KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Take a closer look the next time you see a police officer with a canine companion. Even if it looks like the traditional German Shepherd that's been used in law enforcement for years, it may actually be a different breed called a Belgian Malinois.
Mako, 5, is a dual purpose K-9 for the Knoxville Police Department, meaning he can take down a bad guy and sniff out drugs. He's been partnered with Officer Sergio Marrero for the last three years.
"He's a handful. He likes to have fun and he enjoys what he does. He knows when it's time to work and when it's time to play. When it's time to work, he's all business," Marrero said.
Mako is one of half a dozen Belgian Malinois in the KPD kennels. They have twice as many German Shepherds.
The intense energy is one reason the breed is so good for this line of work.
"If you take ten cars and you want a dog to search for explosives or narcotics in those ten cars and you take a Malinois out there, he'll search those ten cars and ask for more. Where if we take a German Shepherd out there, when he gets to the fifth car he's ready to go take a nap," said Knoxville police K-9 trainer Darrell Sexton.
He said German Shepherds have their strong points too.
"They're very easy to control. They're searching ability is real good. They're tracking ability is outstanding. So if you have a mix in the kennel, you can draw on what you need to address any situation you have out on the street," Sexton said.
The Malinois, he said, really came to prominence in the last decade with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Their slight build and their lighter coloring, it's easier for them to work in hotter climates," Sexton said.
He said they're so in demand, Malinois have become harder to find lately.
"They're going like hot cakes," Sexton said.
K-9 trainers say more than the breed you choose, what's really important is matching each dog's individual personality to its handler and the type of work it's expected to do.