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K9 officers win big in competition

Two police dogs in Jamestown and their handlers were recently recognized for their performance annual K9 certification last month at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minn.

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John M. Steiner / The Sun Jamestown Police Officer John Griffin and his K9 partner Blaze do a tracking exercise Wednesday afternoon in Jamestown. Blaze located a tennis ball in about half a minute.
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Two police dogs in Jamestown and their handlers were recently recognized for their performance annual K9 certification last month at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minn.

Both law-enforcement officials and their dogs were the top out of 26 teams.

Jamestown Police Department Officer John Griffin and his black Labrador retriever Blaze took first place for tracking and North Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Tom Herzig and his yellow Labrador retriever Bailey took home the first place trophy for narcotics searches.

"Labs are just a great dog for the chore, they are smart and have a great drive," Herzig said.

The initial training of the dogs is done by Midwest Canine Alternatives, it also provides the dogs, he said.

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The dogs are exposed to narcotics and learn to recognize the scent, Herzig said.

Narcotics will be placed in two out of three vehicles during training and the dog will locate the scent, he said.

"One thing we have that the next officer doesn't is a four-legged nose," Griffin said.

Using a sense of smell that is 10,000 times stronger than a human's, the dogs are able locate most anything, Griffin and Herzig said. The dogs are trained to search for a scent that it thinks is a hidden toy, he said.

But not just any dog can be a police dog, Herzig said. It requires an extreme drive that the trainer's must find and tame.

Maybe five out of 100 dogs can be quality police dogs, Griffin said. It will take anywhere from 2 to 6 months to properly train the dog and may require three different trainers, he said.

Buying and training a police dog is costs anywhere from $6,000 to more than $10,000 depending on the breed and the tasks it is trained to do, Griffin said.

The Jamestown Police Department received Blaze because of donations from the community of Jamestown, he said.

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Dave Donegan, chief of the Jamestown Police, said the department is "extremely appreciative" of the community's donations.

Once the dog is ready, the handler must be trained to properly use and care for the dog, Herzig said.

There are two types of attitudes with the dogs, passive and active, he said. His dog Bailey will scratch, jump, dig and crawl to find the exact location of the contraband, hidden in a vehicle, he said.

Griffin's dog Blaze, however, is passive and will not scratch or bite at the location of contraband.

After the dogs do their job, there are three different ways to positively reinforce their behavior, Herzig said: food, toys and the cheapest and most effective reward, praise.

He said the dogs want to be petted and played with. They make good family dogs and live with their handlers.

The law enforcement officials also train their dogs on a weekly and monthly basis.

Keeping them up to date with any narcotic trends that may be in the area, Griffin said.

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The dogs can recognize marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, oxycodeine and other drugs, both law-enforcement officials said. But that's not all they do.

Earlier this month Herzig and Bailey helped locate an Alzheimer's patient who wandered away from her home in Valley City, he said.

Both law-enforcement officials said they use their dogs a few times a week on anything from routine traffic stops to school searches.

When Herzig is talking to a driver he looks at everything from the driver's expressions to items on the floor of the car, he said. If he feels he needs to use Bailey he will lead her around the car and usually within 30 seconds the dog will locate any narcotics, Herzig said.

North Dakota has the majority of its illegal drugs transported through the state by vehicle, said Col. Mark Nelson, commander of the NDHP.

"Having those dogs along the corridors where drugs are being transported is a huge asset for the state," he said.

Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by e-mail at brodgers@jamestownsun.com

Related Topics: POLICE
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