An officer and his dog earn crime-fighting certifications
Marion Police Department’s crime-fighting duo of officer Mike Stone and Legion, his German Shepherd, recently became more efficient at sniffing out crime.
Last week, Stone and Legion traveled to Polk County, Iowa, where they spent five days with 27 other dogs and handlers running through a rigorous training put on by the Heart of America Police Dog Association.
“Last year, Legion was certified to locate pot, meth, cocaine, and heroin odors,” Stone said. “This year he certified on all those odors, plus ecstasy.”
He said Legion also became certified in tracking and article search. Stone became certified as a handler in those areas, too.
“Legion is trained on different vocal commands in English and German for each area,” Stone said. “My job as a handler is to be able to read and interpret what the dog indicates.”
To prepare for their certifications, the duo did scenario based training drills.
“In dope work I can usually tell when Legion is going into alert. Narcotics are old hat for us,” Stone said. “But we constantly practice. You have to, especially with tracking.”
One way Stone trained Legion to track was by using hot dogs. He said his German Shepherd refuses to eat human food but hot dogs afforded a strong scent to follow and help keep the dog’s nose to the ground.
Stone placed hot dogs at different intervals that led to a scented training toy. As Legion became a more proficient tracker, Stone augmented the distance between hot dogs. Eventually he removed hot dogs entirely and Legion had to find the toy without any hot dog trail.
During certification, Legion and Stone worked together in a multiple environments. Each provided a unique test.
“Tracking is much more of a challenge than finding stationary narcotics. You’re not tracking in a straight line. There are turns, jumps, and just so many elements,” Stone said. “You’re looking for a living, breathing, thinking target that is trying to evade you, so as a handler, you have to trust your dog.”
They performed buried finds outdoors where there were a multitude of new smells, automobile searches in a tow yard, and parcel searches in a room full of packages. Legion also had to navigate an indoor test on slick floors, tables, and stairs.
A gunfire test also affirmed Legion would not runaway under gunfire.
“It wasn’t an easy certification,” Stone said. “But Legion is a completely different dog than he was last year. This year wasn’t as stressful. He has matured. Now, he’s very slow and methodical, and we have a greater bond of trust.”
Stone reads his dog’s body language. When Legion goes into a sit, lay, or point position, usually means he’s found something.
Now, the duo is certified to track targets approximately 400 yards with two turns. Stone said master trackers could follow a trail for miles, but he also noted that back in September, Legion tracked an individual over concrete and hard-packed dirt to a shed about three blocks away from the scene of a crime.
“That could have earned us a master tracker certification. There was no grass, no crushed vegetation to hold a scent.” Stone said. “Real world stuff is double tough.”