PIQUA — The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) has a new member on their patrol who is capable of sniffing out drugs and finding missing persons … and he likes chew toys, too.
Fox, a 20-month-old German Shepherd, is the first graduate of a new program that the OSHP has incorporated to acquire their K-9 partners. The OSHP has moved to buying and training its own dogs instead of using a contractor.
“I think he’s a great dog,” said Fox’s handler, Trooper Jeremy Wheeland of the Piqua Post of the OSHP. Wheeland got Fox in October, and Fox lives with him 24/7.
The change is giving handlers a better understanding of the dogs and their training because they participate in all 10 weeks of training, instead of only half that time. Wheeland was also a handler for a dog from the previous program, and he explained that he can see a difference between the old method of getting dogs and their new process of buying and training the dogs themselves.
“This is my second dog,” Wheeland said. “My first dog was part of our old program. Basically, the dogs come in as finished product. They’ve already been trained, they’ve already been imprinted, and then they would take a new handler and they would teach them how to work with the dog during the last half of the training.
“With the new program, we’re involved with the imprinting stage,” Wheeland continued. “We’re there in the beginning. They bring in a green dog who’s had no training, and the trainers teach us how to train the dog.”
“They’re fully embedded in the entire process,” Lt. Jon Payer, Piqua Criminal Investigations commander, said. “Before, it would be like if you knew what you were looking for in a particular car … this is more like you’re helping build that car.”
The imprinting stages of the program are where the dogs learn to differentiate between different odors of drugs, like marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.
“Those dogs are smelling those odors for the first time,” Payer said. Payer explained that K-9s do not know what marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or meth are, they just associate the smell of those drugs with their toys. For Fox, his toy is a plastic-covered PVC pipe that he chews on.
“When they’re out there … trying to find the odor of narcotics, they think they’re looking for their toy,” Payer said.
Payer went on to say that this new program has helped improve their handlers as well, giving the handlers more knowledge of and experience with their K-9s and the training process.
“Ultimately, the new process that we’re involved in now is going to make all of our handlers better handlers and experts when it comes to the whole dog-training process,” Payer said.
Payer said that is has been fun to watch Wheeland evolve from a from a “green” handler with a new dog in the old program to a more seasoned handler with a “green dog.”
“There’s really no comparison between our old training and what we went through before compared to the new training,” Wheeland said. Wheeland explained that they have a better understanding now of how to understand and motivate the dogs.
“The easiest way I would explain his relationship with his dog now as opposed to the old system is, the old system, the dog is a tool,” Payer said. With the new system, the handler and the K-9 appear to have more of an attachment and appear more in sync.
“Now, it’s like Jeremy (Wheeland) is a part of the pack,” Payer said, mentioning that Fox is “an extension of his arm.”
When asked about Fox, Wheeland said that he can tell a difference between his first dog that he had with the old program and Fox. The handlers are able to do their own dog selection versus getting a dog that has already been trained, allowing them to avoid a dog with possible temperament issues.
“They’re able to weed out some of the … potential problem dogs before we get them and run into some issues with them,” Wheeland said. “My dog now has a great temperament. He’s good with my family, around other trainers, and around other dogs even. I’ve very pleased with him.”
Fox is also a dual-purpose K-9, meaning he can do drug searches along with patrol work. Fox is trained in tracking, detecting narcotics, article and area searches, and apprehending suspects.
“Our dogs can track a lost child, missing persons,” Payer said. “It’s incredible to watch … His dog has an excellent nose and loves to track.”
The OSHP has had K-9 partners since 1991.
“We’ve come a long way,” Payer said.
“Those dogs are very important,” Wheeland said. “They’re a very valuable tool.”
According to the Associated Press, buying and training a dog through this new process costs about $7,200, less than half the previous amount. The OSHP’s new program is patterned after a similar program that the Kansas State Police has. The OSHP has approximately 34 K-9s around the state, including two that are trained to detect explosives.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall