The OPP Canine Unit was formed in 1965. Three teams were trained to provide a support service for the OPP and other law enforcement agencies.
Today, 28 teams: each consisting of a dog and a handler are stationed at strategic points across the province and provide canine support for search and rescue operations, tracking wanted persons, detecting narcotics, explosives, cadaver and physical evidence.
The teams are also involved in community service work, fund raising events and public demonstrations.
Canine teams undergo 16 weeks of intensive training at the OPP Academy Canine Training Centre. This training includes promoting obedience, exposing the dogs to obstacles such as stairways, heights, ladders, tunnels and water. The emphasis is on tracking. Training the dogs to follow specific human scent over various terrains in all weather conditions requires determination, concentration and patience. The dogs are taught to protect the handler on command even in the face of gunfire.
Within one year of completing the training, teams return to be trained to detect narcotics.
Specialty dogs, usually Labrador retrievers, are trained for specific duties. There are currently 6 teams trained to detect explosives, 6 additional teams are trained to detect human remains, and 3 teams are trained to locate people buried as a result of a disaster.
Careful consideration is given to the selection of both dog and handler. German shepherds, aged 18 to 24 months, are chosen for general service duties. This breed is renowned for its' keen sense of hearing and smell, its' even temperament, stability, alertness and for its dependability in various weather conditions.
Handlers must be in top physical condition in order to keep pace with their dogs.
Each dog lives at the handler's home and stays in an outside kennel provided by the OPP This develops a proper heavy undercoat that will protect the dog during cold weather assignments.
Teams use a specially designed vehicle to provide proper security for the dog and storage for equipment the handler requires.
The teams are on call 24 hours a day for assignment anywhere in Ontario.