Trooper Jeremy Wheeland, a trooper with the Piqua Crimes Criminal Patrol and K-9 handler with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, is shown demonstrating how future dogs will be trained at the new canine training facility behind the patrol’s Marysville post on Northwest Parkway. Fox, his trusty 5-year-old German shepherd from the Czech Republic, is associating the scent of narcotics with his toys to associate a car side drug search as playtime. Fox will serve as the mascot of the facility, as future dogs will be trained to perform his duties. Classes begin March 25.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Jacob Runnels)
The Ohio State Highway Patrol’s new K-9 training facility in Marysville has the patrol’s first four-legged mascot.
Fox is a five-year-old German shepherd dog that’s been working for the patrol since 2015, when the patrol decided to train its own dogs. His likeness is plastered around the new facility, and for a good reason. Piqua Criminal Investigations Commander Lieutenant Jon Payer said his breed, as well as his Belgian Malinois brothers and sisters, is the “Ferrari” of police dogs.
“Our philosophy on dogs is that they’re a tool, but you know what, it’s a doggone dog,” Payer said. “Fox is a good dog. He’s cute, he’s furry and he loves to play, and he has a good temperament. Who wouldn’t want to love on that dog and have him in the house?”
Starting March 25, the facility will educate officers within the State Highway Patrol on how to handle their canine buddies, holding up to 12 dogs per class series. The training will also help shape other patrol dogs into the obedient, drug-sniffing and suspect-chasing paragon Fox represents.
Payer said the first training series will last about two months, until late May or early June. He said training will resume in August. He said it’s planned to have another training series in the fall, making it two series a year.
“That may change down the road,” Payer said. “We may run three or four classes, depending on the volume and need.”
Payer said training sessions begin with dogs learning basic obedience. Afterward, he said they will learn to “imprint” odors of marijuana, meth, cocaine, crack and heroin to prepare them for vehicle searches.
He said the practice involves having dogs locate drug scents through a wodden “scratchboard.” Then they can move on to cars seized by the highway patrol, where they’ll search for drug scents in the hidden compartments to simulate a traffic stop.
“They’re associating the odor of that toy with a play drive,” Payer said. “They’re wanting to find their toy so they can play, and that’s their reward.”
Jeremy Wheeland, a trooper with the Piqua Crimes Criminal Patrol and K-9 handler, said it takes 10 weeks of incrementally increased lessons to train dogs.
“It’s like baby steps,” Wheeland said. “We start in a controlled environment, teach them how to follow my hand, check the areas where I point, check the areas around the car and then we progress to outside. We might be on a highway, where there might be more noise and other environmental factors.”
Wheeland said in the past, the patrol had to contract with outside companies to get their dogs trained. He said this new facility helps because officers will be present in every stage of the dog’s training, and will better detect any issues.
“Basically, when you showed up, they were teaching you pretty much how to work the dog and read the dog, but you couldn’t fix any problems that would have come up outside of training,” Wheeland said. “With the new program, the trainers are actually training you to train the dog. You are actually beginning those steps with the dog.”
K-9 recruits have three career paths available: narcotics detector, bomb sniffer and dual purpose, which involves narcotics detection and patrolling. Wheeland said patrolling will involve building searches and criminal apprehension.
There’s a reason why all of the patrol’s dogs are from Europe, and happen to be German shepherds and Belgian Malinois breeds. He said dogs are raised as tools there, as they are taught to hunt and herd. He said this helps them become the best possible dogs for the patrol to train.
“It’s a total different environment they’re raised in,” Payer said. “We’re looking for those high-drive dogs that have a lot of energy and have a high play drive to go out and play.”
Wheeland said since the dogs are from Europe, they’ve already been trained in foreign languages.
Payer said there are 38 dogs used in the state patrol, dispersed among all nine districts. He said each district has at least two dual purpose dogs. He said the district Marysville is in has three dogs. He said the goal is to have four dogs in each district.
The investigations commander said this facility benefits from being centralized in the state, so other districts as far as Cleveland and Cincinnati can get their dogs trained nearby and for a cheaper price compared to contracting with private dog training companies.
“Our goal ultimately is to be the one-stop shop for any law enforcement agency in the State of Ohio to train and certify dogs,” Payer said. “To not only do the training aspect, but the certification process as well.”
As “the first guy who’s ever run this facility,” Payer said he wants it to grow. He wants to see it “on the same level of our training academy for our troopers,” as it helps train other troopers and basic officers from outside agencies.
“My vision for this place would be to rival the academy down there, which will require the need for expansion,” Payer said.
The three-building facility was constructed in December 2018 for $1.4 million, paid from the state’s criminal forfeitures. Though the offices are still a little bare, Payer said it’ll soon be fully able to not only teach officers and dogs, but to also house them. He said it’ll be a benefit to other agencies as it’ll be cheaper than contracting with outside facilities.
Payer said the patrol recently purchased its imported dogs from a supplier in Indiana. He said they will begin training as soon as possible.
As for Fox? The dual purpose dog will continue to lead the new dogs as an example of what they can become.
“Someday, we’ll get a bronze statue of him out here one day when he retires,” Wheeland chuckled.
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