The four-man, four-dog team all received the required annual recertification last week at the South Georgia K-9 Training and Certification Workshop in Perry. The fourth annual event was hosted by the Dooly County and Houston County Sheriff’s Offices.
Competing against more than 70 other teams, Sgt. Shane Collie and his dog, Mann, won first in explosives detection; Officer Chad Berry and his dog Spartacus won second place in obedience; and Officer Jake Cash and his dog Debo won first place for criminal apprehension. Officer Jarred Jackson and his dog Hank, a chocolate Labrador retriever who was previously Cash’s pet, were also re-certified.
But Collie, the team’s supervisor, said it’s all in a day’s work.
“I am beyond proud of my guys, but we went there for certification,” Collie said. “It’s good to be recognized for what we do and how we do it … I got a lot of compliments (from other agencies) on how well they conduct themselves professionally and how well they work with their dogs. I’m beyond proud of them.”
Collie said the high-caliber performance is a testament to the unit’s rigous training, which takes place every Tuesday in a large open field just off Main Street near downtown Woodstock.
The field, previously Breezy Hills Horse Stables, was purchased to be developed by John Weiland homes but is up for sale and being used for now by the K-9 Unit.
“We train the dogs in different scenarios and try to always mix it up,” Collie said.
Woodstock PD has had its K-9 Unit for more than a decade, but the four-man team has been together for the last year and a half.
“Another thing that makes our training so good is the camaraderie between the four of us because we’ll challenge each other,” Collie said. “We’ll push each other when we track. We’ll make tracks difficult… we actually get in the thick stuff and go through briars and thorns to challenge the handler and the dog.”
After training at Breezy Hills, the dogs and their handlers then head to an indoors location to work on narcotics detection.
But the dogs don’t get a break when they head home with their handlers each night.
“They’re so persistent about their training,” Collie said. “They don’t just come to work and train then go home and forget about their dogs. They go home and train with their dogs as well. Obedience is something they do continuously.”
Each dog and its handler are inseparable, as the dogs are only certified to work with their specific handler when performing police work.
Collie said the officers’ commitment to training round-the-clock takes a lot of commitment but helps the dogs succeed through repetition and reinforcement.
Cash agreed and said obedience and control makes all dogs happier.
“They do what you want rather than the old style where you have to force the dog into what they call compulsion training,” Cash said.
All four dogs are trained as passive alert dogs, meaning they simply signal a detection rather than scratch or disturb whatever they are asked to find. Cash said this type of training minimizes property damage.
“It’s a benefit for everybody,” Cash said. “No need in tearing up somebody’s property—even if they are breaking the law—so we try to avoid it the best we can.”
While Cash and Berry’s dogs perform patrol work and criminal apprehension, Collie and his dog Mann were certified in tracking and explosive detection.
Each area of certification requires extensive training, Collie said.
For example, to be certified in criminal apprehension, each dog must complete a call-off, where the dog is ordered to attack a suspect but is then commanded to stop; a gunfire exercise, where the dog must stand beside his handler until two shots are fired off and the dog is directed to attack and then return to the handler; as well as area and building searches.
While three of the dogs were purchased through overseas brokers and bred for detection work, Hank was formerly a family pet.
“Hank used to be my wife’s pet,” Cash said. “He was just so wild and bored at home we started bringing him to work… he went through an eight-week training course and an eight-week handler course with Jarred and certified as a police dog.
“So now he’s a part-time pet, full-time drug dog, misdemeanor man-tracker,” Collie joked.
Collie said the dogs save Woodstock PD time, money and, most importantly, lives.
“They’re a deterrent,” Cash said. “People will run from a cop—they won’t run from a dog. Nobody wants to get bit.”
Over the summer, Collie and Mann were called out to help track a missing elderly woman with dementia who had wandered away from her Holly Springs home. The twosome found the woman, who had been missing for three hours, in about 15 minutes.
“It was storming and pouring down rain, and she wandered out of her house,” Collie said. “I just took the dog and went down the street and started walking him in big circles to let him see if he could pick up anything. He dropped his head, and off we went. He pulled me up to a house, and she was sitting up under a tree… nobody would have ever seen her had he not found her.”
Collie said Mann walked up to the woman and lied down, just as he is trained to do.
“That’s when it’s worthwhile. I don’t care if I ever find a bomb, but finding that woman and helping her not die in the elements, to me that was worthwhile,” Collie said.
Cash said those kinds of discoveries mean the most.
“That’s somebody’s mother, grandmother who could have died, but instead we found her and she got reunited with her family. That’s the kind of thing that really makes a big difference,” Cash said.
Mann was also used this summer to track two suspects in a Holly Springs home invasion who ran into the woods.
Additionally, the dogs are used in countywide efforts as well as for other police departments in the metro Atlanta region.