By Jason Anderson
LODI — The Lodi Police Department hosted the 10th annual Art O'Keefe Memorial Police Canine Competition on Saturday at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi.
Sixteen officers from more than a dozen agencies brought their K-9 partners to compete in a series of events, including a search phase, an obedience and agility phase and the popular protection phase.
Officer Mike Mantzouranis of the Lodi Police Department entered the competition with his K-9 partner Taz, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois. Mantzouranis said canine competitions are beneficial in a number of ways.
"The benefit of this is seeing your dog in a different environment and seeing how it reacts to things when there are so many variables, just like out on the street where there are a lot of variables," he said. "You learn to watch your dog for certain behaviors. It's also good to watch handlers and dogs from other departments because some of them do things particularly well that maybe your dog doesn't. You can communicate back and forth and say, 'How do you guys train your dogs?' "
The search phase tests each dog's ability to locate a hidden subject in a given area, event organizers said. In Saturday's competition, the dogs were instructed to find a person who was hiding in one of five portable toilets. The obedience and agility phase requires the dogs to negotiate various obstacles.
In the protection phase, officers order their dogs to attack people in protective suits who are imitating suspected criminals. In an effort to distract the dogs, the role players sprayed them with water, threw tennis balls and fired blank rounds from a handgun.
"The judges want to see that your dog is not going to be afraid when it encounters those situations, like if somebody's throwing something down, shooting a gun, spraying water or anything like that," Mantzouranis said. "You just want to see your dog go straight in and do what you sent him to do."
Officer Ryan Larue of the Lodi Police Department said the judges are experienced K-9 officers who sometimes offer advice.
"They've been doing this stuff for 20 years, so they've got a lot of good tips, too," Larue said.
Officer Ryan Ivey of the Port of the Stockton Police Department finished fourth overall behind Darren Young of the Vacaville Police Department, Roger Kinney of the West Sacramento Police Department and Gregg Tawney of the Elk Grove Police Department.
"When I first started, I followed three different guys who were consistently doing well, and I learned from them," Ivey said. "I tell the new guys to do the same thing; follow a couple of guys who have been doing well and learn things from them."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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