REEDSVILLE, OH (WOWK) — Many police agencies use K9 officers to help them with everything from finding drugs to tracking suspects.
But before dogs are ready for the job they and their handlers go through extensive training.
Steve Heater is the owner and trainer at Pine Grove Kennels. He started training dogs when he was just 12 years old and he’s since made a career out of training dogs for law enforcement agencies in Ohio, West Virginia and beyond.
Hak is a K9 officer for the Jackson County, West Virginia Sheriff’s Department. Before getting matched with his partner Deputy Brandon Thompson, Hak was trained at Pine Grove Kennels in Reedsville, OH.
“He goes through what they call pre-training for about three weeks and then that is when people like me, the handler come on and get partnered up with the dog and go through a six-week training program,” Deputy Thompson explained.
Heater brings dogs and their handlers back twice a month for what he calls maintenance training. While at his facility dogs practice everything from drug detection to tracking a suspect. They complete several exercises that simulate things they might encounter on the job. The dogs learn to tune in to every command.
“Your dog is only as good as you make it,” said Sgt. Laura McGlone with the Clarksburg Police Department. “Training can make or break a dog. You have to be very active. The dogs are smarter than you may ever try to give them credit for.”
McGlone and her dog Ion participated in an exercise that helps dogs learn the scent of certain drugs. There is a whiteboard with multiple holes and drugs on the other side. “You let the dog go through and sniff the holes and when it finds the correct hole where the drugs are hidden it indicates. Some of the dogs are passive indicators and they’ll sit or lay. My dog, actually, he is an aggressive indicator.”
Scott Miller is the Chief of Police in Coolville, OH. He said his dog Ax helps do far more than track down bad guys. He visits elementary schools to help build relationships with kids in the community. Chief miller even hands out Ax trading cards.
“We do a lot of drug trafficking. We have an interstate that comes through which is fun. He’s really good at finding the drugs for me and indicating on them,” Miller said. “We get to teach dog safety with him and it is a big PR thing for our department. It used to be when I came in ‘Chief Miller is here, Chief Miller is here’ now it is Ax. I haven’t heard my name since we got the dog. It is great.”
The dogs are trained to be versatile. They know the difference between tracking down a suspect and finding someone who is lost.
“These guys help with tracking and locating people not just criminals. They find elderly people, juveniles who have gone missing,” Deputy Thompson said.
Sometimes they can even help to diffuse a tense situation just by being a dog.
“We’ve even had issues where people were having almost a mental breakdown when they are really stressed out and almost getting combative,” Miller explained. “I say ‘hey you want to pet my dog’ and he goes up there. They pet the dog. It is almost therapeutic to them. It is a great tool.”
The kennel helping dogs get the training they need to help keep officers like Chief Miller safe and serving their community in more ways than one.