a real deployment.”

She said the department tries to tailor training to fit the needs of each individual canine. Some dogs are more advanced than others so the trainer designs training based on the dogs working that day.

Dogs come to the Port of Seattle with basic training and the Port helps build on that training. “They know what they need to sniff for; it’s up to us to teach them how to do it,” Depolo said. 

Scent training

Eight of the Port’s 11 canine teams were trained at the TSA canine training center at Lackland Air Force Base.

At the training center, canines learn to search transportation sites such as a cargo facility, an airport gate, a checkpoint, a baggage claim area, the interior of an aircraft, a vehicle parking lot, a light rail car, and an air cargo facility. These dogs are trained to sniff stationary objects for explosives.

The Port’s other three canine teams are Air Scent-trained and are the first law enforcement agency in the state to have certified working Air Scent Teams.

Air Scent-trained dogs are trained to detect odors on a moving target; they search whatever moves for explosives. The Port of Seattle Police Department’s decoy program allows these dogs to practice on volunteers who walk through the airport carrying luggage.

The dogs are smart enough to remember the specific scent of one volunteer. So volunteers can participate only once a month.

Luggage props

Once a bag is used as part of a decoy, it must be destroyed by the police department because the dog will always be able to track the scent of explosives long after it is used as a decoy, Minnehan said.Port of Seattle Canine with Luggage

Because a piece of luggage can only be used once, Minnehan estimates that the department goes through around 100 bags a year. 

Ricardo Beverly Hills, a luggage manufacturer in Kent, donates luggage with minor defects to be used for police dog training purposes.

“It’s part of our core values to give back,” said Carmen Negrea, Vice President of Marketing at Ricardo Beverly Hills. “It’s making the best use out of the product that we make; we improve the travel experience by supporting law enforcement.”

The Port of Seattle Police Department also accepts donations of clothing or luggage that can be used for training purposes. To donate items, Email

To see the K9 officers in action and learn about their training, watch the Facebook Live broadcast

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