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Doggone detectives

by Reid Williams

DILLON – Bob Summers has been waiting years to bring his dog to Colorado, but not for the same reasons most other people have. Summers, a canine handler for the Logan County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio, has been eager to take part in a police-dog training seminar.

This week, the Dillon Police Department is hosting 24 canines and police officers from around Colorado, South Dakota and Ohio. The officers come from agencies as diverse as police departments, sheriff’s offices, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The week-long class gives officers a chance to train their animals to the standards of the North American Police Work Dog Association and take certification tests.

“It’s really good training,” Summers said. “My sheriff is really great about these things, and this year he found a way to fly me out here – so we’re here.”

The officers challenged the dogs with agility courses – such as jumping chain link fence segments, or through car door windows – aggression and police protection training and drug searches of cars and Summit High School, as well as scent tracking of trails or finding evidence in open areas.

Some dogs can learn more than one task, said Canon City-based Bureau of Land Management Ranger Jack Hagan – it just depends on the dog. Hagan said officers typically spend four hours a week training their canine partner and, in spending 24 hours a day with them, develop a special bond.

“They become like a kid,” Hagan said. “When you’re with them that much, they get attached to you and you get attached to them. After the dogs retire, a lot of them just become the family pet.”

The most common breeds employed by police departments are Labradors, Malinois and German shepherds. Officers said the breeds make great law enforcement partners due to their willingness to work and drive to retrieve. Dogs trained for drug searches, for example, learn to associate their favorite toy with the scent of narcotics.

“When they’re searching, they’re actually searching for their toy,” Hagan said. “Some people use rolled up towels, some use PVC pipe – some might even use a stuffed animal. When they give an indication that there’s drugs, they get the toy as a reward.”

The canines come in handy in Summit County. The Silverthorne and Dillon police departments, as well as the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, all have fur-bearing officers. Dillon Police K-9 Officer Mike Wheat said his drug-detecting, scent-tracking partner, Sander, is called on often to help with building searches, tracking burglary or robbery suspects and assisting Colorado State Patrol troopers with drug searches on the interstate.

Wheat has learned a good deal about dog breeding, too, he said. Sander, a German shepherd, came from the Czech Republic, where Wheat said some of the best police dogs originate. The European dogs don’t have the health problems that some American breeds have, he said, and their blood lines have a long history of law enforcement work. Wheat said a pedigreed dog and the training can be expensive for a police department, but that it’s an investment that pays off in the long run.

Wheat said he’s been a life-long dog-lover, and the police work gives him a chance to combine two interests in his life.

“You end up learning just as much about dogs as you do about police work – we do a lot of reading,” Wheat said. “But it was something I’ve always been into, and it just kind of worked out for me. I think that’s true of most of us.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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