I have been photographing the K9 teams of the Waterloo Police K9 Unit (Iowa) for a number of years now. I have been allowed to attend their training sessions and the handlers have been gracious and accommodating when I have ideas for photos. In addition to training, we schedule photo sessions to get images for the annual calendar.
The K9s are well-trained and driven dogs. As you can see, Axe can't quite leave the intensity behind even during his calendar photo session. These dogs also have a goofy streak that I enjoy capturing because it's a side that many don't get to witness. As their personal paparazzi, I get a front seat to many of their antics.
K9 Niko let me know when he felt his photo session was over. Just like a kid, when he was over it, getting him to sit for a photo was not going to happen. "This is my sit." Ha!
While they can be handsome goofballs, first and foremost, these dogs are working dogs. They are bred and trained to serve and protect. One of the ways they do this is with bite work. On command, the K9s will bite and hold a person until officers can gain control of the suspect. K9s are fast and agile and perfectly suited for the job. Make no mistake, they are powerful animals.
So...why would I take a bite from the K9? I mean, that would seem like something most people would avoid. Well, the simple answer is...they asked! (Not the K9s, the officers. But I wouldn't be surprised if the K9s had asked for the opportunity, too.) The lengthier answer is...because if I'm going to photograph these teams, I might as well get involved, right? As photographers, sometimes it's nice to jump into the action rather than just watch the action unfold from behind the lens. Especially when it gets you involved in the very subject you're photographing.
After a brief moment of contemplation, I agreed to take a bite. The handlers were kind to me and only had the dogs lunge from a short distance to the bite sleeve.
For that short period before the bite, I got the stare down from the K9 while he was waiting for his bite command. Talk about anticipation!
Here, K9 Niko is trying to control me by biting my arm while digging his claws into my legs. (Note: If you ever take a bite from a K9, you'll want pants. They use every part of their body to capture a suspect.)
I walked away with minor scratches and a healthier respect for what these dogs are capable of. (My shoulder and arm were sore the next few days from "fighting" back!) While it's probably not for everyone, I am glad I was brave enough to say 'yes' to the question, "Do you want to take a bite?" The experience of being the decoy is definitely much different than photographing from a distance! (And it's also given me more ideas for photos.)