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A police dog who works for cat food

Friday, Jul. 29 | By Craig Macho
Judge, a Fauquier County Sheriff's Office K9, leads Deputy Chris Snyder on a training hunt. Bloodhounds have an extraordinarily strong sense of smell that comes in handy in missing person searches. Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Successful police investigations and outcomes are often determined by the tools a police agency has in its toolbox, and one tool featured by the Fauquier Sheriff’s Office has warm brown eyes, floppy ears and a remarkable nose that could qualify for superhero status.

Meet Judge the bloodhound.

“A bloodhound is the best dog to have if you have to track someone,” said Master Deputy Sheriff Chris Snyder, Judge's handler.

Although the Fauquier Sheriff's Office had a working bloodhound years ago, Judge was added to the department's K9 program about four years ago through a grant from the Jimmy Ryce Center in Florida, which provides bloodhounds to police agencies across the nation, free of charge.

Snyder, who was selected to work the bloodhound for the sheriff's office, went to Jacksonville to obtain Judge when he only 4 months old.

At 4 months, Bloodhound puppies have wrinkly faces that they eventually grow into but can be endearing for those who like the breed.

“He looked like an old tea bag,” Snyder said with a smile.

Snyder, an eight year veteran of the sheriff’s office, had experience working with K9 teams while deployed overseas during his service in the Army, and Judge is the first dog he's handled.

He went through a 13 week school with Judge in Spotsylvania where the training began with Snyder playing with Judge, getting him excited, then hiding nearby. This play, Snyder noted, provided Judge with the basic task of tracking his scent so he could find Snyder in order to play some more.

The training evolved to where eventually Judge learned to track a person by identifying their scent from a personal belonging. The final test required Judge to track the trail of a person who walked over the starting area at least an hour earlier, Snyder said.

Other training includes the person being tracked standing in a group of people, and the bloodhound passing through the people to identify the specific person he had been tracking.

“Bloodhounds are natural human trackers. They love people, and we just fine tune them,” said Snyder.

He also observed bloodhounds are driven to perform well for a reward their handler gives them after a successful track.

“You have to find out what their paycheck is,” he noted.

Snyder noted each dog is different and will respond to different motivations, which is usually a food treat.

“Some dogs like hotdogs or liver; Judge, he likes cat food,” he said.

Remarkably, bloodhounds are able to catalog all the various scents left by people; once they're provided a personal object to smell, they will be able to link that scent with one they've already cataloged.

“The dog's already identifying scent even before he's even put to work,” Snyder said. “I'll put an item up to his nose, he smells it and turns his head a certain way and he's ready to roll,” Snyder said.

With that, Judge will take off at a dead sprint while leashed and Snyder will run after him.

The strength of a bloodhound's sense of smell is simply amazing.

According to a 2002 study conducted at the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University in Tallahassee, a dog's sense of smell is generally 10,000 to 100,000 times superior to that of humans. The bloodhound is also considered to have the best scenting ability of any breed and the results of a bloodhounds track can be used as evidence in court, according to the American Kennel Club.

Snyder and Judge are frequently required to search for missing people or suspects, sometimes to assist other police agencies who do not have a bloodhound. Snyder noted that bloodhounds tire, especially in the heat, so a few K9s are often required to complete a long track that can take hours to complete.

One of Snyder and Judge's most notable successes was tracking a 4-year-old autistic boy who wandered away from his home in Shenandoah County in 2013. Several dogs were already out in the field when Snyder arrived, and he had Judge identify the boy's scent from his car seat and began tracking him thorough the forest.

“After about an hour we were able to locate the child,” Snyder said.

While many K9 handlers are attracted to working with more traditional police dogs such as German Shepherds, Snyder turned contemplative when asked what drew him to work a bloodhound.

“It's a whole lot different, and I like the challenge,” he said. “And if my kid ever got lost or was missing, I'd hope someone would be able to find them.”

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