YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – K-9 officers and their handlers are in the middle of almost every drug bust. So, what goes into training a dog to have the ability to track drugs, suspects or missing children?
It all starts with a simple game of, what else? Fetch.
“The funnest thing a dog likes to do is play fetch so what we do is play fetch with them,” said K-9 Officer and Trainer Brian Woods.
Woods is a renowned Master Trainer and owner of Lynnwood Kennels in rural Fremont, Ohio. That’s where K-9 officers are groomed, trained and sent to their respective departments all across the country.
Training starts with teaching a dog to learn scents by using unique toys.
“I put the narcotic inside. There are small holes drilled into this, which allows the odor out. The ends are sealed, and we play fetch,” Woods said. “It doesn’t take the dog an ungodly amount of time to figure out ‘If I find that odor that’s inside the pipe, I get to play with Daddy.'”
Watch: WKBN Anchor Mandy Noell tries on bite suit for K-9 training
Those dogs are sniffing out drugs like heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Their hypersensitive noses can differentiate between each odor.
And yes, it’s all perfectly legal.
“The narcotics here at Lynnwood Kennels are court-ordered. They allow me to possess the narcotic for training. That makes me totally responsible for it,” Woods said.
Dogs are found overseas and trained for several weeks. Then, departments around the country buy their dogs and train a handler.
“The handler is here for an additional six weeks of training, and then at the end of the training, that team is certified. If the team isn’t certified, then the handler goes back home without the dog,” Woods said.
Going through the training was K-9 Officer Chris Albert and his dog, Hero.
Albert and the German Shepherd have been together for five years.
At home, he’s part of the family. But he knows when he’s working, and Hero is not a dog you’d want to mess with.
Albert, who works for Beaver Township’s police department, said the idea of the police dog is also preventative.
“If a bad guy takes off running… if they keep running or ignore the commands of me or another handler, they’re going to get bit,” he said.
More often than not, they know better than to test Hero and other K-9s.
Officer Albert and Hero pair spends their evenings driving routes in Beaver Township. The area is ideal for drug traffickers because several major routes run through the township, according to Albert.
“A lot of hotels in our area, too. Walking the dog through the parking lot, if he’s sniffing the cars, the bad guys don’t like that,” he said.
Albert said if Hero indicates to a vehicle, that gives the police probable cause to conduct a search.
“A lot of times, it leads to other things, because let’s face it, what goes with drugs? A lot of times you get weapons or stolen property,” he said.
Many local police departments have K-9 officers, but they are only on duty with their handlers. That’s why Albert is often called to search in Boardman, Canfield and other communities.
So where does Hero’s story go from here?
He’s 7, near the age where many K-9s retire. When he does, he will stay with Albert and his family.