A young Erick Dyer, 15, slipped on the bite sleeve and hid behind a cement block 150 meters down field.
He was the decoy in a Maple Grove Police Department K-9 demonstration. The K-9 began making his way down the field until he caught a whiff of Dyer to his right. The dog’s head snapped to the side as he began charging, ready to apprehend the teenage police explorer.
Dyer attempted to free himself as the K-9 tightened his bite until the handler commanded him to release.
“That was my first experience with (working) dogs,” he said.
Ever since that experience, Dyer has wanted to become a K-9 officer. Now, five years into his career with the New Hope Police Department, the officer is working his dream job with K-9 Officer Dex by his side.
“It’s nice having a partner with you that’s always watching your back,” Dyer said.
Dex is a 1-year-old Belgian Malinois, pronounced mal-uh n-wah, from Arizona. His parents are from the Czech Republic and the dog comes from a working bloodline.
According to the American Kennel Club, the Malinois is squarely built, proud and alert herders that are strong and muscular. The club identifies this breed to be smart, confident, hardworking and loyal.
Dex is smaller than most German Shepherd Dogs, a common breed in the police force, weighing only 55 pounds. But do not be fooled, Dex is fast, smart and can fit in small spaces, Dyer said.
“To have a little bit smaller of a dog is good to get in those nooks and crannies,” he said. “It’s easier to lift him up into attics or down into crawl spaces.”
A good working connection between handler and K-9 takes time to develop.
Dyer and Dex met March 18, approximately one month prior to the beginning of their training together.
Dyer spent the first week with Dex alone in his Otsego home, while Dex became familiar with the house and scent of Dyer’s family dog, Nala.
When both dogs finally met, they got along instantly. Dyer, who agreed to re-home Nala if the two dogs did not get along, was relieved to see the dogs playing moments after meeting.
While at home, both dogs are playful and cuddly. When Dex is working, he is tuned in to his handler, awaiting commands, something he learned from training.
The duo spent three months training Monday through Friday at McDonough K-9 Patrol and Detective Training and Certification.
“We worked on obedience, distance control and agility,” Dyer said.
Dex is a dual purpose K-9, and is patrol and narcotic certified. He can track, search, recover evidence, apprehend criminals and detect narcotics.
“He had no problem biting,” Dyer said. “The struggle I had with him believe it or not, even though he likes to jump, was hurdles.”
Dyer and Dex are required to take a test and be re-certified each year.
During the test, Dex must be able to complete a down field bite, bite with gunfire, detection work with boxes, walk over an A-frame, up a catwalk and stay until commanded otherwise, complete four hurdles, do a low crawl and broad jump. He must also be able to follow Dyer’s verbal and hand commands.
Working dogs are an expensive asset for police departments, typically costing $6,000 to $15,000 for the dog and training. That does not include the K-9 squad car, ropes and leashes of varying lengths, tracking harness, electric collar, pinch collar, muzzles, bite sleeve, bite suit and rewards such as food and toys.
“I knew going in it would be a lot of work,” Dyer said. “I knew that it would be a lot of running and I was never a runner much. I am now because I don’t have a choice. So, he’s helped me change. He’s helped me work a little harder.”
During their 10 hour shifts, Dyer makes sure to provide time for Dex to stretch, play and train.
“We’re required to do a minimum of 16 hours a month of training per the United State Police Canine Association standards,” he explained.
K-9 officers do not spend all of their shift within their jurisdiction. If other departments throughout the metro are in need of a K-9 unit, Dyer and Dex might report to the call.
Most working dogs, depending on what age they start working their size and health, serve on a department for five to 10 years before retiring. Those that retire typically become their handler’s family dog.
The two have formed a lasting bond and will patrol New Hope overnight three days per week.