Two weeks ago, Rebel was just an average Dutch Shepherd and Chewelah Police officer Matt Miller was just your average patrol cop.
Now Rebel strains at the leash and whines eagerly when it’s time to train with Miller to sniff out drugs.
“Everything we do is fun, fun, fun,” said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Training Coordinator Bob Bond. “It’s all about play.”
Rebel is being cross-trained to sniff out drugs and do patrol work like tracking bad guys and clearing homes. He will be the Chewelah Police Department’s first police dog to have a dual purpose.
“It’s just a force multiplier,” Miller said. “As with any city, we have a growing drug problem in America.”
So many people have seen the various police shows that include dogs that they know what the dogs can do.
“Just the mere presence of a dog is a de-escalator,” said Bond.
Rebel and Miller are one of five regional dog/handler teams participating in a five-week Detector Dog K-9 Handler School being offered by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. The teams train in the Sheriff’s Office Training Center in the former Mountain View Middle School in Newman Lake.
The stage inside the gym has been turned into a training center. A 4-foot-tall plywood wall with large holes drilled into it runs the length of the stage. Attached to each hole is a PVC pipe that has something in it. The dogs are trained to alert to drugs or explosives residue and ignore “distractors” like dog biscuits, hot dogs and tennis balls.
When they alert properly by sitting and staring at the “target,” they’re rewarded with playtime, using a tennis ball attached to a rope, and lots of praise. The dog can’t just love to fetch or chew on a tennis ball; he or she has to be motivated by playing tug of war with their toy, Bond said.
A good dog can cost up to $8,000, and they come untrained. They’re screened to see if they have the proper drive to do the job, but not all prospective dogs make it.
The five-week school plus other required training isn’t just about training the dogs, it’s also about training their handlers. Some, like Miller, have no previous experience while others have worked with other dogs.
“The scent work is all about reading your dog,” Bond said. “Sometimes that takes a while.”
Miller said he’s looking forward to being the only dog handler in Chewelah and the second in Stevens County. The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office has a drug dog.
“I see the importance and the need to having a dog,” Miller said. “They serve such a great purpose.”
Miller said he’s learning how Rebel reacts to different situations. “He’s getting the hang of it faster than me,” he said. “I learn something new every day, he learns something new.”
Spokane County Deputy J.P. Melton has been a dog handler since 2002, but he’s taking the class again with his new dog, an explosives-sniffing German shepherd named Chloe. Even though she’s called an explosives-sniffing dog, her primary job will be finding guns tossed out the windows of fleeing cars and searching out shell casings at crime scenes, Melton said. “They can be very difficult to locate,” he said.
He’s been very impressed with Chloe so far, even though she’s still learning. “That’s just going to be a phenomenal dog,” he said.
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