The newest member of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office has four paws and a wet nose.
Arthur, a one-year-old Chocolate Lab, joined the team one month ago after completing five weeks of rigorous bomb detection, tracking and article search training with his handler, Deputy Zach Totherow.
“If he’s not working, he’s the biggest goofball you’re ever going to see,” said Totherow. “But the moment he goes to work it’s like flipping the switch. He’s focused on his work.”
Totherow, who celebrated his one year anniversary with the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office March 13, said he’s always been interested in public safety and couldn’t wait for the day he received his canine partner.
He met Arthur in Maysville through a training program conducted by Custom Canine Unlimited, a training school taught by former K9 handlers who have seen firsthand what is needed for successful canine officers in the field.
While Custom Canine Unlimited generally begins training
canines when they are one and half years old, Arthur was a standout before his
Still a puppy, Arthur impressed his instructors enough to begin his detection training, making him one of the youngest dogs to successfully complete the program. The young lab was sociable, adjusted to environmental changes, didn’t shy away from loud noises and handled being in confined areas like a champ.
And he smoked the other three members of his class too, receiving a perfect score in bomb detection while the other dogs each had one miss. Arthur also scored perfectly on tracking and article search, though he was the only canine in his class that went through that certification.
“He’s wide open on tracking, as hard as he could run. It’s good exercise. I lost a good bit of weight that five weeks chasing him,” Totherow said.
It’s only been in the past few years that programs like Custom Canine Unlimited have begun training labs, favoring breeds like the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.
When Totherow talked with the program’s leaders, they said they realized in the past couple years that it’s not so much the breed itself but how they were being trained. A dog with a high prey drive makes the most successful candidate.
“If they can find a dog with a high prey drive, they can teach it to work,” Totherow said.
The team graduated the program on Feb. 9, just nine days shy of Arthur’s first birthday.
In order for Arthur to become a certified police dog, he had to go through a four part certification process. After passing obedience, he moved on to explosives, articles and tracking.
As an explosives detection dog, Arthur has to identify the five explosive bases: Black powder, RDX, PETN, ANFO and chlorates as well as compounds that stem from those bases.
For article certification, Arthur was required to find objects, or articles, marked with a human scent within a contained area and lie down with the scent between his front paws. As for tracking, Arthur ran the quarter mile in 11 minutes and once again, passed with flying colors.
In his first month in Dawson County, Arthur is adjusting well to his new job. He’s trained at the courthouse, searched around the high school twice as well as the middle school. Two weeks ago he searched the junior high school.
“We’re just checking the areas where somebody could come in and drop something like the bushes out front or areas where kids leave the school buses, front lobby, cafeteria and hallways,” said Totherow. “We’re going in there as a cautionary measure.”
Three weeks ago, Arthur and Totherow assisted the Department of Natural Resources with locating weapons in the woods where a convicted felon was illegally hunting.
Even though it was two hours before they got to the
woods, Arthur was able to locate a rifle and a shotgun.
As part of his training, Arthur receives a reward for correctly alerting on scents: A toy. He loves both tennis balls and rope toys. Totherow describes the lovable lab as a “tug fanatic” but he’ll also chase anything that bounces or rolls.
The toy motivation helps keep Arthur focused and excited for work, as well as gets some of his energy out. It also helps Totherow, who says spending a few minutes playing with Arthur can turn his day around.
The sheriff’s office currently has three other canine officers, all of which are narcotic dogs. One is a full service and does tracking, article search and apprehension. The other two are narcotics, tracking and articles. All four canine officers have one training day together every week.
“Training never stops until he dies or he retires, whichever comes first. He’s never going to be 100 percent trained,” said Totherow. “There will always be something for us to work on.”
When his shift is over, Arthur heads home with Totherow and enjoys running around his fenced yard.
“When he’s at home he gets to be a dog. When he gets in that car, he knows,” said Totherow. “He knows what time it is.”