The top dogs on the police force

Songjiang Police Dogs Center trains 17 canines to trail suspects, search for drugs and explosives, find missing people anduncover crime scene evidence.
Zhang Zhelun

The Songjiang Police Dogs Center, where 17 canines are currently in training to trail suspects, search for drugs and explosives, find missing people, uncover crime scene evidence, and protect officers from danger.

Heel! Stay! Attack! At a Songjiang training site, a special police unit whose bark is every bit as intimidating as its bite practices drill commands.

This is the Songjiang Police Dogs Center, where 17 canines are currently in training to trail suspects, search for drugs and explosives, find missing people, uncover crime scene evidence, and protect officers from danger.

German shepherd Heihei, or Little Black, suddenly darts out of the grass and grips a "suspect" firmly with its teeth.

"Good boy!" instructor Huang Shuaiping says, reaching down to pet his colleague.

The dog-training base, set up in 2008, is both a school and a home for German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Rottweilers, Labradors, Springer spaniels, Argentinian dogos and Chinese Kunming dogs pressed into police work. 

Zhang Zhelun

Heihei grabs tight hold of a “suspect.”

"We live, work and train together,” Huang said. "Off-duty, the dogs sometimes act like spoiled kids, but once they are working, they are brave, clever and professional, with a spirit of dedication."

The police dogs must be taught different verbal cues and hand gestures.

Another handler, Wang Jun, plays a suspect hiding behind a wall. At Huang’s command, Holland shepherd Dabai, or Big White, dashes out and stops about 20 meters away from the “suspect.” He barks ferociously until Huang approaches.

“We train the dog how to threaten suspects by barking,” Huang said. “If I don’t give the ‘attack’ gesture, Dabai won’t assault him.”


As Huang shouts the command, the dog suddenly goes after Wang, gripping him by the right arm. Dabai didn’t relax the hold until his handler came on the scene. 

Zhang Zhelun

Instructor Huang Shuaiping fits a working outfit on a police dog. 

Anuo, the first generation of Malinois dogs, is 16 years old, which is equivalent to a 100-year-old human. Before his retirement, Anuo was an ace in explosive searches.

“The first generation of the dog was rare in China,” said Gu Peigang, director of the dog center.

Beibao, or Backpack, is the second generation of the breed, has quicker speed, a bigger body but less ferocity.

Drug-sniffer canine Cola is one of the stars at the center. At the G20 summit held last year in Hangzhou, he checked about 50 vehicles at the Fengjing exit to the city every day. In once instance, he discovered a gun and 80 bullets in a suspect car.

Shuaige, or Handsome Guy, is a multitasking dog good at both rescue work and tracking suspects. He has earned the nickname Mars because of the numerous times he has protected his handlers from danger. 

Zhang Zhelun

Police dogs are trained to trail suspects, search for drugs and explosives, undercover crime scene evidence and protect police officers.

The German shepherd Zorro, also an award-winning dog, retired just this year.

“He was so amazing,” said Gu, who began training him when he was a six-month-old pup.

One night in 2009, when Gu was on patrol with Zorro in Zhuangjia Village in Jiuting Town after a spate of robberies, they passed a junction of two dark narrow lanes with no street lighting. Gu suddenly saw a flash in front of him, and the dog quickly responded, gripping the wrist of a robber who was holding a 60-centimeter knife.

“My boy saved my life,” Gu recalled.

German shepherd Afu is also a celebrity at the center. In 2011, he helped solve a murder case in Xinqiao Town. A suspect admitted burying a victim somewhere in a large woodland, but he didn’t remember the exact location.

Seven days after the homicide and amid heavy rain that obliterated smells, Afu was given the suspect’s bag and told to follow the scent.

“We weren’t sure if Afu could do it,” Gu admitted.

But the dog was undeterred. He ran about 600 meters, stopped in front of a small hill and urinated to mark the place. Handler Xiao Zhu instructed officers to start digging. In sort time, the corpse was discovered. At the crime scene, Afu also managed to retrieve a shoe as part of the forensic evidence. 

Zhang Zhelun

The police dogs and their handlers become so close that moments of parting are inevitably sad occasions.

The salary of handlers is meager, which caused handler Xiao Zhu to quit the center after working with Afu for six years. In 2015, he returned to see with some dog treats to give his old pal.

“The dog would eat them,” Gu said. “He merely sat in his cage with his back to his former handler the whole time. I think the dog was hurt deeply and thought he had been abandoned by Xiao Zhu.”

In a cemetery just outside the center, seven police dogs who died on the job are buried. During the annual Tomb Sweeping Day every spring, Gu and his colleagues take the dogs’ favorite foods to their graves to pay tribute to their memories.

“They are like our children,” Gu said. “And we hope they live happily in another world.” 

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