CEDAR RAPIDS — For Cedar Rapids K-9 Officer Amy Shuman, training police dogs and teaching handlers how to work with their dogs is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
“For me, training the dogs — that’s the fun part,” she said. “Taking a dog from what we call a ‘green dog’ that doesn’t know obedience and doesn’t know how to recognize narcotics or explosive odors, and teaching them those behaviors so they can come out and protect the citizens of Cedar Rapids, that’s the reward.”
Shuman, 38, recently was named the police department’s in-house trainer and since has taken over all the police dog training responsibilities that the department used to outsource to training kennels.
“There are a couple reasons to have an in-house trainer,” she said. “One is to always have someone who is overseeing the training that is taking place and is able to provide structure and consistency for that training. And the other is it is more cost efficient. Having an in-house trainer who can handle the unit’s training needs costs less than sending officers and their K-9s away to a training program.”
From February to April, Shuman attended a 12-week training program at Shallow Creek Kennels in Sharpsville, Penn., that included working with dogs that had no training and with new handlers.
During that time, Shuman also met and selected three new dogs for the Cedar Rapids department, all of which have joined the ranks in the past six weeks.
Korsa, a 2-year-old female Belgian Malinois, was brought on as an explosives-detection dog, while Bart, an 18-month-old male Belgian Malinois/German shepherd mix, and Mac, a 16-month-old male Belgian Malinois, were each brought on to be narcotics-detection dogs.
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All three are in their initial stages of training and not yet ready to join their handlers on the streets. But Shuman said the dogs should be ready by mid-July.
“They are now in their seventh week of pre-training,” Shuman said. “And once they complete their pre-training, they’ll be certified by a master trainer and ready to hit the streets.”
“Pre-training,” Shuman said, consists of basic obedience work as well as teaching the dogs how to detect drugs or narcotics, to track, do article and area searches and clear buildings and to protect their handlers.
“All of our dogs are certified through the North American Police Work Dog Association,” Shuman said, adding her training also adhered to the association’s standards. Founded in 1977, the association created an accreditation program that focuses on training, education and work standards for police dogs, handlers and trainers.
Police dogs on average can cost anywhere from $8,500 to more than $10,000 based in the animal’s breeding and level of training. And that cost does not include equipment or modifications that may needed to be made to the handler’s vehicle and home to accommodate the dog.
And since a significant portion of the funding for the department’s K-9 unit comes from donations, cutting costs by having an in-house trainer can help ensure funds go to needed items rather than travel expenses.
Each of the three new dogs were paid for with donations only, said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow.
The addition of the three dogs brings the department’s K-9 unit back up to seven teams — one explosives-detection team and six narcotics-detection teams.
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Shuman said that “allows us to have 24-hour coverage, seven days a week, so there is always a dog working the streets.”
The new dogs were purchased after the department earlier retired three dogs.
Nero retired at age 11, Narco — one of the department’s longest serving dogs — retired at 12 and Bane was unexpectedly retired at 5 when his handler was promoted to sergeant. Each of the retired dogs will live out the rest of its days with the handlers, and some will do so alongside new dog siblings.
For Shuman, the chance to mold these “green dogs” and shape the department’s training standards and program is a significant opportunity. But it’s working with the dogs and their handlers that she really loves.
“Like people, all of these dogs are trained to do certain jobs, but they also have their own personalities and quirks and their own ways to work,” she said. “They also have their own learning behaviors or styles of learning, so training these K-9s can’t be a one-type-fits-all thing. You have to adjust for each individual dog, especially since you can’t talk to them the way you can a human. I have to figure out what motivates them — toy or treat — and what works for them so that they can succeed ion their training and in their jobs.”
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