Roxbury Resident—Morris County Sheriff’s Office Detective Corporal Michael McMahon—and K-9 Kai’s Special Bond

By Alexander Rivero, Staff Writer


The 2020 “America’s Top Dog” champs before another day of hard work, and treats.

  2020’s title of “America’s Top Dog” belongs to New Jersey, specifically to Roxbury natives Dt. Cpl. Michael McMahon and his trusted K-9, Kai. 


The two took top prize at A&E Network’s “America’s Top Dog” competition, which was televised from Santa Clarita, CA in March of 2020. McMahon and his then 4-year-old partner beat out six of the country’s most impressive K-9 teams to secure the grand prize of $25,000—which, was given to a non-profit animal welfare organization that specializes in caring for retired police dogs.


Two years after securing the prize, McMahon is honored to have been a part of it all, as well as to have been able to compete with such great teams from across the nation. He is also thankful for the work and sacrifices his wife and children made throughout the time it took to train Kai and bring him up to top form. 


McMahon traces his professional work with dogs back to his infancy. He had golden retrievers as a kid, which he trained himself, and by the time he had graduated high school he had started volunteering with local animal shelters.


“I thought I wanted to go and be a vet,” McMahon recalls. 


He started towards that end goal, taking classes at County College of Morris (CCM), but while there he found a school for dog training, and the rest is history. 


He enrolled, became a professional dog trainer, and before long had started his own business with his wife. The couple offered a range of training services—including training and developing dogs for police K-9 units and for personal protection. Throughout all of this, he was selling dogs to area police departments. It was during this time—in 2011—that Morris County Sheriff’s Office gave him a call. 


“I got hired for that track, specifically for the K-9 unit,” he says. 


As of this writing, McMahon is the supervising trainer for Morris County’s entire K-9 unit, which includes 13 dogs. He assists a dozen or more police K-9s, as well as other units. On average, he estimates that he works with anywhere between 50 and 100 teams in a given year. 


How difficult is it to train a dog? McMahon assures us that it all starts from a strong foundation, which is key.


“Foundation is extremely important. When the dogs are between nine months to a year old, we purchase them from a vendor in the Netherlands or Germany. We don’t have down time with them. They’re immediately paired with their respective handlers.”


After the initial pairing, the trainer/K-9 teams the emphasis is all on encouraging strong bonding.


“We make sure the dogs are enjoying what they’re doing,” says McMahon. “And in order for them to want to do what we’re training them to do, they need their rewards. So we start with food rewards, and shift over to toy rewards afterwards.” 


If the dog is going to be immediately trained in a detection capacity, the process will last roughly between three and four months. Whereas if they are being trained for patrol capacity, the process is six months. A dual training regiment, when all is said and done, will take the dog and trainer about a year to complete to satisfaction. This is followed by an academy class, where they are brought on the road with senior officers and trainers. Finally, once the dogs show that they are ready, they go out to work their respective posts. 


“I got Kai at seven weeks,” says McMahon, “and I started training him immediately. By the time he was two, he had two years of solid training. That’s perfect, because we prevent any negative traits from coming about. Working with puppies is optimal, but it’s not always possible.”


McMahon identifies the most challenging component of his job as the training itself, which he admits is intense. The most common misconception of his world is that the officers are “hanging out” with their dogs. He assures us that this is not the case.


“As that dog’s trainer you are absolutely committed to him 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And the skills are perishable. It’s a non-stop effort to keep the dogs sharp, especially when they have to respond to dangerous calls such as violent offenders or explosives.”


He also says that the best part of being a K-9 trainer is the variety of things he sees on the job on any given day. 


“The type of calls you respond to really varies,” he says. “I’ve worked Superbowl’s, PGA Tours, as well as interesting calls within the county itself. It’s a very interesting job, very involved within the community. And everyone loves the K-9s.”


For more information on the Morris County Sheriff’s Office K9 unit, please visit the office’s website at

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