The final seconds before Andre Belaski, of the Lodi Police Department, released his K9 onto the field were tense for Taz, the German shepherd. Every one of the dog’s wiry muscles were ready to explode at the chance to search cars for potential suspects. Belaski shouted a warning, letting the suspect know a K9 was on the way, ready to bite. Then Taz barked once, and bolted to work.
This was the scene at the 26th Annual Lodi Police Department K-9 Trials held at Tony Zupo field this weekend. Fifteen competitors from 11 law enforcement agencies tested the mettle and focus of their fluffy, fierce partners. The were judged by a team of experts from the Western States Police Canine Association.
The trials are a voluntary competition that began as a training day for K9 officers. As it happens with those in uniform, the training days quickly evolved into a competition.
The first police K9 trials began in 1986, and were held in Lodi the next year.
Canines are tested in five categories. The first tests took place on Friday afternoon. Dogs search buildings and cars for street narcotics. Neither the dog nor the handler has any idea where they might be hidden. The competition took three and a half hours.
On Saturday, dogs and their handlers ran through a search challenge, agility trial, obedience course and a protection round.
Dogs learn only through repetitive training, explained Ron Cloward, association president. If they have never before encountered a woman screaming during training, it will throw them off if they encounter that in the field. Training has to show them a range of these different pictures.
“To the dogs, this is all fun. They’re not smart creatures. You have to give them the same picture over and over before they get it,” said Cloward.
Competitors appeared in various casual versions of their department’s uniform. The dogs respond to sharp commands, often uttered in German or Dutch.
In the search trial, four cars and a pickup truck ringed the outfield, their windows blocked with fabric. Dogs were sent out one by one to sniff out which car had a suspect hiding within.
Rich Hartman, from the Chico Police Department, stepped out with Luna, his K9.
“This dog will bite you. Make yourself known,” he shouted to the cars. Luna waited, her legs trembling, for the chance to bolt. She let out two sharp barks and began her work. She circled each car in turn and raised her front paws on the pickup. But she didn’t find anyone, and left the field with Hartman.
The last of the round, Roger Kinney, released his K9 Zar. In seconds, the dog rushed to the red sedan and barked once.
Kinney raised one arm to the judges, pointed the other at Zar, and shouted, “Alert.”
Zar wagged his furry tail on the way back in, knowing he had done his job right.
Josh Redding, of the Lodi Police Department, was among the first of the group to run through the obedience course. Redding took the K9 Sledge off his leash. They walked briskly forward, following turn instructions from Sgt. Mike Oden on the judging side. The trickiest moment was instructing Sledge to lay on the grass while Redding walked about a dozen yards away. He turned, faced the dog and commanded him to sit up, walk toward Redding, lay down once more, then return to the handler’s side. Sledge pulled it off with no problems.
The tense scene was punctuated by the barks of K9s waiting their turn to compete or lying in crates when their work was over.
A crowd favorite was definitely the protection phase, held on the baseball diamond. Men in bite-safe suits were stationed beyond second base, on top of one dugout, within another and at the backstop.
Ryan LaRue, of Lodi Police, led K9 Kael out to home plate. First a man hiding at the entrance to the dugout brandished a shiny fake gun. Kael bolted to him and attacked on LaRue’s command. Next the man at the backstop feinted at LaRue with a toy sword, and Kael moved to this new target, clenching onto the man’s arm with his strong jaws. LaRue then walked along the first baseline while Kael lay down on the grass. LaRue exchanged yells with a man on the opposite dugout, along with water balloons which doused the audience. Kael was unleashed onto this third man, and found his mark with ease. Finally, Kael was instructed to run at another man beyond second base, but was called back halfway. This illustrated the importance of the ability to fall back on command. Kael did well.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.