Ever since Officer Robert Schwarting and his K9 partner Bowie joined forces in January 2017, the pair has become a dynamic, crime-fighting duo for the Bensalem Township Police Department. Criminals have been caught, drugs have been found, and lost children have been reunited with their families thanks to their combined efforts.
Now, Schwarting and Bowie are taking their relationship to the next level as they compete against K9 teams from across the country on the all-new A&E series America’s Top Dog, set to premiere on Wednesday, Jan. 8, at 9 p.m.
After earning numerous awards in local and regional competitions, the two were selected by producers earlier this year to represent the east coast in this prestigious nationwide competition. Schwarting and Bowie were among 1,200 teams to send in a video “resume” for consideration and, following several rounds of eliminations, advanced to the final 50 to appear on television.
In June, with Bowie by his side, Schwarting found himself on a plane to Los Angeles, California, anxious yet ready for the week-long filming of America’s Top Dog.
“It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. As the show explains in the preview, it’s almost like American Ninja Warrior, but for dogs, which you don’t get to do every day. It was really cool because I got to meet handlers from all over the country to see how they do things, just a great networking experience,” Schwarting told The Times. “And also taking a dog on a plane and going to L.A., flying with a police dog on the seat next to you is something I’ll probably never do again.”
Though Schwarting is contractually obligated to not spill the results of the competition, he was able to explain the basics of the show.
Police and civilian dogs compete nose-to-nose on an ultimate K9 obstacle course where dogs and handlers get tested on their speed, agility and teamwork. Each week’s winning team receives $10,000 and an additional $5,000 to donate to the animal charity of their choice. In the final week of competition, top competitors will return to the finale course to battle for the title of “America’s Top Dog” and an additional $25,000 cash prize.
The series was created by the same producers of Live PD, which offers viewers unfiltered live access to several of the country’s busiest police forces.
“Everybody out there was affiliated with Live PD and explained to us that every time the Live PD had a dog on, their ratings exploded,” Schwarting said. “So, they thought it would be great to do a spinoff for just the K9s.”
If Schwarting’s ever-growing bond with Bowie is any indication of how they did while in L.A., it’s quite possible viewers are in for a treat. In the field, Bowie is a crime-solving machine.
“We’ve been lucky to have a lot of success. He’s found a lot of bad guys. He’s a very good narcotics dog. We found a ton of drugs and money. He’s found some missing people. He found an 8-year-old autistic boy who ran away from home last year, hiding in a Dumpster,” Schwarting praised.
Even after a long day’s work, the two remain inseparable.
“He’s with me every day I’m working. He also comes home with me. He’s part of my family. From week two of picking him out, he’s been coming home with me every day,” Schwarting said. “I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, and he’s awesome with them. He’s great with my wife.”
Bowie, age 4, is one of seven furry officers in Bensalem’s K9 unit. Schwarting thanked his fellow handlers for helping prepare them both for the competition.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into until literally a day before we got on a plane. The preview was all we saw. We had an idea, but not much more than that,” he said. “Knowing that we were going to put him [Bowie] in weird environments, they were able to get me ready for that. I’m a new handler, I’ve only had a dog two years. Those guys are a wealth of knowledge, so without them, I’d be lost.”
Schwarting also expressed gratitude toward director of public safety Fred Harran, who showed nothing but support for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I don’t think a lot of directors or chiefs of police would allow their K9 handler to go out to L.A. and compete and miss a week of work,” Schwarting said. ••
Visit aetv.com/shows/americas-top-dog?newexp=true for more information about America’s Top Dog.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com