Northwest Advocates for Animal Awareness hosted a K-9 presentation Feb. 9, in The Station, with Nodaway County K-9 Deputy Austin Hann as the presenter.
NWAAA President Makayla Manna said they try to hold the presentation every year.
“It’s educational, and it lets us actually do something besides just sit around at meetings,” Manna said.
Bolt, a 6-year-old male German shepherd, has trained and worked for the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Office since he was 22 months old to sniff out narcotics.
Hann trained Bolt by teaching him commands in Latin, German and Dutch, to prevent most suspects from understanding them, on when to complete certain actions. Hann said that Bolt is given a ball reward whenever he finds a substance. The service dogs treat this ball as something they are hunting, and to get it, they have to accomplish whatever the task is they have been told to do.
“He doesn’t really get chew toys or treats because then he’ll get satisfaction from those things,” Hann said. “This way, he gets satisfied from finding whatever it may be because he knows he gets that ‘prey’ reward.”
Hann said that toys and treats are also unproductive ways to get satisfaction, and for service dogs, that is not useful. He said they are unproductive means of satisfaction because he’s not accomplishing anything by doing it.
Hann demonstrated Bolt’s ability to track down even a tiny amount of narcotics. Before the presentation began, Hann put a small odor of heroin in a cotton ball. Hann said that a human could not smell it, even if it was right next to their nose. This makes sense, since according to the Animal Kennel Club, dogs have 225 million scent receptors in their nose compared to a human’s 5 million.
He hid the cotton ball in a doorway in the room. Hann gave the command, and Bolt searched the tables but then quickly moved over to the door that the cotton ball was in. Bolt tracked down the odor to the exact spot it was coming from in just a few seconds, and he was given his reward.
“He treats it like he’s a wolf hunting a rabbit,” Hann said.
Hann said that he will search for any trace he can find, and if does find it, he’ll do anything he can to pinpoint its location.
Hann helped train a Lab before he trained Bolt, but they had to retire it after 10 years. He said generally they make sure their dogs don’t have bad arthritis and that their teeth haven’t ground down too much. Hann said service dogs get arthritis after so many years of service because of all the shifting they do along with jumping in and out of cars.
“We plan on checking Bolt for those conditions after he gets to 8 years of age,” Hann said.
Hann said that retirement is awful for working dogs. He said he brought the Lab with him home after they retired it to be a house pet. However, everyday that Hann would go to work with the new dog, Bolt, the Lab would be depressed because it still wanted to work, too.
“It sucks because their mind is there, but their bodies aren’t,” Hann said.
While Bolt may be a working dog, he is able to lay down and relax whenever Hann was just talking. Some people think they’re nasty dogs, Hann said, but K-9s are conditioned to certain actions of specific commands. He said that it is good that Bolt is able to be calm at any time because dogs who always want to go could lead to dangerous situations.
In training, the service dogs are always set up to win. They have a decoy who plays the part of the suspect, and the dogs are supposed to either “scare” or “bite” the decoy. Hann said that the suspect is usually supposed to run away and that Bolt only “bites” every two or three months.
“If they bite every single time, then that’s all they’ll do,” Hann said.
Hann said if the decoy tried to “square up” or act like they’ll fight back against the dog, especially a young one, that can hurt the dog mentally.
“Every time you go somewhere, you want them to think they’re the baddest thing there,” Hann said.
Hann said if a service dog were to feel vulnerable, they might not take action when needed and will instead only try to look intimidating.
Service dogs differ in their uses, depending on what their purpose. Hann said dogs that do law enforcement work, at least for Nodaway County, while there is just one K-9 unit currently for Nodaway County, are 70% narcotics-searching and 30% patrol. Patrol dogs watch out for anything that might be dangerous and can be seen at big sporting events or concerts. Hann said patrol dogs have trouble sniffing out narcotics, but will easily “go get someone” when told to.
Whenever Hann is off duty, Bolt goes home with him. Hann said that it helps create a bond between the two of them. He said Bolt generally just lays around. Hann has a Great Dane and a cattle dog, and Bolt rarely pays attention to either of them.
“He doesn’t care for other animals or pets because he doesn’t get satisfaction from those things,” Hann said.
Even though their organization hosts a K-9 presentation every year, she said she learned some new things at this year’s presentation.
“I didn’t know they would retire them so young,” Manna said.
She said she also didn’t realize that the dogs weren’t really interested in just normal people being around them.
Vice president of Northwest Advocates for Animal Awareness Deja Thomas said it was very entertaining to see the demonstration of Bolt pinpointing the drug odor.
Thomas said the presentation allows members to see different areas of the animal related industry and that having a K-9 officer speak to them could open a career option for them with animals in the future.
“We generally see K-9 dogs around our communities and in the media, so it was nice to learn about what being a K-9 officer entails and what the job is really like for them,” Thomas said. “Overall it helps to create a better understanding of the K-9 unit with our community.”