Bellingham Police Department: Canine Unit

Bellingham Police Department Patrol and Explosive Detection dog, Brick, a 3 year-old German Shepherd

The store is empty and street lights are the only thing illuminating the space. Shadows of the various taxidermied bears, goats, and moose that line the walls cast jagged shapes across the floor. Mannequins stand tall above the maze of clothes racks draped with hunting attire. Guns of varied models cascade down the south wall of the building. The haunting peace is suddenly disrupted by Brick, a three-year-old German Shepherd, as he tears through the building, searching every inch of the multi-room space for someone hidden behind boxes in the back corner. This is an average Wednesday night at Yeager’s Sporting Goods on Northwest Avenue in Bellingham, Wash.

Bellingham Police Officer Shan Hanon works with his two dogs, Brick and Max, as part of the Bellingham Police Canine Unit. Both dogs are trained in patrol work and general purpose canine detection, but specialize in different areas. Max is one of the three drug detection dogs, and Brick is the only explosive detection dog in the police department.

The canine unit has been using Yeager’s as a training location for more than 20 years. “It’s nice to work with businesses in our community for the betterment of the dogs,” Hanon said. “We want to know how the dog will react when they get inside. Buildings have different environments that will effect the scent in the building.”

Training inside Yeager’s doesn’t only benefit the canine unit, said Yeager’s store manager, John Westerfield.

“They know our store intimately so if there is ever an incident in the store they will know their way around.” Westerfield said. “This store has always been supportive of law enforcement and all the local agencies, so it is a privilege for us to have them use our store.”

Training gives Hanon an opportunity to watch and understand his dog’s reaction to scents. It’s beneficial for officer safety and tracking, Hanon added.


Bellingham Police Officer Shan Hanon and his patrol dog, Brick, search cars at the Bellingham Ferry Terminal before the cars load the ferry. Brick uses scent to find drugs and weapons. ”Over the course of time and repetition and habits they know that this means this and do it automatically,” Hanon said.

When Hanon began his career as a police officer he was fascinated by how dogs process information by using their noses.

“That’s the essence of why we use dogs. They are a tool to give us more information,” Hanon said.

The four dogs in the Bellingham Police Department Canine Unit are trained in general purpose canine detection which focuses on tracking, Hanon said. Tracking is when the dog follows a trail of scent left by a human. Depending on terrain and environmental conditions it can be difficult, Hanon added.

Each dog trains four hours a week in each of their disciplines. “The dog keeps you humble, because based on how the dog works you would think the dog would always find it. So when you don’t find somebody it’s very frustrating, but when you do it’s that much more rewarding,” Hanon said.

Along with tracking, the dogs are trained in obedience, control and aggression. Domestic animals know not to bite humans, Hanon said, so they must train the dogs to bite in order to do their job.

“If you are teaching a dog to be aggressive at a human, you have to teach the control because you can’t have a dog out of control,” Hanon added.

Police Sergeant Claudia Murphy added that teams from around the county come to Bellingham to train.

“Sometimes we host recertification classes for canine teams around the Puget Sound area in Bellingham and our local businesses allow us to use their buildings at night to provide training sites,” Murphy added.

Westerfield said they only have one requirement for the canine unit when using their space. “It’s part of our duty as citizens of this community to support them and all we ask they do is if the dog has an accident they clean it up, and they always do,” Westerfield said.


Hanon’s goal is to make work fun for his dogs, so that they enjoy it and do their job better. “We are always putting aids out or something for the dog to find. It kind of tests him and is kind of training but it’s more of a reward because if you constantly do this job and never get a pay check you’d be done, whereas if you always get a paycheck you’d keep doing it. So the paycheck for the dog is the toy.”

All four dogs in the Bellingham Police Canine Unit are German Shepherds. Hanon said in the United States of America, German Shepherds are the most popular breed for patrol work or general purpose detection.

The unit usually looks for a dog that is around two years old, Hanon said.

“You don’t know what kind of product you are getting if you get a puppy,” Hanon added. “You put all this training into a puppy and it gets to be two years old and it doesn’t have what it takes and he is out.”

The dogs face an extensive training before they are certified to work, Hanon said. There is a minimum requirement of hours for each specialization: 400 hours for patrol work, 200 hours for drug detection, and 400 hours for explosive detection. Once the dog completes his hours and passes the state certified test he is able to work, Hanon added.

“The dog’s chosen path in life is to be a working dog,” Hanon said. “The biggest thing we  do is try to gear their mind to think all fun and excitement comes from work and when they are at work.”

If they have fun at work and want to work they will do their job much better, Hanon added.

“You love the dog, but you also can respect what he or she does. That dog is going to do this even if that means they are going to get shot or stabbed and they disregard everything else and they are going to do their job,” Hanon said. “There is a loyalty there that is just cool.”

For more information visit or call the Bellingham Police Station at (360)788-8800.


Brick poses for a photo next to a Bellingham Police vehicle.

Multimedia Plan

•Dog’s Eye View Investigation Map

-A floor plan map of a store, either Yeager’s or similar, with a variety of products (clothing, shoes, guns, accessories, etc.)

-The user would be able to place different weapons, substances, and toys in one of 8 predetermined areas on the floor plan.

-Once they place it in a location a video will pop up. The video will be from the dog’s view as he searches for that object. Using a GoPro, video would have to be recorded of the dog finding different objects hidden in those locations.

-Preferably there would be at least two different videos for each location/item pair.

•Timeline of Dog

– There would be options for the user to click on different kinds of police dog time lines (a drug detection dog, explosive detection dog or patrol dog). Since these specialities have different requirements the user would be able to compare them side by side, if they choose to do so.

•SoundSlide Story

-Slideshow of behind the scene photos of the canine unit.
-Accompany with interviews and ambience sound.

•Graph with Stats

-Attractive infogram with information and statistics about the breeds that are most popular for this type of work.

– Breeds would be clickable, which would provide more information about the breed.