Isle of Wight hosts state police dog affiliate for training

Published 8:57 am Monday, October 3, 2016

Various locations in Isle of Wight County this past week served as a training ground for special teams of law enforcement, namely K-9s and their handlers.

They could be seen at the Airway Shopping Plaza in Carrsville, the Fairgrounds in Windsor, the town of Smithfield and three other sites that also offered a variety of situations.

Lt. Tommy Potter, spokesman for the Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Office, said this was the first time such an event has been hosted in the county. The idea was pitched to Sheriff’s Mark Marshall, who was “all of it.” Both the sheriff’s department and Smithfield Police set about organizing the fall training for the state affiliate of the North American Police Work Dog Association.

Isle of Wight K9 team Jason Deputy Brinkley and Bella, a bloodhound, train on tracking. -- Submitted | C. B. Nurney

Isle of Wight K9 team Jason Deputy Brinkley and Bella, a bloodhound, train on tracking. — Submitted | C. B. Nurney

Monday was set aside for classroom training all day. A former Commonwealth’s Attorney, whose speciality had been case law involving police dogs, was a guest speaker.

Starting Tuesday was paws-on, er, hands-on training at the different venues.

Approximately 65 handlers and their dogs could pick where they wanted to start; naturally, they could move around from site to site.

“We’re able to offer them different type of environments for first-class training,” Potter said, adding thanks to the owner of the shopping center for allowing use of the property. American K-9 Interdiction, one of several  corporate sponsors, participated as well.

Himself a K-9 handler in Franklin for many years, he confirmed that finding good places to train police dogs is becoming increasingly difficult. The regional growth of both buildings and people can limit opportunities find good places to training. Norfolk, for example, has really only an urban setting. Another place might be strictly rural.

“We offer a little bit of both in Isle of Wight,” said Potter.

Though it’s not entirely out of the question, the source of the dogs is not your average pet store or animal shelter.

“There are dogs that do come from the pound.,” he said, “but you just can’t pick any one. They have to have certain drives — be sociable.”

Most often, professional breeders supply the canines for the police work.

“There’s a lot of in-depth selection process for dogs and officers or deputies to be handlers,” he said.

Just to reach the basic level of certification can take 13 to 16 weeks.

Potter added that the animals have to be sociable. “It’s a heavy selection process.”

Unlike other states such as Ohio, there is no set mandated standard in Virginia. Most agencies in this Commonwealth adopt what’s been set down by the North American Police Work Dog Association, and those guidelines can be very stringent.

Most canines are of the utility/detective genre. Others can be detectors, sniffing for narcotics and explosives. Bloodhounds primarily will track people. Then there’s conditioning to do building searches and apprehending suspects.

“We have a good canine unit throughout Western Tidewater, and we work well with each,” Potter said. “Suffolk has a great program.

He wants to clear up a misconception about such these animals:

“Most people think that the canines are attack dogs. That is not the case. They’re not doing it [attacking] to be vicious, but to catch. They are highly trained.

The dog doesn’t get up thinking ‘I want to go bite someone today.’ They have a natural drive to play. But instead of a getting ball, they get a person.”