How are police K9 dogs trained so effectively and quickly?

Local 4 Defenders go behind scenes with Oakland County police

By Karen Drew - Reporter/Anchor , Derick Hutchinson

OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. - Police agencies often use K9 units to search for bank robbers, track down missing people and detect drugs and explosives. But how do officials get the dogs to accomplish so much so quickly?

Local 4 Defender Karen Drew went behind the scenes with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office during a training day with the dogs.

All 13 handlers and 16 dogs worked together on training day for the K9s.

"Obedience is the root of everything we do in K9 training," Bob Loken said.

The K9s fight crime, chase down criminals and protect families.

"They're partners," Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said. "They're soulmates to (police officers)."

The officer-dog relationship is something special.

"Every day is a training day," Loken said. "Everything you do is something for the dog, your work and at home, and you're constantly fine-tuning."

The training day at Waterford Oaks Park included practice scenarios, evidence searching and group obedience.

"It's getting them used to being comfortable around other dogs, even though they're close," Loken said. "You're supposed to be learning a down-stay. That's what you're told to do. So that's what we expect you to do no matter what distractions of other dogs."

Deputy Christopher Topacio and his dog, Mordus, worked on evidence searching.

"What they do is they look for recent human odor on the object," Topacio said.

Many times, it's the K9s finding guns thrown away by criminals. It's Mordus' job to make those discoveries.

"If it's in an urban area or there's tall grass, our dogs are able to find it a lot quicker with just their nose than 10 or 15 officers," Topacio said.

It doesn't take Mordus long to find the object.

"Some dogs will retrieve it and bring it back to you," Topacio said. "My dog, he downs and then he barks."

The next training scenario included mock explosives placed inside a playground area. K9 Bolt was sent in to find them.

"We're training with the odors of the explosive components to it," Deputy Craig Pesko said. "They have to know approximately 20-some odors."

Bolt is one of the dogs that has recently searched schools where bomb threats have been made.

"A dog goes in and he can smell components of an explosive device and gives a much higher level of confidence the school's safe," Bouchard said. "Parents relax, teachers relax. Kids are safe. Go about your day."

Deputies yell that they are going to release their dog and that criminals could be bitten before they send their dog in after a cornered person they've been chasing. In the practice scenario, Blitz had to find the bad guy who was hiding in the woods.

"Once they get the scent, they're on them," Loken said.

It doesn't take long. The more the criminal fights back, the more Blitz thinks he is playing, so he increases the bites and the grip. So whether a criminal is hiding or jumping from a car to run, the K9s practice every scenario.

"We teach them to go after somebody," master trainer Mike Richardson said. "To protect ourselves, to protect them and also to protect other people. Afterward, most of the time, they say, 'Oh, I thought I could get away from the dog,' and it doesn't happen."

The K9s are a real part of the Sheriff's Office. They are sworn in, get a badge and have their inked paw print on their oath of office.

If you want to see pictures and bios for the dogs, click here.

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