What does an Orofino, Idaho, policeman have in common with the Israeli Special Forces?
For one thing, a dog like Champ.
For another, there’s training by Hans Schlegel.
The Swiss dog-handling expert is in Post Falls this month to train Idaho police officers, who, starting this year, must be certified to work in K-9 units.
Dog and handler are certified as a team. Monday’s lesson focused on getting dogs to be obedient when they’re under stress.
Such as when they want to chew on someone.
“Hey, you! Drop the stick!” handler Charlie Greear shouted during a training exercise.
Greear, a patrol officer with the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Department, pretended to aim a gun. Champ, a German shepherd, sat in controlled agitation at his side.
Across the Ponderosa Elementary playground stood Lori Sperry, a trainee from Boise. She wore heavy padding that fit like chest waders.
Behind her, Schlegel held his stick like a knife and, laughing at the theatrics, said, “I’ll stab her!”
The exercise had begun with Champ chomping on Schlegel’s padded arm.
But after that, he backed off every time at Greear’s command.
“The dog has to make that switch from drive to obedience,” said Schlegel, who describes the relationship between dog and handler as a partnership.
Schlegel has been improving those relationships for decades, first as a trainer in the Swiss military. In 1984, he founded a school to train law-enforcement and hunting dogs. He offered his first classes in the United States in 1986, starting with the Oakland, Calif., Police Department.
His International Police K-9 school now has an office in Reno, Nev.
Organizers of the Post Falls seminar consider Schlegel one of the best trainers in the world. He was chosen from among 400 applicants for the job of training Israeli anti-terrorist teams.
Schlegel will teach at four, three-day seminars in Post Falls. The events are sponsored by the POST Academy in Boise, which trains Idaho law officers, and the 50-member Idaho Police Canine Association.
Being a dog handler takes dedication. Schlegel noted that the officers must work with the dogs every day, often on their own time.
Still, it’s a popular job, said canine association president Dale Rogers.
Besides the pleasure of working with the dogs, K-9 officers get in on burglaries, pursuits, drug searches - “anything that a good police officer would want to be in on,” said Rogers, a Boise police officer.
There are all kinds of police dogs, from the Rottweiler to the malinois, a short-haired shepherd.
They don’t come cheap. To buy one and pay for training costs about $10,000, said Rogers. But they’re definitely useful. They sniff for drugs and arsonists, track terrorists, even chase down runaway teenagers.
They’re dependable and fast.
“I can go in and search a building in 15 minutes, which would probably take an hour with four cops,” Rogers said.
Dogs make police work safer, too, he said. They can precede an officer into a dangerous place. They can calm an unruly suspect.
“People have a lot of respect for the animals, and they don’t always have it for policemen,” Rogers said. “If you’re going to fight a dog, you’re probably going to get bit.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo