K-9 competition: N.O. officers and dogs show off their skills

By Judy Creekmore, Contributing writer 

NEW ORLEANS- K-9 competitions provide opportunities for highly trained dogs and their handlers to demonstrate skills they've attained through hard work and discipline.

The St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office recently hosted its first K-9 competition and training seminar for patrol, narcotics and explosives teams. The event was held on the St. John Airport grounds and at Riverside Academy in Reserve.

Handlers learned more about how to teach their dogs to find explosives, and how to watch their dog's reactions to unfamiliar smells. The seminar was organized by Sgt. Keith Brooks and presented by agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Department.

Teams of handlers and dogs representing several Louisiana parishes and Texas police departments competed for honors in finding narcotics, in obedience and agility, and in apprehension.

The St. John team of Sgt. Brian Bertrand and Naska won first place in obedience and agility, and also in apprehension, assuring them first place in overall competition. In the narcotics segment, the St. John team of Sgt. Monty Adams and Scoobi placed sixth, and Bertrand and Naska placed seventh. Earlier this year Adams and Scoobi placed first in national competition. Other teams participating came from the New Orleans, Harahan and Thibodaux police departments, St. Charles, St. James and Lafourche parish sheriff's offices, and the Harker Heights and Brazoria Police Departments in Texas.

Brooks, who works with explosives detection dog, Dak, said that handlers and dogs go through a bonding phase when the handler feeds, grooms and takes care of the dog before beginning training. "Depending on the job, the dog is trained to be passive or aggressive when he finds the scent," Brooks said. "When he finds drugs, he scratches at the area, but when he finds explosives, he is trained to sit and stay because you don't want the dog scratching around explosives."

Capt. Chuck Bazile, commander of St. John's K-9 Unit, said competitions show the handlers have control over their canines. "They just aren't torpedoes we send out," he said.

Bertrand and Naska have worked together for seven years on patrol and narcotics searches. During the competition Naska did not appear to hesitate to carry out any command by his handler. The dog's focus was on the job at hand. When the tasks were successfully completed, Naska received hearty "atta boy" and pats for his efforts. This, according to Bertrand is how it should be. "We didn't get where we are over night. We put in the extra effort to achieve that level."

Bertrand stressed that although Naska lives at his home, the German shepherd is not treated as a pet. "These dogs have strict diets and they don't get to come inside, sit on the couch and eat pizza," he said. "Dogs go into a kennel until they retire. They are not pets until they retire, then they can sit on the couch and eat pizza."

Bazile said that it is very important to choose the right people for the K-9 division, and just as important to match handler and dog. "We want some who's interested in being a handler. This is not a job where they go home and leave it behind, the dog goes home with the handler at the end of the day," he said.

St. John's K-9 Unit was created in 1996 by Sheriff Wayne Jones. The unit currently has five canines, two that patrol the jail and three that patrol the streets.  
Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company

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