ALPENA - Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center hosted canine handlers and their dogs from all around Michigan this week for their annual certification and evaluation. The units perform half of their required evaluations in Alpena in the spring, and the other half downstate in the fall.
"We started here on Monday with our unit meeting and are debriefed on the incidents throughout the year," canine unit Commander Sgt. David Yount said. "We issue equipment, set an agenda, do the canine handler physical fitness testing, and the units take part in night training and tactics."
The canine unit in Michigan was established in 1960 with one team, and functions and units have been added every year to keep up with the changes in training and technology.
"As time goes on, we evolve and increase techniques to the needs of present day situations," Yount said. "We now have 32 handlers and 40 dogs and run an average of 400 search and rescues every year. We are on the cutting edge of new things within the canine world."
Each unit uses positive reinforcement to achieve a higher drive and a more reliable dog.
"This type of training is very reliable because it's positive reinforcement," Yount said. "Because of this training the dog and handler relationship increases and becomes very close."
Each handler goes through a 14-week basic training school with their dog, and specialty schools after, with total initial training around 16-17 weeks. This helps identify where the dogs best talents lie and lets them place dogs into a category of work. Dogs are trained in different areas of obedience, tracking, aggression, detection (narcotic and explosives), building and area searches, and property pursuit searching. Some of the canines are trained for a single purpose, like narcotics dogs, while others, called patrol dogs, have a range of versatile training.
"Most of the dogs start when they are one year old and work until they are seven to 10 years old," Trooper David Cardenas said. "Realistic training makes the dogs performance better, so we have on-site trainings and simulate distractions."
Handlers must work with their dogs for a minimum of eight hours a week, with annual refresher training and evaluations to ensure the units are up-to-date with the latest trends and training with their canines. The training at the CRTC for the canine units has been primarily focused on tactical night training, with units running exercises and evaluations in the late-night and early morning hours along with day training at the vacant Sunset School.
"We run over 4,500 calls annually as a unit," Yount said. "We're one of the busiest and biggest units in the nation."
Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.