by ALEXANDRA RETTER
For the newest member in-training of the Winona County Sheriff’s Office, life currently revolves around learning how to detect narcotics, search for evidence and track individuals. A good chew toy is also an important part of his world. Doc, a half-German Shepard, half-Belgian Malinois who is almost two years old, is hard at work training to be the Winona County Sheriff Office’s (WCSO) next K9.
Doc and WCSO Deputy Adam Carlson, his handler, are currently completing a 12-week training program. After Doc completes the training, he will work toward becoming certified through the United States Police Canine Association Region 12. The WCSO’s current K9, Cleo, will retire when Doc is certified and will live with Carlson.
It is bittersweet for Cleo to be nearing retirement as Carlson trains Doc and starts over with a new dog, he said, as he and Cleo have been a team for almost a decade. “That’s probably the hardest thing for me right now, is knowing Cleo is getting retired,” he said. “But she deserves every bit of retirement she is going to get.”
During the training to date, Carlson has familiarized Doc with narcotic odors. Doc sniffed the odors. Carlson then had him sit and gave him a dog toy as a reward. Carlson will next help Doc learn how to search for narcotic odors in a room, and later on, in a vehicle. To train Doc to search for narcotic odors in a room, Carlson will start to lead him toward the odor until he searches for it.
Carlson will also complete obedience and agility training with Doc. He will teach Doc how to search buildings and track people as well.
To train dogs such as Doc, handlers begin by teaching their dogs basic skills, and they then add more skills for their dogs to learn over time, Carlson said. “And there’s times where there’s too many tasks,” he said. “The dog’s not ready to move on to the next task. So, you back up, and only do so many things. And you work your way back up to it.”
An important part of training is being fair to the dogs and letting them know when they do something right, Carlson said. Handlers make sure to reward their dogs when they learn correctly by giving them a dog toy, a pet or a word of praise.
An enjoyable part of the training is seeing the dogs learn and have “lightbulb” moments when skills just click for them, Carlson said. “It’s unreal how fast they learn, and they catch on, and they continue with their training,” he said.
Training is not without some challenging moments, however. It takes “patience and not getting frustrated,” Carlson said.
Outside of training, Doc loves his dog toy, and he enjoys tugging on a rope outdoors with Carlson, too. Doc is personable and quite laid-back, Carlson said. He has not been aggressive toward anyone Carlson has had around his kennel. He gets along well with Cleo and Carlson’s dogs who do not work for the WCSO. He also has an energetic streak. “He’s a very high-drive dog,” Carlson said. “His high drive definitely keeps me busy.”
The cost of purchasing Doc was covered by donations to the Winona County K9 program, and the Winona County Board approved the program.