Handlers focus on bite work training

NEW MANCHESTER-Hancock County sheriff’s Deputy Eric Cline is shouting commands at his dog in German.

Odin is a German shepherd, after all-and he is the picture of power under control.

With only a word-“bleib” for stay, “nein” for no, “platz” for down-Odin does just what Cline asks him to do. On command, he rushes toward New Cumberland police Lt. Jeremy Krzys and forcefully grabs his forearm, which is protected by a bite sleeve.

The two Hancock County K-9 officers spent Monday recertifying their dogs at the 20th annual state seminar of the West Virginia Police Canine Association (WVPCA), which is being held this week at Tomlinson Run State Park and sites in Newell and New Manchester.

Odin was trained in Germany, so “it’s easier to train us than to train the dog to switch (languages),” Cline said.

Bite work, as it’s called, is a necessary part of recertifying a patrol dog-a dual-purpose K-9 that helps with apprehensions, evidence recovery, area searches and handler protection.

“First and foremost, a dog is a location tool,” said Huntington police Lt. Levi Livingston, an instructor at this week’s seminar. A Weirton native, Livingston has been a K-9 officer for 13 years and currently is paired with a black German shepherd named Bosco.

Harnessing a dog’s bite instincts is useful for locating and apprehending a suspect, and K-9 officers must give at least two warnings before releasing their dog, Livingston said.

“It’s up to the bad guy whether he’s going to get bit or not,” he said.

Bite work also tests the dog’s compliance, obedience and ability to be recalled. “When we send them after something, we train them so we can bring them back,” Livingston said.

Dogs are taught to target non-lethal parts of the body-the upper arm, forearm and upper and lower leg. When targeting the leg, dogs are taught to approach from the outside so the suspect can’t defend himself with the other leg, he said.

Training a dog in apprehension techniques, including biting, involves using the dog’s natural drives-the hunt drive, the prey drive, the defense drive-and “shaping” them through repetition and commands, Livingston said.

“Communication has to be understandable to the dog,” he said. “You’re teaching the dog: If you do what I tell you to do, you’re going to be rewarded. The bite is really nothing but a reward to him.”

The goal of bite work is to transform the dog’s ability to “go, catch and hold” into something that is useful for law enforcement, Livingston said.