Being a part of the Carson City K-9 unit is more than dog treats and walks on the leash; it’s a lot of training, control and sometimes the occasional dog bite.
The Carson City Sheriff’s Office has five handlers and five dogs in its unit, in which they are trained for things like tracking and drug sniffing. The unit works as a patrol and works for other units such as the Special Enforcement Team and patrol to assist the officers.
“I have the best job in the department, it’s the best job in the world,” Deputy Jimmy Surratt said. Surratt works with a Belgian Malinois named Ary who’s certified to track and detect narcotics.
To be a K-9, the CCSO canines and their handlers must pass a certification test yearly to stay qualified. The dogs and their handlers will meet with a K-9 trainer from a different county in order to take their test and if the dogs don’t pass then they must wait two days before taking the test again with the same trainer.
To prepare for their certification test next week, the handlers were training with their dogs a majority of Wednesday morning on narcotics and helping certify a deputy from Churchill County. Before they can take their first certification, the dogs need to have 240 hours of training, and after the first certification have a requirement of 16 hours. The Carson City K-9 units are scheduled for 20 hours of required training, then more on their own to improve their skills.
For precertification and certification testing Wednesday, Surratt hid drugs in two of five empty cars and had the handlers and dogs search for them.
K-9 dogs have a variety of signals they use during drug detection and it’s imperative for the handler to be able to pick up these signals to determine if there are drugs in an area or not.
“You’re a team,” Surratt said. “The dog feeds off your energy, you have to be animated to keep the dog animated. If you are flat, the dog will get bored and stop searching.”
The handlers can miss one drug hide during certification to still pass, because in real life dogs won’t sniff out the drugs 100 percent of the time, so it’s acceptable to have leeway. However, if they miss more than that, Surratt said, they fail because the dogs need to stay reliable.
“Certification is all about the dog’s ability to smell the dope, and the handler’s ability to recognize it,” Surratt said.
The dogs and handlers need to be able to recognize each other’s signals in order to be able to work together. The dog gives off cues when it detects drugs. One cue is a “head snap” to show interest in an area. This may not necessarily mean there are drugs there, it may just be a curious smell, the handlers said. If a dog sits, then that is the alert for the officer to indicate there are drugs or the presence of drugs in the area.
The officers also need to give cues to their dogs to control them in situations. They speak to the dogs in a foreign language so the dog responds to their command and not anyone else’s. They also will follow the deputies’ body language for cues.
In order to interpret these cues from each other correctly, each handler and his dog have a close relationship. The dogs not only work, but also live with each of their handlers.
“I see my dog more than my own family because I am with them 24/7,” Surratt said.
It’s extremely important for the dogs to be highly obedient to their handlers because in situations in which the dog needs to bite a perpetrator, the handler must be able to get the dog to unlatch on command.
To test the dog’s bite skills, the deputies will put on a bite suit, a heavily padded black outfit that resembles a Michelin Man costume. The dogs work on commands to either hold off, bite or detach from the perpetrator.
The handlers compare the K-9’s bite to that of an alligator, because the jaw muscles are so strong, the dog will attach to a body part and not let go until its handler tells it to.
“When a bad guy struggles or moves when the dog is biting them, it can just shred their (body part),” said Deputy Darin Riggin.
Though the dogs may seem vicious, they are kind when they are not in work-mode.
Surratt said the dogs are friendly and pet-able, and he uses his dog Ary to go to school programs and let the kids pet him.
“We just want to break the image that they are vicious,” Surratt said. “They are working dogs, so when they are working we want them to stay focused. My personal philosophy is that if you can’t stick a kid in the back with the dog, then you shouldn’t have the dog.”
“We want our dogs to be sociable with the public,” Surratt added.