WILLIAMS - For Williams Police Officer Brandon Hernandez and his K-9 partner Beth, consistent training is imperative to stay sharp and competent when called to the scene of an investigation.
On Feb. 9, Williams K-9 unit hosted a multi-agency training session with units from the Prescott Police Department and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. Hernandez said he trains his dog every week, teaming up with surrounding agencies, which maximizes the instruction.
"We do training once a week. We like to learn from other dogs and other dogs learn from other handlers," Hernandez said. "There is no real standard to follow, but within the K-9 community it's about 16 hours a month, it's four hours per specialty."
Most K-9 training consists of exercises specifically tailored to meet the dog's individual role, whether it is tracking a scent, narcotics detection, explosives detection or patrolling. In order to train Beth, Hernandez' narcotics detection dog, he needs to utilize several different locations. This time around, Larry Pittenger allowed the use of L.P.'s Excavating facilities.
"The community is really supportive of the K-9 program letting us use their buildings to train, which is really hard to do," Hernandez said. "Dogs know the same building over and over so we have to change it up."
Narcotics training require handlers to place articles of scent in hidden locations, which dogs then must sniff out and indicate that odor is present.
"All the dogs, except the Burlington Northern Santa Fe which is an explosive detection K-9, are narcotics detection dogs, meaning they are trained in locating marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines," Hernandez said.
As well as building searches, handlers must train with vehicles, simulating traffic stop situations so dogs can practice working through varied distractions, Hernandez explained.
"We drove a vehicle throughout the area of Williams and conducted a traffic stop because dogs have to learn how to work through distractions like passing vehicles, cats running across the road, etc," he said. "They have to learn how to keep concentrating on the job at hand, which is looking for narcotics in a vehicle."
At the root of all advanced police dog training is basic obedience, which is essential to re-enforce to preserve good training habits. Hernandez and other handlers carried out basic obedience in the local baseball field.
"Obedience is the start of all training. We do turn, sit, stop, stay, the basics. We have distractions throughout the obedience, we have guys doing distractions running around and the dogs have to stay at the heel," he said.
Hernandez stressed that, at the end of the day, working with fellow handlers is the best way to get the most out of sessions.
"When people critique you that's really good," he said.