K-9 units train in Craig
Training for K-9 units this week in Craig drew law enforcement agencies from across the region, including local ones.
The training was provided by the High Desert K9 Association, a nonprofit organization focused on offering training to smaller agencies in more remote areas that may have less access to training.
Geraldine Earthman, a former police officer in Grand Junction, now travels around Colorado and Wyoming to provide training for K-9 teams. Each team is required to complete a minimum of 16 hours of training per month, as well as complete a certification course once per year.
According to Earthman, keeping K-9 teams current on training is important to maintain standards of practices, as well as for legal reasons. If a dog discovers drugs during a search, the dog’s certification has to be up to date in order for that search to hold up in court.
The Craig Police Department and Moffat County Sheriff’s Office both had K-9 teams participating in the training, along with teams from the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and Rangely Police Department.
Sgt. Nate Baker of the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office started working with his K-9 partner, Odin, in 2019 and Corporal Grant Laehr from the Craig Police Department started working with his K-9, Bane, in 2020.
Laerh said the goal is to get more dogs on board in the future, and it’s something logical law enforcement is working toward. Dogs can assist with both drug detection and apprehension, which includes muzzle training and bite training.
“If it’s a situation when we are trying to control someone and they aren’t compliant, we can use the dogs to help get the person under control,” Laerh said.
Of course, there are a lot of nuances to when and how a dog would be deployed in any given situation, Laerh explained.
Both local K-9s are trained and certified in narcotics, so the dogs can be deployed for drug detection. Odin is also trained and certified for apprehension, and Bane is starting to be muzzle trained.
Laerh said muzzle training is getting to be more of the standard because it doesn’t intend harm and brings down the level of force needed to gain compliance.
The K-9 training this week utilized various spaces at the Colorado Northwestern Community College campus and Craig Middle School to expose the dogs to a variety of different environments. So the handlers don’t tire their dogs out, they ran through the exercises one dog at a time and for only a short period of time.
For narcotics training, the handlers ran their dog through the rooms, directing them where to smell as they swept for hidden drugs. When the dogs signaled to their handlers that they had located the drugs, they were rewarded with a toy that’s used especially for narcotics training.
Handlers use the specific toy to signal to the dog when they are supposed to be sniffing for drugs, where a different toy will be used for obedience training.
Every dog has a different demeanor, but they all get amped up when the teams are running through apprehension training — and that’s kind of the point. Handlers need to be able to get the dog’s energy level, or drive, right where they need it for the situation.
During the muzzle training, Earthman directed her K-9, Umi, to “punch” the decoy, which was another officer pretending to be the suspect. During the bite training, the decoy was dressed up in a full suit.
All of the drills are focused around the handlers being able to read the dog and direct it on how to respond to the situation even if it changes. One of the drills focuses on recall where handlers practice getting the dog to stop and return when they are chasing after a suspect.
“That’s the great thing about dogs is we can call them back if there’s a threat or the situation has changed,” Laehr said.
Once the dogs were successfully recalled, they allowed to finish pursuing the “suspect,” or another officer who was dressed up in a full bite-suit.
“You have to end on a high note with a dog,” said Laehr. “When they catch the suspect, that’s a victory for them.”
The K-9 training will continue in Craig through Thursday, and there will be some follow up sessions in Grand Junction for some of the participants.
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