At 6 years old, German shepherd K-9 Vinnie surely isn’t a puppy anymore.
But this week, he and his two four-legged “co-workers” are proving older dogs can learn more than new tricks as they take on building searches and work under simulated gunfire, to name a few.
Since Monday, the Beckley Police Department’s three K-9 teams have been attending the West Virginia Police K-9 Association’s conference in Barboursville. Cpl. R.E. Redden, one of Beckley’s K-9 officers and Vinnie’s handler, said the conference is where the state’s K-9 officers obtain their required yearly re-certification and train under “realistic” conditions both officers and dogs would face on the job.
Redden estimated he and Vinnie, Cpl. Will Reynolds and German shepherd Helo and Cpl. David Bailey and German shepherd Drake were among 80 to 100 K-9 teams from across the state who attended.
Training at the conference first involved standard K-9 work for which Beckley’s dogs are certified — tracking, patrol/suspect apprehension functions and narcotics detection, Redden said.
Explosive detection training was offered to those who have bomb-sniffing dogs.
Also, the conference incorporates “realistic” scenarios officers face on the job, Redden noted, including building searches and working under simulated gunfire.
“Whatever situations we face with our dogs, they simulate up here,” he said.
One of the most beneficial aspects of the conference, Redden said, is that it pairs K-9 officers with instructors and evaluators from across both West Virginia and Virginia.
These are people who can view an officer’s work or their dogs with a fresh set of eyes and offer different opinions or training techniques. Several are veteran instructors, Redden remarked.
Reynolds, the most experienced K-9 officer of the three, also worked as an evaluator, Redden noted.
Having more time to work with their dogs and one another was also a plus, Redden said.
Beckley’s K-9 officers are staggered between shifts to keep a K-9 officer on duty at all times. They also have different days off. Even scheduling time to train together on their own time is often difficult.
Opportunities like this, he said, give the officers the chance to even learn more from one another.
For example, Vinnie’s and Drake’s commands are in German, but Helo’s are in Dutch.
The K-9 officers are now learning commands in the opposite language.
Redden said the K-9 officers will bring the training back to Beckley, where it will benefit the citizens.
The officers said they are grateful to Chief Tim Deems for allowing them to go.
“We will come back to Beckley with improved dogs,” he said. “What we have done all week long will reinforce our skills, and we will bring this back to get drugs off the streets and do patrol work.”