There’s just nothing like a dog story. Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Shiloh, My Dog Skip, Marley and Me—the list goes on and on… Something about those books and movies makes my heart feel like it’s stretching out of me for those brave and loyal canines, rooting for them, hoping that they make it in the end, devastated if (more like when) they—
Oops. Almost caught me getting sentimental there.
Anyway, this week’s guest blogger, author D. D. Ayres, has tapped into that wellspring of universal (well, nearly universal) affection we feel for dogs in her K-9 Rescue Series. She shares some of her extensive knowledge on these exceptional police officers with four legs and a tail.
Romantic Suspense with a Bite!
By D.D. Ayres
How could I resist the offer from my editor to develop a Romantic Suspense series about cool K-9 dogs and their hot guy handlers? I love dogs. There’s been one almost constantly in my life. Only one problem. I knew next to nothing about K-9 teams. There was research to be done.
I was pretty sure that these highly trained K-9s were not simply smart pets. At least not in the, “Lassie, get help. Timmie’s down the well,” sort of way.
I just hoped that they were nothing like the razor-fanged demons often portrayed in movies when someone is running for his or her life. Luckily, I was correct, both times.
A brief look around the Internet showed me that the professional K-9s in today’s world are exceptional in every way. They help, protect, and save lives each and every day. There are dogs trained for everything from search and rescue, to patrol and apprehension, to medical alert, to explosives detection, to arson investigation, PTSD service and so on. I wanted to write about them all. That’s when my series settled on being about K-9 teams with a different specialty highlighted in each book.
But I quickly realized that all the video-watching and reading in the world wouldn’t give me a genuine sense of what it’s like to live and work as a K-9 team. I needed real-world experience, or at least to have contact with someone who does. This holds true for any writer approaching a subject she or he might not know a lot about but wants to use. Do your homework. The more firsthand experiences, the better.
My first piece of luck was being introduced to Fort Worth, TX Police Officer Brad Thompson as a resource. Brad worked for 22 years in the Special Operations/K-9 Unit, responsible for training and deployment of patrol and narcotic detection K-9s. Brad is a natural teacher. So lucky to have him.
First thing I learned from Brad, which was reinforced in other interviews, is that K-9 handlers looove what they do. They can talk all day about their experiences and what their dogs can do. This is a job that requires dedication.
Second thing I learned was that no two law enforcement agencies handle or train their dogs exactly alike. More about this below. As my expert told me early on, “The only thing two K-9 trainers will ever agree on is that the third one is doing it wrong.”
1. K-9 canines are specially bred and trained. Most dogs can’t do what these animals do. Think of them as the Olympians/SWAT/Mensa members of the canine world. They are smarter, stronger, braver than Fido.
2. Many understand English but respond “on the job” to commands in German, Czech, or Dutch. Helps with the time-to-work mentality of being on the job.
3. Handlers are a special breed, and are very passionate about ‘running a dog’.
They routinely spend more time with their K-9s than with their families. They also understand the individuality of their dogs and are tolerant. If a trained dog misbehaves, it’s the handler’s fault.
4. K-9 teams train daily so that “First command” is habit. Add to that a minimum of 20 hours a month of more formal training, to stay fresh and alert.
5. The handler takes care of nearly all the dog’s needs. They keep a K-9 emergency kit in the cruiser, and can administer aid and dress wounds in the field.
6. The Dual Purpose Police Dog is the most common type of K-9 dog, and works Patrol and Apprehension. The mad-demon dog is the last thing a patrol officer wants when dealing with the public. Balanced and professional are words I heard a lot. When commanded to “Fass” or bite, he’s a full-mouth takedown artist. But that same dog must also be able to tolerate crowds at the local footballs games and parades.
7. “Emotion feeds down the leash.” A trained K-9 will know if her/his handler is excited, upset, angry, scared, worried, happy, calm, or in pain and will act accordingly.
8. Handlers receive dogs that have already been trained for a minimum of two years. The training handlers receive is in how to work effectively with a trained dog.
After Brad established me in K-9 Law Enforcement methods, I also spent time with breeders, and trainers.
But back to my K-9s. Along with deciding to focus on a different K-9 team, handler and canine, for each book, I have to choose what breed of dog I would use in each book.
I met breeders of Bouvier de Flandres for my new book, Force of Attraction.
No, a Bouvie’s not on the cover. Hugo’s undercover!
Bouvies are new in the U. S. as law enforcement dogs. They look ‘soft’ like cuddly Teddy bears. But on the job, a Bouvie is more like Batman in a bear suit, as my hero learns when he encounters the heroine’s K-9 partner. By focusing on a different breed for each book, I want to show the unique differences that make these dogs special.
For the next book in the series, Primal Force (Sept. ’15), I’ve spent time with Patriot Paws, a service dog-training program in Rockwall, TX, to learn about service and PTSD dogs for veterans. These are calm, person-oriented dogs who can open a fridge, remind an owner to take meds, wake a patient about to have a seizure, answer the door, phone 911, force a veteran out of a flashback, call suicide prevention, pull a wheelchair, bear the weight of someone who’s momentarily lost balance, or move a person out of a situation causing anxiety. My K-9 is a sweet, smart, female golden doodle named Samantha.
I could go on and on. I’m so impressed by the dedication of the men and woman who train and work beside these dogs. Doing my research, I’ve made new friends I would not otherwise have. At the Police K-9 Conference in Las Vegas, last March, I met a 50-year-old woman who’s a Search-and-Rescue K-9 handler. She rappels out of helicopters into wilderness areas unreachable by vehicle—with her dog strapped to her body—in order to find lost hikers. So impressed!
Oh, and yes. Meeting the hot guys is a bonus.
A veteran author of over 40 works of romance and women’s fiction, D.D. Ayres is new to Romantic Suspense. She believes the lure of romance is always the human connection. Put that connection in physical jeopardy, and we learn a bit more about who we really are. With her K-9 Rescue series (The novella Necessary Force, and 3 novels: Irresistible Force, Force of Attraction and Primal Force), D.D. hopes you will enjoy her sexy, suspenseful portrayals of K-9 teams at their best. She is published by St. Martin’s Press and represented by the Denise Marcil Agency. D.D. lives in Texas with her husband Chris, and a soft-coated Wheaten terrier named Zoe. Visit her website at http://www.ddayres.com/
All photos courtesy of D. D. Ayres.
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