Douglas County K-9 unit welcomes two new dogs
When the public comes into contact with a police canine, most of the time, the dog is already fully trained and has the necessary skills for their line of work. However, not many people know what it takes to turn a puppy into a full-fledged police dog.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office spent the last five weeks training two new dogs to join the unit.
K9s Beny and Bane and their handlers Deputies Adam Windsor and Luke O’Sullivan trained five days a week, eight hours a day for the five weeks to see if they had what it took to make the unit.
Each dog had to master obedience, trained bites, building and field searches for both suspects and drugs, and vehicle searches.
“It is new for (the handlers) so it’s fun for them,” said Sgt. David Stanley.
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The two German shepherds hail from overseas and cost about $7,500 each because they come to the unit as “green dogs,” meaning they are untrained. When Douglas gets them, all they know is how to be a dog. However, they lack bite control, obedience or other necessary skills needed in a police canine.
“We can have any dog bite,” said K9 trainer Brian Howard. “It’s about having the control to call the dog off of the bite.”
Though they are untrained, the unit can evaluate the dog still to determine if it’s likely to succeed.
“The potential to bite and the drive of the dog is how we determine the dog,” Stanley said. “We want to see if the dog has the determination and wants to make that bite.”
The unit brought in Howard to help them train the new dogs, so that the agency could have an outside opinion on the dog’s skills and reduce the cost to the department by taking out a sergeant to train them.
“His knowledge is exceptional and we want that outside entity to look and see what we are doing because it doesn’t impact him if the dog is good or messed up,” said Stanley. “And it is much more cost effective than taking a sergeant off duty for five weeks.”
Before the K9 training even begins, the dogs and their handlers spend about a month bonding with each other to make sure their personalities fit and the two are a good match for each other.
“You can find the right dog to do this, but you also need the right handler because it’s a lifestyle, it isn’t like a car where you just park in on the off hours so it takes dedication from the handler,” Stanley said. “…We want to see if their personalities conflict, if the dog fits in with the family and when you are teaching the dog they will have to be corrected so the handler has to have that tight bond.”
That bond is crucial to the success of the two-man team because the dog and handler will spend 24/7 together.
“Considering he wouldn’t come to me the first week, I think Beny actually loves me now and enjoys my company,” Windsor said.
Before even starting, the bonding was difficult at first.
“(Bane) had lived overseas in a kennel so he had never been in a house before and in the first 15 minutes of brining him home, he stole my cell phone and I had to convince him to give it back with a treat,” O’Sullivan said. “Then he was dragging my PS4 console around and the first time I turned on the television he freaked out, so it was like he had to learn the world in addition to the training. But now there has been a huge improvement.”
But for the new handlers, joining this unit was something they wanted for a while.
“I have always had a love for dogs and watching the guys that came before me, it seemed like fun and a good thing to do,” Windsor said.
Before the handlers can even be considered to take a dog, they have to earn their keep as decoys for the existing K9 officers—having to get in the bite suit, run and hide from the dogs all to better understand the role these officers play.
“I had wanted to be in K9 since I was 7 years old and saw a demonstration,” O’Sullivan said. “I was a decoy for four years because with Douglas you have to wear the suit before you can be considered with the position.”
Then the training starts.
To teach the dogs, Howard said repetition is key. Often during drills, Howard would make the dogs “daisy chain” for searches meaning the decoy constantly hid and re-hid for the same dog so the dog would stay focused.
“It is over and over and over again and then their brains click,” Howard said. “They learn on the toy first then when they learn that they know the command when they bite the decoy.”
And the difference between the first few weeks to the last was night and day. Both dogs started out with difficulty in control and obedience– getting distracted and not listening to their handlers well—to being able to control bite and seek out drugs and suspects with greater ease.
“It is impressive to see, they came to us with nothing but to be able to bite (without control) and now they are quickly picking up on obedience and dope,” Windsor said. “…The hard work is paying off.”
“Seeing the progress is my favorite because they dog can have you at a high one day and a low the next so to see them progress is the best part,” added O’Sullivan. “It is gratifying work to see the dog develop.”
But the hard work wasn’t without difficulties.
One big challenge the handlers faced was the above-90 degree heat that enveloped the region during the school, many of the dogs were getting sick or not able to perform their best because of it, so training had to be delayed or halted at times to not overexert the dogs.
Another challenge was having to work with the puppies.
“The timeline is most difficult because Bane is a young dog so when I teach him and fix one problem it usually creates a separate problem,” O’Sullivan said. “For example, at one point he was having trouble with dope and wasn’t motivated to find it, and then I gave him a different toy and now he won’t give that back. So it just creates on problem to fix another.”
Throughout the five weeks, O’Sullivan and Windsor saw many ups and downs with the dogs’ skills.
“It has been fun, but trying at times because the dog can be difficult,” Windsor added. “It is hard with Beny not performing, where you know he can do better because he has done it before… the dog can seem on top (with a skill) then the next day seems like the first time they did the drill, but overall I have completely enjoyed it.”
At the end of the five weeks, the two dogs had to pass their certifications to join the team, to demonstrate that they could proficiently execute the necessary skills to be a K9 officer. A K9 officer from another agency tested the dogs to make sure they were meeting the industry standards for the unit. Though both handlers were nervous going into it, they passed with flying colors.
Windsor and Beny will go onto patrol to join the other four K9 units on the streets, and O’Sullivan and Bane will go into the jail to help search for narcotics within.
“This is extremely beneficial for us because you wouldn’t think a drug dog would be goo din the jail, but we actually get a lot of dope inside so it is good to have that immediacy (of resources),” Stanley said. “Plus inmates will fight 10 officers but they almost never want to fight with the dog.”
And the unit is eager to welcome their two new dogs and their handlers.
“They have done an excellent job,” Stanley said. “It is neat to see them where they don’t know anything to certifying.”