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How to Train a K9's Nose

How to Train a K9's Nose

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Seattle Post Intelligencer via YellowBrix

May 23, 2010

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Klickitat County Sheriff’s Deputy Ed Gunnyon said his police dog, a 3 1/2-year-old black lab named Jet, never ceases to bring energy and enthusiasm to rooting out hidden drugs with his nose.

But even the most eager of drug-sniffing dogs and their handlers can use ongoing training, which is why Gunnyon, Jet and dozens of others came to Bellingham this week for the Pacific Northwest Police Detection Dog Association’s 12th annual conference.

Gunnyon and Jet participated in field exercises at six sites around the city; each was designed to get the dog accustomed to sniffing out hidden drugs in a different environment.

Gunnyon also had the chance to partake in classroom exercises and share information and experiences with fellow handlers.

“I think it’s a great teaching tool,” Gunnyon said. “You get to hear some war stories. (Jet) just likes to sniff. As soon as I get him out of the car I’ve got to get two hands on him because he’s raring to go. He’s a high-energy dog.”

The conference attracted members of a multitude of law enforcement agencies from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. This is the second time Bellingham has hosted the conference, association Sgt. At Arms Brian O’Dell said.

The exercises were designed to give the dogs and their handlers training in searching fields, warehouses, cars, commercial vehicles and a marine vessel for hidden or buried drugs, said O’Dell, who helped instruct at the warehouse site.

“We try to create as real as possible search situations for the dogs,” O’Dell said. “We’re just trying to simulate what we encounter in real situations.”

The dogs and their handlers are fully trained and currently work in the field for their respective agencies, so the conference is considered continuing education, O’Dell said.

The dogs are most commonly trained by having trainers place drugs inside toys and then play fetch with them, O’Dell said. The dogs associate with the smell, which allows them to trace the drugs’ odors to their hidden sources.

“The common misconception is that we get our dogs hooked on drugs,” O’Dell said. “That’s not true. They don’t think they’re looking for drugs. They think they’re looking for toys, which smell like drugs.”

A well-trained dog can save officers an abundance of time in searching homes or vehicles.

“You can search a room with a dog in a minute that will take you 20 minutes to search by hand,” O’Dell said. “It’s just a tool that saves a lot of time and energy.”

For Gunnyon, who’s worked with Jet for two years, the conference helped Jet get experience in different environments. He cited the marine vessel at the old Georgia-Pacific plant as an example of an environment neither he nor Jet had worked in.

“It was an extremely interesting to get on a vessel and see that first-hand,” Gunnyon said. “You just get to bounce ideas off of each other. It’s going to enhance your experience and expertise in the field.”

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