Officer Baumgart and I continue to progress in our training with K9 Allied and K9 Carl. As I've mentioned, the training continues to build for both the handlers and the dogs. Much progress was made this week and there is much more to learn!
I'm not sure exactly what the weather has been like at home, but I can assure you, this area of Pennsylvania and Ohio where we are working and staying has certainly made me feel right at home (yes, multiple days of snow, cold weather, and huge temperature swings-sometimes within the hour).
This past week, on Monday, we started our training at the fairgrounds. We worked on tracking during the morning. The dogs are now working on increasing the distance of the tracks and working into the tracks. This means instead of starting at the beginning and going forward (following the track as laid), the dogs are started perpendicular to the track and worked toward the track. They get to the track and have to pick a direction. Again, this is channeling their genetics (drives) to hunt and find food. In the wild, they would come across a track. If they track the freshest direction, they are rewarded, potentially, with a meal. If they track the other direction, older part of the track, they don't eat. As the week progressed, the tracks are getting longer in length and are beginning to be "aged". Instead of a fresh track, the dogs are now tracking 20-30 minute old tracks.
We also did scent detection at the fairgrounds. It was windy and cold, but we searched large sections of bleachers, a challenge for the dog and handler (figure out a pattern that works for both). You work downwind and work into the wind on your search pattern. The scent you're looking for produces a scent cone, that's influenced by the environment, but eventually the dog will reach that scent cone and work right to the source (narcotic or explosive). It's amazing to watch.
Tuesday and Wednesday we did "certifications." This involved all of the disciplines we've been working on, but were done as testing. Most of the searches we do are all unknown to us. The teams are put through a series of tests by an independent certifying agency. In this case, this was a mock test by the trainers of Shallow Creek Kennels. However, before we leave there will be an independent certifier to test the dogs on all aspects of their training. All of our dog teams in Madison are certified annually by the North American Police Working Dog Association (NAPWDA). The certifications were done at a large high school, where the dogs sniffed lockers for the first time, and at the auto salvage yard. Carl and I did our first long line search (on a 15 foot leash), where he was out in front of me sniffing a row of cars. We worked on the downwind side of the cars. There were 12 cars for him to sniff and he quickly found the two that had explosives in them.
Thursday we were at a large mansion working on searches, obedience, and other environmental factors. For example, the dogs have likely not been exposed to large, open, metal stairwells. There is a two story stairwell like this attached to the building. We took our dogs up and down this several times until they were comfortable. The same holds true for dark, narrow stairwells. We've done that several times with the dogs. These are environment factors they will experience as they are doing patrol work. Officer Baumgart and K9 Allied also starting doing building searches. The dogs have the ability to locate a suspect inside a building, whether or not they are exposed. If the suspect is hiding behind a door, for example, the dog will sniff the door and bark, letting officers know that the suspect is there.
Friday, we did tracking during the morning hours. Over the lunch break, we were visited by a K9 officer from a nearby agency who had recently lost his K9 partner to gunfire--the dog was killed by a burglary suspect while they were clearing a business that had been broken into. He talked about the details of the call, everything from the tactics he used, things he would do differently to treating his partner after he'd been shot. The presentation was emotional and humbling. A reminder of how these amazing animals help keep us all safe with their selfless service. The officer or officers would have likely been shot by the suspect, but the dog located him first (this was a "routine" burglary call-no idea the suspect was armed with a gun). Also, a reminder for us that there are no "routine" calls. The afternoon consisted of more building searching for Officer Baumgart and Allied. Carl and I learned how to search luggage and packages. It was another busy week of working and learning. Three weeks are in the book. We'll keep you posted on our progress. Thanks for reading and supporting our unit! Sergeant Jeff Felt