Sitting patiently outside a training facility in Mullinex, Mitchell was waiting for his chance to search every truck, locker, and box in sight. His mission was to find one thing: Explosives.

Mitchell, a black lab mix, and his handler Sgt. Crichton were practicing just one of the many exercises used to train K9s on how to efficiently search for explosives aboard Washington State Ferries.

The WSP has around 30 K9 and handler pairings at a given time- with Mitchell hoping to be the next to join the Canine Training Unit’s ranks. However, he still has a long way to go. The WSP requires K9s and handlers to acquire 420 hours of specialized training, which equals out to about 12 weeks in the field; Mitchell and Sgt. Crichton are only in week six.

Even though they are only halfway through their training, the pair already works seamlessly together, finding the hidden explosives with ease. They, along with the other Canine Training Unit recruits, will work tirelessly over the next six weeks to master explosive detection techniques.

The Washington State Patrol’s Canine Training Unit has roots that date back all the way back to 1997- when the first two explosive detection teams were deployed. The program was initially purchased with a grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation to provide security on ferries. Just one year later, three narcotic detection teams were added to the unit. To this day, the WSP has one of the most premier canine programs in the country and is home to the only full-time training facility in Washington.

K9 units provide a critical – and sometimes unrecognized – service to our state, so we hope you stay tuned as our new “Canine Tales” series digs deeper into the training, pairing process, and lifestyle of the Washington State Patrol’s Canine Training Unit.