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Officer Alycia Peterson from the Des Moines Police Department prepares her dog, Jack, for the re-certification process Tuesday as canine units from a multi-state area gathered at the former Elijah Buell Elementary School to put their dogs to the test at a narcotics re-certification through the United States Police Canine Association. About 54 dogs will complete the certification course, which takes place Tuesday and today. The certification puts the dogs’ training in action by putting them in real-life situations, searching for narcotics in several rooms in buildings and vehicles.

Natalie Conrad/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

Canine units from throughout the state are gathering at the old Elijah Buell Elementary School and sites throughout the area to put their dogs to the test at a narcotics re-certification course offered through the United States Police Canine Association.

“It’s certainly a test of both the dog and handlers’ legal liability and credibility,” Sergent Scott Raudabaugh, supervisor for the Des Moines Police Department Canine Unit, said.

About 50 dogs will complete the certification process taking place through today. The certification course puts the dogs in real-life situations searching for narcotics in several rooms in buildings as well as vehicles. Many of the dogs are dual- or multi-purpose, with locating narcotics being one of many skills used on the job. Things like article search, agility and apprehension are other duties many of the dogs fulfill. The dogs must complete an annual re-certification for those skills as well.

Clinton County has two canines, one of which is owned by Deputy Jeff Ernst. The dogs begin training as young as a few months old, according to Ernst. His dog was 10 months old when training began.

“There are also special tests to tell if a dog is right for the canine unit; they must exhibit playful and active behavior,” Ernst said.

While police dogs are viewed as being aggressive, Ernst says it depends on the dog.

“The responses that the dogs give when they find narcotics are different,” Ernst said. “Some dogs are more passive and they’ll go to the spot and sit and wait for their handler. Others have a more aggressive reaction and will scratch, chew or bite when they find it.”

People who think police dogs are vicious or scary could not be more wrong, according to Raudabaugh.

“Everything they do is motivated by toys and play, they don’t have the intent to harm anyone and they are extremely obedient,” Raudabaugh said. “It’s all about keeping your dog under control. That’s why all dogs must undergo obedience training before we  even go out in the field.”

Certification also allows for competition between the different canine units and handlers.

The dogs are given scores based on their time and response. Three top performers are given trophies and recognition for their agency.

The United States Police Canine Association organizes events, training and competitions to unite canine units across the country. Some of their goals include establishing a minimum working standard to improve the abilities of the canine in police work to better serve the community and to improve the image of the working police dog through improved public service in the prevention and detection of crime.

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