Stuff You Should Know | Podcast Review | September 14, 2015 | By

Stuff You Should Know: “Police Dogs” and “Chili Peppers”

This week, Stuff You Should Know had more facts than you can shake a dog’s stick at.

Before listening to this week’s episode of SYSK, my only knowledge of how police dogs work was from firsthand experience. Most recently, this meant watching some tiny monitors at Penn Station describe how inmates are responsible training our bomb-sniffing dogs.  While clearly designed as a reminder of safety being prioritized in our post-9/11 world, my takeaway was that prisoners have a job that’s more fun than mine. So, I hoped Josh and Chuck could convince me why working with police dogs wouldn’t be as fantastic of a career choice as I envisioned.

Dogs have been used for policing purposes at least since 14th Century France, but the Belgians were the first to have a formal training program and effective process for canines on their police force. The British did use bloodhounds as early as 1888—for the Jack the Ripper case—but their work was not nearly as regimented or successful (Jack the Ripper was famously never caught).

Over time, the boys in blue have learned that you can’t just grab any dog from the pound and train it to become a police dog though. Your grandma’s specially-bred shih tzu that no longer has to poop won’t work either. To get a dog for your police force, you need it to be certified and then pay for training—both of which are often paid for by seized drug money.

Breeds mostly consist of German Shepherds, Labs, an increasing number of beagles and (the Belgian original) Malanois. Most are bred from long lineages in from Europe. It’s actually serious business; Josh and Chuck allege that court cases have been dismissed after reviewing dogs’ lineage, and determining that it wasn’t credible as an expert.

Interestingly, Police dogs have the same handler for the dog’s whole service tenure; they usually live with the officer after (the dog’s) retirement. Becoming a handler requires excellent police scores, as well an upbeat and outgoing attitude. Additionally, the work load averages over 60 hours a week, as much of a police dogs workload can be outside of normal patrol hours–much of their work can’t be replaced by adding a regular officer. So, if you’re like me and think about ways you could change careers to work with dogs, working as a more-than-full-time cop may not be the best way to go. Also, there’s the whole “might get shot at” thing.

One point of contention related to police dogs is their effectiveness. More specifically, this relates to their reliability and percentage of false positives (Type I error for you statistics fans!). Some studies, including one from UNC Chapel-Hill have shown errors at rates as high as 85%. So, while their use may not be as controversial as something like drones,  don’t be surprised if their effectiveness is called into question over the next several years.

Overall, Josh and Chuck offered more facts than you can shake a dog’s stick at (e.g. dogs have 20 times the olfactory sensors as humans and can search an area ten times quicker than a human), but I wish they had dug just a little deeper into how dogs actually are trained and have been incorporated into police forces.

This might just reflect my eagerness to learn as much as possible about the topic. I’m a big fan of dogs. My roommate and I may or may not have “adopted” the German Shepherd we can see in the ground level apartment across the street. His name is Simba. Josh and Chuck fire out facts in rapid succession this week, and I ate it up like my parent’s English Bulldog devoured his birthday present of gourmet dog treats last week. (He’s a good boy.)

Overall, for even the non-dog lovers,  I highly recommend listening to Chuck and Josh on this topic—they do a much better job than the VHS-quality videos playing on the hefty CRT screens in Penn Station. They also don’t require a visit to New York’s Penn Station.

That’s the episode I decided to write-up in full this week, but I don’t want to leave you hanging, so I assembled some highlights from SYSK’s other episode, “Chili Peppers”:

  • Chiles were brought back by Columbus
  • They are now grown in almost every country in the world
  • 25 wild species; 5 domesticated
  • Alkaloids present in the peppers called capsaicin give the chilies their heat
  • Seeds are attached to the pepper via the placenta (Contrary to popular belief, this membrane is actually where the heat resides, not in the seeds)
  • Pain receptors in the mouth, not the tongue/taste buds, react to the heat
  • Chiles do not cause ulcers; they actually can protect the stomach lining
  • Some peppers can trigger the release of endorphins (sort of like a runner’s high)
  • The only mammals masochistic enough to eat peppers are humans (Birds unaffected by the heat)
  • Heat is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU)
  • 570k SHU means that 570k cups of water are required to dilute the pepper before there is no heat detected (Don’t actually use this test anymore)
  • Liquid chromatography (parts per million of capsaicin
  • Pimento and paprika (smoked) come from red bell peppers and cayenne comes from red chilies
  • Thin long and red are hottest, typically as a rule of thumb
  • India is world’s largest producer of chilies
  • There are 5 components to the heat profile
  • There’s no organized central body for judging chilies (and there is debate of whether it should be measured by peak or the mean heat level)
  • Currently the Carolina reaper (1.6million SHU, and a peak over 2million SHU)
  • So wear gloves when you work with hot peppers; lasts for a long time
  • Josh loves growing things from seedlings/starter plants and can’t understand why anyone would start from just seeds

I recommend tuning in for a full listen; I give it a rating of all five chili peppers:

About the Author

Nick Wade is a founding writer at Audiologue, where he writes about The Sporkful and Stuff  You Should Know. You can find him at

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