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K9 team requires great dogs, training

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Posted: Sunday, September 28, 2008 10:00 pm

I have had the distinct honor of working with the Lodi Police Canine Unit for 17 years. My duties include selecting, purchasing and training our police dogs as well as supervising the unit.

I started my canine career in 1991 by volunteering as an "Agitator," which is a glorified title for the person who gets bit (sometimes for real). I eventually became a canine handler and worked with my buddy, "Razor," for four years. I really loved working with Razor and feel fortunate to be able to continue with the K9 unit since his retirement.

Throughout my career, I have been contacted countless times by citizens who have had "the perfect dog" for our department because "it bites everybody." This is exactly the kind of dog we are NOT looking for. We select dogs based on their temperament, confidence and drive.

Under normal circumstances, our dogs must be social and safe for everyone to be around. They must be confident enough to work away from their handler, and they should have high prey drive. Prey drive is what a dog uses when it is hunting - like when it chases a cat or a rabbit. Our dogs are not supposed to bite everyone. They only bite when instructed to do so by their handler. They are similar to a light switch - when the switch is off they are nice family dogs, but when the switch is turned on they will bite if necessary.

A canine is the only tool we have at our disposal that can be recalled if a situation suddenly changes. We can not recall a bullet once it has been fired, or stop a baton strike mid-swing. Our dogs are trained to "call off" their pursuit if a suspect decides to surrender.

Canines are expensive, and prices range from $4,500 up to $10,000, depending on the breed and the training they possess. Breeds we typically use are German shepherds, Belgian malinois and Dutch shepherds. We predominately buy "green" dogs, which are dogs with minimal training. This allows us the opportunity to evaluate the dog, save money and provide specific training to meet our needs. All of the dogs working for Lodi PD are trained by us.

Training a police dog takes time. There is no specific time table because some dogs have more training when we get them and some just learn faster than others. It usually takes somewhere between 4-6 months to train our dogs and get them certified. (All of our dogs must pass a rigorous certification process twice a year to remain on patrol.) There are five areas of training in which we concentrate: obedience, agility, searching, protection and control. Canines and their handlers attend weekly training to remain proficient in these areas.

Our canine unit is comprised of the following teams:

• Eric Shaw's and "Dodger," a 5-year-old German shepherd. Eric and Dodger are part of the SWAT team and have been working as a team since June 2005.

• Carlos Fuentes' and "Bogey," a 5-year-old Belgian malinios. They have been working together since August 2005.

• Kevin Kent and a 3-year-old Belgian malinios named "Bronx." They have been working together since June 2007.

• Josh Redding's and "Sledge," an 18-month-old German shepherd, have been working together since May 2008.

For more information on the K9 trial, e-mail me at cjacobson@pd.lodi.gov.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be emailed to jbiskup@pd.lodi.gov or mailed to Jeanie Biskup, Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm Street, Lodi, CA 95240, phone 333-6864.

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