Rocky and Gess often start their day by jumping through hurdles and climbing ladders.
Those are just a couple of the lessons the K-9 patrol dogs go through during a typical day of training. Until a new local K-9 training center opened last summer, the dogs’ masters had to go through an obstacle course of their own to get Rocky and Gess to the proper training site.
Local K-9 units often would travel to St. Lucie County or other locations to train. Now other Treasure Coast agencies are coming to Indian River County to train their K-9 units at the center near the Vero Beach firing range, next door to the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office on 41st Avenue.
“Every K-9 unit really needs something like this,” said Officer Keith Touchberry of the Vero Beach Police Department, who works with Rocky. Rocky and Gess are the two Dutch malinois imported from Holland to work for the police department.
The center has an obstacle course that allows the dogs to jump through hurdles, crawl up and down inclines, and work their way around and under car doors. Those are all elements of the certification tests the dogs must pass very year.
“It sets up any type of scenario you can come up with,” said Deputy Toby Teague of the sheriff’s office. “And once a dog’s been exposed to something, he’ll remember it. Dogs don’t have strong reasoning power, but they have excellent memories. Once they do something once, they remember it.”
The obstacle course also helps out in the actual patrol work, said Officer Alan Hall of the police department. Hall mentioned how the jumping exercises could assist a dog in chasing down a suspect.
“It keeps the dogs in good physical shape,” Hall said. “The jumping (lessons) help so that when you get in a situation where a guy jumps a fence that high, you can put the dog up and over it without worrying about it getting hurt. Without (the lessons), the dog either wouldn’t do it or would get hurt attempting to do it.”
The dogs’ sense of smell is tested in the other part of the center, which features six square boxes with doors. As part of the training, officers often will get into the boxes, and then all but one of the officers will leave, Teague said.
“It helps them discriminate between the old scent and the new scent,” Teague saki. “He has to pick out the strongest scent and follow that one.”
The Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Game and Fresh W ater Fish Commissions also have trained their K-9 units at the local center. Even its location, so close to a firing range, has become more of a help than a hindrance.
The dogs are too far from the firing range to be in any danger, and the sound of the gunfire makes them more prepared when they hear it in actual patrol situations, lawmen said.
The lessons at the center represent only part of the actual training sessions for K-9 units. The police dogs also practice their car searches at AAA Auto Salvage and perform mock building inspections at Grand Harbor, police said.
When a company allows the dogs to use its areas for training, the police return the favor by checking the premises for any signs of vandalism, Touchberry said.