FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYORK)– As students around the nation make their college picks, another sort of selection is underway.

On Monday, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff got a behind-the-scenes look at the meticulous process of choosing the best applicants to become Nassau County police dogs.
A dozen dogs are vying for only four places, which makes this a highly selective admissions process. Only the best and brightest will make the cut to become Nassau Police dogs.

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The first test: the hunt drive.

“In simple terms it’s fetch. If the dog doesn’t have the desire to go after and retrieve something, you’re starting at a deficit,” Lt. Terence Louglin, a K-9 unit trainer, explained.

The contestants are all untrained male German Shepherds from Eastern Europe. Nassau police say they are less inbred and therefore bigger and stronger. But to make it in the Nassau Police K-9 Unit, dogs must demonstrate they can navigate everything from open staircases to fire escapes.

And they must be fearless.

“See how they respond to gunfire. If the dog is going to run away that will be a problem for a police dog,” Loughlin said.

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The process is picky to say the least, mostly because so much is at stake.

“Dogs are apprehending people all the time,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said.

“They respond to active shooters, suspicious packages… They basically hunt down drugs and bombs. The dogs are used in searches for missing persons,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said.

Only the selected four will move onto training and, like with all higher education, they will specialize in arson and bomb work or narcotics. Some of the $9,000 needed to buy each dog is donated.

“Law enforcement officers are always dealing with the unknown, all it takes is a microsecond for something to go wrong. The animals are there, they sense, they are there to protect,” Nassau County Police Foundation donor Bob Glassman said.

The new class will graduate in about six months and the decade-long career pays well in love and care. Dogs live with their handlers and usually live out their retirement with them too.

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The new recruits are between 10 months and two years old. After the new dogs are trained, the Nassau K-9 Squad will have 11 dogs in all.