The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has hired its youngest deputy—a 1 1/2-year-old K-9 dog.
The male Belgian Malinois remains nameless for now, and the handler assigned to the dog will choose the name, according to Sgt. Brandon Kutner, a spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
The dog was originally from the Slovak Republic in Central Europe, but was sent to the U.S. and later acquired by the sheriff’s office.
“We work with professionals in the K-9 industry,” Kutner said. “Through those connections, we were able to narrow down the breeder and select the dog.”
The dog was hired to replace another K-9 partner, Recon, who retired in December after 7 1/2 years of service with a specialization in patrol and narcotics, Kutner said.
“After Recon, this dog does have expectations to meet, but we’re confident in our training program,” Kutner said. “We have a low percentage of dogs who are unable to succeed in our program.”
Unlike some organizations, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has a state and nationally recognized in-house training facility, which saves the agency the cost of training the new dog.
According to Kutner, the dog went through a vigorous preliminary process in order to ensure there were no issues or deficiencies before the agency decided to select him for training.
“Now that he has been selected, the dog will come here with a blank slate and has a baseline of expectation he needs to be able to perform at,” Kutner said. “A bonding relationship will need to be created between the dog and the handler during training in order for them to succeed.”
Deputy Richard Howell has been a part of the K-9 Unit for six years and currently handles the Belgian Malinois Eins, who is the same breed as the newest addition to the agency.
“He’s always there and excited to work with me,” Howell said. “He doesn’t ever ask for a day off and never wants to take vacation.”
Howell said both the dog and whoever is chosen to handle him will have to go through a basic 400-hour course dealing with tracking, building searches, article searches and apprehension work. In addition, a 200-hour detection work course is also required.
“Four hundred hours doesn’t sound very basic, but when you start training a dog to work as a police service dog, it takes a lot of training to get the dog to the proper level,” Howell said.
According to Howell, after other commitments, personal life and vacation time are factored in, the training process for this new dog and handler will take around six months to complete.
Steven Nicely, owner and founder of K-9 Consultants of America, has over 40 years of experience with K-9 dogs and believes in the benefits of training dogs properly for deployment in law enforcement.
“When these dogs are properly trained and deployed, they are one of the most useful tools for law enforcement purposes,” Nicely said.
Nicely said errors in training are what caused him to become an expert with K-9 dogs. In 1981, as a cop in Texas, Nicely was compelled to use deadly force during a burglary in progress because the K-9 he was assigned to was not trained well enough.
“I told myself that if I ever became a professional trainer, I would never put a dog out in the force if I would not be willing to put my own life into that dog’s performance,” Nicely said. “These dogs are some of the important assets to agencies when they are properly selected, trained and tested.”