By Daeshen Smith
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PENSACOLA, Florida (WALA) — For the past couple of days, 18 handlers and their dogs have been getting critical training to help them find missing and endangered people. It’s all part of Spike’s Tracking School which is part of Spike’s K9 Fund.
“We provide sponsorships for training for K9 handlers, law enforcement, and search and rescue. We pay for the training, so it takes the burden of cost off of them,” said Director of Spike’s School Jenn Parks.
Today the dogs started out by working their way through hydration intensified tracks where they use water with a scent article to get them used to tracking.
“We can take a hat someone’s worn, or a shirt and they can go out and follow them,” said James Duncan, Master Police Officer with Chesapeake Police Department. “We’re teaching the dogs to follow odor on asphalt, busy parking lots to work through distractions and ignoring everyone else on the track. It’s scent discrimination training.”
Some of the dogs took that training up a notch by tracking a scent from a gauze pad on a longer track across 9 Mile Road. James Duncan has been training dogs for over 20 years and says this is the perfect environment to get used to tracking.
“The trees, the grass holds odor and pulls odor which makes it a little bit easier for the dog to find,” said Duncan. “Here there’s no ground disturbance on asphalt and you have cars going by and you have a breeze which is taking the scent and causing it to drift.”
The trainers came from about 8 different states for this week’s training. Including Tiana Shuster and her dog Oscar who came from South Dakota.
“We’re a part of Pennington County search and rescue he is one of our search dogs and typically we look for missing hikers,” said Tiana Shuster.
Today’s training focused mostly on hard surface tracking which brings a different set of challenges compared to the woods that Shuster and Oscar are used to.
“I’m hoping we can be better in town for runaways and maybe even criminal cases if that’s where it ends up going if we can get our confidence up,” added Shuster.
So far, the dogs have shown a lot of improvement over the last few days. Which will not only help them but their communities as well.
“Time is critical when people wander of whether it’s Alzheimer’s or children you want to get them called out and get those dogs on those tracks to where hopefully they can locate that person and bring them home,” said Parks.
In addition to the training. Spike’s K9 Fund also provides custom fitted ballistic vests, working gear and medical assistance for dogs who are injured on the job. They help active law enforcement, military and search and rescue dogs. If you’d like to know more about them or if you’d like to apply for one of the training seminars, you can do so here: spikesk9fund.org
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