January 19, 1908 | The Dog Squad

 New York Police Department Dog Squad, c. 1910. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, 2006.299.1.2.

"Ever since the newspapers learned … that the possibilities of the dog as a policeman were being considered at 300 Mulberry Street, a mysterious silence has been maintained regarding the proposition. A strict embargo was put upon all ‘dog news.’"

New York Times, 1908

On January 19, 1908, the New York Police Department (NYPD) finally broke its silence and allowed a New York Times reporter “to penetrate into the zealously guarded interior of the preparatory school for the dog squad—a place hitherto untrod by civilian foot—and see the four-footed members put through their official paces.” The five members of the newly formed squad—Jim, Nogi, Max, Dona, and Lady—patrolled wearing a badge and muzzle. They were trained to seek out potential thieves lurking in suburban neighborhoods at night and bark when they found them. If the suspect tried to run, the dog would tackle them and wait for its two-legged partner to arrive.

The leader of this experimental squad was Lt. George Wakefield who had traveled to Ghent, Belgium, the police dog capital of the world, to train in the subject and acquire five puppies for the New York force. The pups were a scarce commodity, since police dogs were all the rage throughout the major cities of Europe. The untrained 6-month old pups cost $10 a piece (about $250 in today’s dollars) and their training lasted three months.

Several cities beat out New York for the honor of first police dog squad and bloodhounds and other dogs had long been used for tracking criminals, especially in rural areas. Despite all the great press, sophisticated training for police dogs in the United States was not common until the late 20th century when it was conceded that a dog’s nose could not be beat by man or machine.