The Ohio State Highway Patrol opened its $1.4 million training facility for police dogs and their handlers on Monday. Located in Marysville, the facility gives a formal home to the training program the patrol started in 2015.
Trooper Jerad White was on hand for the opening, with his partner Danny on a leash by his side.
“Danny is going to be 2 in March, coming up. He’s a Czech Shepard," White said. "He’s dual-purpose, like I said, in narcotics and bite works. He has passive indication, which means when he detects the odor of a narcotic he’s trained on, he lays down at source or he sits at source as his indication. As opposed to an aggressive alert kind of dog that would scratch the area."
To show off Danny’s abilities, White opens up the door of the SUV and Danny bounds out. White leads him around an old patrol car they now use for training, and Danny sniffs wildly, tail wagging until he settles on the driver side of the car.
“There was a marijuana hiden in the lower left seam on that driver’s door," White explains. "So since that’s a lower hide, it’s close to the ground, it’s common practice to instead of being in a seated position, 'cause he’ll find it so low, since he’s closer to source that way, so he’ll lay down for his indication, signifying that the odor he’s picking up is close the ground."
As a reward, Danny gets his toy, a chunk of PVC pipe. Lt. John Payer has worked with drug interdiction and K-9 units for years and says that play is an essential part of the process.
“The dog has no idea what marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine - has no idea what that look like, only knows the odors associated with it - and he associates those odors with the toy that he’s looking for,” Payer says. “So on a traffic stop, the dog thinks he’s getting out to play and looking for his toy.”
And while it may be play for the dog, it’s serious business for the drug interdiction program. Highway Patrol Superintendent Paul Pride says canines are responsible for some of the largest seizures in the patrol’s history.
He lists off some of the hauls dogs have helped discover from individual traffic stops: “81.6 pounds of heroin, 141.8 pounds of meth, 72.8 pounds of fentanyl, 202 pounds of khat, 2 gallons of liquid PCP, 165.3 pounds of cocaine, and the list goes on and on and on.”
But the dogs don’t just help with narcotics busts. The dogs help locate lost children and missing elderly people, investigate bomb threats, and help with manhunts of wanted fugitives.
All of that takes a lot of training. The State Highway Patrol’s program has been in place since 2015, and they’ve trained 43 dogs in that time: 31 for the patrol and 12 for other sheriff’s offices and police departments around the state. The new facility will mean less travel for people like White, who took Danny to Gallopolis in Southern Ohio to get ready for their work.
“It’s pretty intense, it’s 10 weeks long. When we get the dogs they don’t know any of the narcotic odors, they don’t know any of the bite work,” White says. “We basically get the dogs from a vendor from overseas, and then we work, basically, doing the four narcotic odors. They train ‘em on marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and the derivatives of those.”
For a dual-purpose dog like Danny, the other half of training is spent on patrol work like apprehension, handler protection, and suspect tracking.
The first class of nine dogs starts class in the new facility this spring, with classrooms, officers, kennels for the K9s and dormitories for their human counterparts, plus a whole building dedicated for training scenarios. Dogs learn the ropes to work in eight different law enforcement agencies.
Payer thinks it’ll make a difference.
“We deploy the dog and then we remove, say, 400 pounds of marijuana or 100 kilos of heroin off the—that’s a lot of lives saved immediately, that you can almost measure,” Payer says.