Victoria police bomb dog heads into retirement

Victoria police Sgt. Mike Chicorelli and police service dog Max, who is retiring after nearly 13 years of working as an explosive detection dog.  - photo contributed
Victoria police Sgt. Mike Chicorelli and police service dog Max, who is retiring after nearly 13 years of working as an explosive detection dog.
— image credit: photo contributed

He’s not your typical police dog.

He isn’t trained to track the scent of bad guys on the run or show aggression whenever there’s a threat.

The life of Victoria police dog Max has been one big game of hide and seek. But after 13 years of working in explosive detection, his valuable bomb-sniffing nose has headed into retirement.

“He’s just a goofy chocolate lab. It’s search for the odours and then I reward him with a toy. It’s really a game,” said Sgt. Mike Chicorelli, who got Max when he was a year old. “All they do is search. Because it’s their only job, they get to be very  good at it. They don’t have a list of jobs that the other dogs have.”

Chicorelli started working with Max in 2004 and finished his training about a year later, responding to hundreds of calls together during the next 12 years.

Whenever police receive a call about a suspicious package, Max is usually at the scene. Chicorelli gives him a direction to search, combing through the entire building for any type of an explosive odour. It’s a process that can take a considerable amount of time, depending on the size of the area.

Chicorelli keeps a close eye on Max’s body language, watching for any signs of a change. The dog is trained to remain calm and sit once he finds what he’s searching for.

“It’s very clear when he’s found something. You see the body language change and his excitement,” said Chicorelli. “He’s a very driven dog. That was probably the main source of excitement in his life was searching. That’s what he was born to do and he was very good at it.”

Throughout the course of their career together, Chicorelli and Max have picked up a few nods, winning two competitions, including an event at the World Police and Fire Games in New York in 2011.

One of the highlights of their career was working at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver for six weeks, where Max was used to search for anything suspicious in areas that weren’t easily accessible.

In Victoria, Max has found some commercial grade explosives, but they weren’t being used as a weapon. Even though many of the calls Max responds to are false alarms, police still have to be cautious.

“It’s one of those profiles that you hope to never find something and more often than not, it’s satisfying for the people that have a threat called into their business knowing a dog has been through as well,” said Chicorelli. “It seems to be getting busier for that kind of work, as it is everywhere in the world.”

Although Max has had a long and healthy career, eventually his age started to show and his hearing is now almost gone. Dec. 31 marked his last shift with Vic PD before retirement. A new explosive detection dog has since been trained and Max’s younger brother continues to be the department’s official drug sniffing dog.

But Max, who lives with Chicorelli and has become the family pet, will still come along for the ride, even though his bomb-sniffing days are over.

“He’s going to be with me all the time just as he was before,” said Chicorelli. “Max will be watching and he still loves to search, he’s just really slow. He’s a very special dog.”



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