Upper Michigan K9 handlers explain how police dogs search for missing people

Alger County Sheriff Deputy Perry King said when a dog picks up a scent, the handler’s job is to then follow the dog’s lead.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 8:40 PM EDT
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MUNISING, Mich. (WLUC) - Alger County Sheriff Deputy Perry King and K9 Alger were among 8 K9 units in total scouring the woods for Second Grader Nante Niemi when he went missing at the beginning of the week.

King said a lot of preparation goes into readying a dog to locate a missing person.

“You’ll have your search groups, and K9 groups as well and typically, you kind of want to get your K9 groups out in front of group pounders, which are the people that are searching, so [the dogs] can get the last scent,” said King.

King said when a dog picks up a scent, the handler’s job is to then follow the dog’s lead.

“What you do is you find out where they were last known to be seen and their last location,” said King. “Then from there you can bring your dog and do a grid pattern with your dog to try and pick up the scent. Then you just go with the dog to find the person.”

Marquette Police Department’s K9 Handler John Waldo and K9 Zepp were not deployed in the search for Niemi. However, Waldo shares his knowledge of training a dog for a search and what the handler’s responsibility is when the K9 is tracking.

“The dog has the ability, they have the skills, and a lot of times it’s the handler that’s not interpreting what their dog is doing,” said Waldo.

Waldo said deployment for finding a missing person is different from searching for a criminal. However, even the search for a fleeing criminal can become a rescue situation. For that reason, K9 Zepp is only trained to find someone and wait for further commands.

“He’s not trained to track and find someone and bite them, he’s trained to just find them because the majority of our cases would probably be looking for lost or injured individuals,” said Waldo. “I also don’t want my dog trained to be aggressive when he finds that person at the end of the track.”

Both departments expressed they are excited to see how K9 training evolves in the future.