FTI K9, a division of the Force Training Institute located in north-central Florida, is redeﬁning personal-protection dogs by selecting European-born German shepherds – carefully chosen from a network of the ﬁnest kennels in Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Austria – from elite bloodlines and tailoring their training. They use modern, reality-based methods backed by positive reinforcement, and speciﬁcally target shepherds with high intelligence and courage. What is also important to FTI is that the dogs must demonstrate an admirable temperament and dependability. These key traits can be the perfect base for a companion that is truly the family’s best friend and eager protector.
RAUL HERNANDEZ, a former K9 sergeant with a major US law enforcement agency, is the lead trainer for FTI K9. Hernandez is certiﬁed with Delta Society Pet Partners program and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He is also an instructor in law enforcement high-liability training, including defensive tactics. With over 30 years of experience working with canines, he has a worldwide reputation as one of the top importers, breeders and trainers of quality European German shepherds.
THE 32-ACRE FACILITY runs these dogs through all sorts of scenario training that mimics real life events. They are put through rigorous exercises that include agility, family protection, law enforcement and military applications, sport and obedience. They also use bustling Florida cities like Ocala, Gainesville and Orlando, which are often ﬁlled with tourists and high-energy activity, to acclimate them even further. Hernandez says that the physical aspect of a working dog is very important, but equally important, if not more so, is that their dogs must be loyal and trustworthy to the core for the families they will join and protect.
Hernandez says that positive reinforcement is key during training, and they ensure all of the dogs have fun and enjoy working with their handlers. They praise the dogs with food or a ball, depending on the dog’s motivational preference, and ensure they’re well socialized with people and taught manners so that they can seamlessly work in homes, oﬃces, warehouses – even yachts.
Whether you are taking on a birthday party with a dozen and a half 6-year-olds or securing the perimeter of a nuclear power plant, the trainers and K9s at FTI have a lot to share. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more info on FTI K9, you can visit them at ftik9.com.
All too often, police dog K9 programs manage to operate on fragile, slim or wholly donated budgets. You could be the one who makes the difference by implementing a K9 program in your community, or providing essential equipment that helps ensure a K9’s safety!
Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog has had the honor and privilege to support some of the Bay State’s police-dog K9 programs with an incredible team of volunteers and tremendously generous donors for over 15 years. Originally, we provided ballistic K9 vests and have since expanded our mission to include K9 equipment and funding for training and purchasing of police dogs. How did we go from providing the first K9 vest to 420 now, plus over $200,000 in equipment, training and dogs? Read on.The inspiration
In 2000, an 11-year-old girl named Stephanie Taylor was featured in The American Girl magazine as the founder of the national Vest-A-Dog program. My daughter, after reading the article, was compelled to vest a dog, as well and rallied her classmates.
Moved to action
The defining moment which inspired the actual creation of Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog was the tragic death of K9 Cero, killed in the line of duty on March 25, 2000. He was the devoted partner of Deputy William R. Niemi of the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office in Jefferson, Ohio.
We met and chose a K9 team, learned what they did, what equipment they needed and why they needed it. Our enthusiastic nucleus of middle-school students grew to include volunteers of all ages who were passionate about ensuring the safety of their public-safety K9s. They sold dog and cat jewelry, asked for donations, held a coin drive, attended events such as group dog walks, pet events and expos; they even invited press coverage and networked with other humane nonprofit organizations.
We created a website, established a board of directors, implemented bylaws, became incorporated and successfully earned the 501(c)3 nonprofit status, which is recognized by the IRS allowing for tax-deductable donations. Once established, we held a multimedia campaign that included social media as well as radio and television public service announcements.
In order to sustain momentum, we participate in about 50 events a year, hold an annual fundraiser, and now that we have just celebrated our 15th anniversary with a new line of merchandise, Massachusetts Vest-A-Dog continues to extend sincere gratitude to all donors and volunteers who give year and after year.
We know our efforts are helping to make a difference; a vest saved K9 Blitz’s life during a SWAT response; cruiser kennels and heat-alarm-door popper systems have been activated; bite suits and sleeves have replaced dangerously old and over-used equipment; and departments that were faced with ending their K9 program due to lack of funds, have now purchased a K9 and have a patrol dog on duty.
Our efforts are drawn from a strong desire to protect the dogs that help protect us and our tremendous gratitude to the K9 teams who lead the way. I hope you will consider reaching out to support your local K9 team(s). ASJ
Posted in Law Enforcement Tagged with: Ballistic vests, Blitz, Boston Police Department, K9, Kathy Hinds, Kenneth Ballinger, Plymouth County Sheriff Department, Police dogs, Troy Caisey, Tuco, Vest a dog
When Odysseus returned from his 20-year absence, as told in Homer’s The Odyssey, he went unrecognized by his fellow Ithacans.
Odysseus gazed upon his faithful dog Argos, the only one in the city to recognize him. The dog
had waited faithfully for the return of his master. Old and sick, Argos laid listless, and upon seeing his master, was finally able to die in peace, having fulfilled his commitment to remain faithful.
Dogs have been part of the human experience since the beginning of time. At one time, wolves and humans even hunted in partnership – the wolf as the tracker, the human as the killer – and both shared the spoils. Domestication followed, and with that came the realization that a dog can be a loyal friend. Today, dogs are employed in various roles, including protectors and fellow officers in our law enforcement agencies.
Police use multiple breeds of dogs in their work. They choose them based on the animals’
ability to accomplish specific missions. Beagles, for example, are often used in airports as agriculture or bomb dogs; Labrador retrievers are great as bomb and cadaver dogs; bloodhounds are renowned as human trackers and German shepherds and Belgian Malinois (mal-in-nwah) are most often used as narcotics, patrol and bomb dogs.
Attributes such as high energy, aggressiveness and a willingness to do anything for a reward are essential for traits in these dogs. They all love to play, but when it comes time to apprehend a suspect or protect an officer, playtime is over. The loyalty they have for their human partners knows no limits, and many have given their lives protecting them.
Tagging along with several K9 officers from different departments around Utah, I was fortunate enough to watch Trigger and Loki in action. Trigger is a pure-bred, American Kennel Club-papered Malinois, and Loki is a German shepherd-Malinois mix. Both dogs came from the Czech Republic, where they received their initial bite training. Interestingly, all of the commands the K9 officers used were in Czech. I asked Officer Scott Nielsen, Loki’s partner, if this was done so that suspects couldn’t confuse the dog with contradictory commands. Scott said, “That’s a benefit, but we mostly do it because that is the language the dogs were originally taught, so we try to keep it consistent.”
Both Trigger and Loki are dual-purpose dogs, having been trained in narcotics and patrol. Each discipline requires hundreds of hours of initial training and hundreds of hours each year in reinforcement training. Their work does not leave room for error, and these partnerships train accordingly.
Each discipline, or area of expertise, requires unique and demanding training. Narcotics, agriculture, patrol and bomb specialties are the most common disciplines found within security or law enforcement agencies. Other disciplines include tracking, search, rescue and recovery to name a few.
A dog must be able to repeatedly find and hit on six different narcotics: marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine and psilocybin mushrooms, magic mushrooms. The dogs must be able to find these drugs anywhere they are hidden, including areas where they can’t reach, such as a high shelf or deeply buried. These dogs are also trained to differentiate and ignore prescription drugs, as well as find money that has the scent of narcotics, but ignore money that doesn’t.
When the dog performs the task correctly, they are rewarded with a bite toy. This toy means everything to them, so much so that dogs that are not “toy motivated” may not make the cut as a police dog. The toy is the reward and is only given if and when they signal correctly. If the officer conducts a search and no drugs are found, the dog does not get the toy. Even if the dog hits on the scent of drugs no longer there, no toy is given.
I asked Officer Nielsen if this was demoralizing for the dog or if it could hurt the dog’s effectiveness. “If we have a particularly bad day and Loki keeps striking out, then I’ll get out my scent-training kit and we’ll train to keep him excited and focused,” he replied.
Explosive devices have become a real threat, especially since the Boston marathon bombings a few years ago. Bomb dogs are trained to detect 24 base chemicals and over 2,400 combinations of chemicals used to make bombs. For security reasons I will not list the base chemicals, but suffice it to say that many are common items found in most homes. Agencies look for high-drive dogs to be bomb specialists, and they don’t do nearly as much obedience training as patrol dogs do. They want a dog that will be independent and aggressive about searching for items without human restrictions.
These dogs also search for firearms because gunpowder, in all of its forms, is one of the scents a bomb dog is trained to recognize. While finding bombs is their main job, they most often find firearms.
The patrol discipline includes building searches, tracking people, suspect apprehension, obedience, searching for articles, and handler protection. This is a completely separate form of training and requires its own certification and criteria.
The initial cost of getting a dog is steep. Each dog costs between $8,000 and $12,000, plus every K9-patrol vehicle must be equipped with a kennel, door poppers and a “hot-pop.” The hot-pop kit protects the dogs; once the interior of the vehicle reaches 98 degrees Fahrenheit, the lights and sirens are activated, the windows roll down and a big fan turns on.
The training for these law enforcement agencies – at least the ones I interviewed – is free through the Utah POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) program, and it is a rigorous, eight-week-long course for each discipline, with a tough final exam. Just making it through the course is not enough.
Officer Nielsen said it best: “We’re the firemen of the police department.” Everybody loves firemen and everybody loves K9s. In fact, the community donates much of the money required to operate a K9 unit.
Being a police officer is a commitment; being a K9 handler is life changer. As a K9 handler you take your partner home with you, and the dog becomes part of your family. All of the officers I met shared how much they and their families loved their dogs.
K9 officers also spend time off the clock conducting demonstrations for schools, churches and other civic groups. When used correctly, these units are a wonderful community-outreach tool. Who doesn’t love a dog? When I was a kid, police dogs were unapproachable and officers wouldn’t allow people to pet them. Times have changed. Not only can you pet a police dog now, but the officers encourage it. The dogs are socialized from a young age and are excellent with people, especially children-. All of the K9 handlers I met – Officers Brough, Nielsen, Lopez, Dutson and Arnoldsen – were kind and exemplary representatives of their respective departments, and were happy to share some great stories of when their partners made the day:
Can I check your bags for you? Officer Nielsen was doing a good deed and driving two young ladies down on their luck to the bus station. Once they arrived, the girls asked if they could see and pet the K9. Nielsen let Loki out of his kennel and the ladies petted and played with him while Nielsen unloaded the luggage. Loki was enjoying the extra attention until one of the suitcases was placed on the ground. Loki immediately sat down and starred at the case. Nielsen gave him the command to search and Loki went to the suitcase, bit it and then sat down again.
Officer Nielsen told the ladies that Loki was a narcotics dog and that he had indicated that there were drugs inside the suitcase. Sure enough, one of the girls had a pound of marijuana, along with all the necessary paraphernalia. If the girls had never asked to pet the dog, they would never have been caught. These dogs are always working, even when they appear to be playing.
Hide and seek: Bomb dog Zippy, Officer Art Lopez’s Belgian shepherd, has found firearms when patrol officers couldn’t.
“Zippy and I were called to search a car suspected in a drive-by shooting,” he recalled. “The officers had been searching the car for more than an hour, to no avail. Zippy found the gun in less than 2 minutes. It was a .38 Special revolver and had been hidden at the bottom of the car’s engine compartment. There’s no way the patrol guys would have found that gun, and without it they couldn’t have made an arrest.” Good dog!
You must have met my dog before …: “We had a series of burglaries where firearms had been stolen,” Nielsen recollected. “The suspect was a known felon, with a distinctive tattoo on his neck. A few days later I made a traffic stop and immediately recognized the passenger as the suspect we were looking for, and who also happened to have a parole warrant. The suspect kept reaching down between the seat and the door. After telling him three times to stop reaching down and to keep his hands where I could see them, I drew my gun and ordered him out of the car. He exited and immediately started fighting with me, then took off running. I warned him that I was going to release my dog, but he kept running anyway. I released Loki who, within a matter of seconds, apprehended the suspect by the ribs and then the calf. Nine months later, Loki and I ran into the same guy at a different call. This time, remembering who I was, he immediately surrendered.”
The next time you see a K9 officer and their partner, thank them for their service and ask about their dog. I promise that they will be happy to tell you all about them, and may let you and your kids pet them and take pictures. It will be an experience you’ll never forget. ASJ
Posted in Law Enforcement Tagged with: Belgian malinois, bomb dogs, German shepherds, K9, Loki, Officer Art Lopez, Officer Scott Nielsen, Officer Steven Brough, Police Dog, POST, Trigger, Troy Taysom, Zippy
Trace Sargent And Her Pack
Sargent is one of the nation’s leading K9 handlers who specializes in search, rescue and recovery missions. It’s not something most people want to think about, but there is nothing more precious than a specialized K9 team when loved ones are lost or missing.
One conversation with Sargent and you realize that she is one of those extraordinary people who found her calling, changed her life’s path accordingly and never looked back. A story in Reader’s Digest would depict her as someone who went from not knowing which end of the dog wagged to founding K9 Search and Rescue Specialists, Inc. (K9 SARS) in Georgia. Sargent has also been a program manager for Homeland Security, and has conducted search missions across the globe.
The article Sargent credits with starting it all was of a woman and her German shepherd who found a missing three-year-old boy in the woods. The short story resonated with her. “If she could do it, dog gone it, so could I!” recalls Sargent. She could clearly see that having a specialized tool, a K9 partner, to help people in need was her calling in life. The switch was flipped and a dog enthusiast and her pet were transformed into a nationally acclaimed, life-saving K9 team.
“I want to end my life’s sentence with an exclamation point, not a question mark.”
Sargent’s methods for teaching her dogs, and herself, on how to find a human being would time and again prove successful, but the scope and depth of her knowledge in public safety didn’t stop there. After her initial beginning, Sargent asked herself, “What if I actually found somebody? What am I going to do?” That’s when she became an EMT. Throughout her work, she noticed that most of the crews used specialty radios. “Everyone was using these funny radios,” Sargent notes, so she learned how to use them and became a certified HAM radio operator. As she was working with firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel, she asked, “Ya’ll get paid to have this much fun?” She then became a firefighter, police officer and certified in emergency management. She has also earned several college degrees along the way, and continues her life-long passion for learning, as evidenced by her recent certification as a forensic sketch artist, putting her naturally gifted artistic talents to work in the never-ending battle of good versus evil. Any one of these professions can define a career, but Sargent gracefully embodies them all.
Chance, Cinco and Drako are three of Sargent’s current K9 partners. All are highly trained in search, rescue and recovery, and are some of the most highly decorated dogs in the country. Cinco, a 10-year-old black German shepherd, is perhaps her most talented K9 partner. By the time he was a year old, he had received five national certifications. His predecessor Brooke, a sable German shepherd, was the first dog licensed for SAR work in Georgia, and is honored in the Georgia Animal Hall Of Fame. Together, Sargent and her dogs have found lost children, Alzheimer’s patients and tracked down violent domestic terrorists such as Eric Rudolf, who was known as the Olympic Park Bomber and was responsible for a series of bombings across the South between 1996 and 1998.
The great affection and intense professional relationship between Sargent and her K9 partners is undeniable. While at home they are very much her “kids,” when it is time to get in the truck and respond to a call the dynamic shifts. In the field the mutual respect and professionalism forged through thousands of hours spent working together appears to manifest in an almost telepathic connection. For example, watching Sargent and Chance move through the debris of crushed homes in Tuscaloosa, it is clear the dog’s tuned senses are an extension of Sargent’s instincts, and her ability to translate for her partner enables them to communicate what they find to those who simply don’t speak dog.
Like Sargent, her K9 teammates can’t be measured by first impressions. You might think that these exquisite breed specimens, with such skill and intelligence must be hand picked from very specific breeders – not the case! “They are all rejects,” says Sargent lovingly. Either a show dog with a cosmetic defect that left him unfit for the championship ring or castoffs in line to be euthanized at the local pound, Sargent’s team is made up of great minds, not pedigrees. She admits, “Not every dog is meant for the kind of work and lifestyle that a SAR dog leads, and shepherds and Labs tend to be more naturally inclined for the job.” It takes a special personality and temperament as much for the dog as for their human to do the work and thrive in a work environment filled with death and destruction.
Search and rescue is not without its perils or personal sacrifice. Logan, one of Sargent’s first dogs, was killed in the line of duty. Although that was over 10 years ago, the loss is still one she can’t bring herself to speak about, except to say, “I have learned that it is OK to be afraid. You just can’t let that fear stop you from living.” Sargent even joined the front lines and served overseas in Iraq as a bomb-dog handler, contributing her array of skills in the fight against global terrorism and keeping Americans safe. While some calls result in the joy of finding a missing hiker or child who is still alive, other calls have a grim and emotionally
On the lighter side, Sargent is a trainer who developed and instructed an award-winning training program for the state of Georgia, has coauthored an internationally published book titled How to train a human-remains detection dog and conducts seminars and workshops for groups seeking this type of specialized training. She finds balance on her farm, which she describes as her sanctuary from the craziness of her life and the world. She also volunteers with her local Humane Society and has plans to launch a new program training dogs to partner with our wounded warriors. Among all of this, she also founded STAR K9, a professional animal talent and wrangling business that trains and casts a Noah’s ark of varying animals and their handlers for the entertainment industry.
As much media and publicity as there is about Sargent and her extraordinary dogs, she is a quiet and low-key person. Her dogs remain the keystones of all the interesting things that she has done over the years, from Iraq and TV reality shows to international searches and hometown cases. “It’s incredible to think that it all started with one little puppy. I still can’t believe I’ve been everywhere that I’ve been, had the adventures I’ve had and lived to talk about it!” says Sargent. By now Sargent’s family is comfortable with her ever-evolving career, though early on they were skeptical and worried for her safety. Her life is led not by what society expects her to do or be, but by the natural progression of where her life’s passions have led her. She is often asked why she lives her life “outside the box,” and it is an easy question for her to answer.
“I want to end my life’s sentence with an exclamation point, not a question mark. I don’t want to have any regrets in my life, and if I should live to be a 100, I don’t want to look back and wonder, ‘What if?’ I’m gong to find those answers while I can, and live my life with passion and purpose,” she says.
It is the dedication and service of first responders like Sargent and her dogs that makes our country a safer and more compassionate place. ASJ
Posted in Women and guns Tagged with: Cadaver Dog, Casey Anthony, Chance, Cinco, CNN, Dave Martin, Dog Training, Dogs, EMT, Fireman, Jennifer Wilbanks, K9, Law Enforcement, Natalee Holloway, Ralph Reichert, SAR, Search and Rescue, Tatiana Whitlock, Trace Sargent, Tracy Sargent