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GFPD swears in K-9 Reno

Reno, the newest K-9 member of the Grand Forks Police Department, is a somewhat of a paradox. "For a bite-trained dog, he's very social," says his handler, Officer Andy Stein. The 60-pound Belgian Malinois knows how to sink his teeth into a suspe...

K-9 Reno
Grand Forks Police Chief John Packett swears in K-9 Reno as officer Andy Stein assists Tuesday at the Grand Forks Police Dept. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Reno, the newest K-9 member of the Grand Forks Police Department, is a somewhat of a paradox.

"For a bite-trained dog, he's very social," says his handler, Officer Andy Stein.

The 60-pound Belgian Malinois knows how to sink his teeth into a suspect and how to enjoy a good belly scratch.

"He loves to be petted. That's not to say he's a pet, but he knows when he has to go to work and when he doesn't," Stein said.

Tuesday morning, Chief John Packett swore in the jittery 18-month-old. Distracted by the rapid clicking of a camera, Reno might have missed the part about upholding the Constitution. Either way, a shake with the chief sealed an agreement that Reno will serve as a police dog for the rest of his working life.

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Then, it was time for -- A BALL!

"He loves to play catch. He'd do it all day if he could," Stein said.

,b> 'The Porsche'

Reno replaces Jake the German shepherd who served for seven years and was retired in April because of hip troubles typical of his breed. The Belgian Malinois has not been bred as much as the German shepherd and has less risk of health problems, Stein said.

"Really, he's the Porsche in the K-9 world," he said of Reno. "A lot of departments are going to the Malinois for several reasons. You know, they're higher drive, less medical issues."

The Malinois was originally raised to herd sheep, and the intense breed thrives when they have a job to do. "They make an outstanding police dog but not a good pet," he said.

Reno and Stein recently completed a 16-week course with the Winnipeg Police Service, learning how to track and catch crooks. The GFPD bought Reno from the WPS, which purchased him from a German breeder.

In Winnipeg, Reno went through three levels of tracking training, Stein said:

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- Level I is "a little bit easier because you're dealing with taller grass. It holds a lot more scent, and it just works out better for the dog."

- Level II "is more of an industrial-type setting. So, you get some road crossing, you're getting some concrete, some big open parking lots."

- Level III "is going to be all you urban stuff, which is running through your houses, running through your yards, your back lanes, through the alleys, over gravel, all that stuff."

Reno practiced by locating various items, including scraps of clothing, shirts, spent cartridge casings, empty magazines and cell phones.

Stein said Reno's skills are still developing, but right now, the pup could track an hour-old scent in a Level I setting and a 25-minute-old scent in a Level III setting.

Reno joins the department's other dog, Chico, a yellow Lab with a year and a half of service under his collar. Chico specializes in sniffing out illegal drugs, something Reno also can do.

'Fear-scent'

Aside from educating his nose, Reno is sharpening his chops at attacking suspects. Starting with rags and tug toys, graduating to bite pillows and arm guards, Reno eventually will practice his attacks on a lucky volunteer in a full-body "bite suit."

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"That's the ultimate goal we want to get to," Stein said. "Once the dog is keyed into the fear-scent of the actual bad guy, it's a whole new game for them. It's like a light bulb goes off in his head. He realizes, 'Oh, this is fun, this is what I want to do.'"

Reno lives in a kennel in Stein's backyard and is on call around the clock. The pooch made his first foray into police work this week when officers responded to a report of a business break-in. "He searched the building just like he was supposed to. Unfortunately, the bad guy had gotten away already," Stein said.

Good thing for the bad guy.

"The way he's been trained is that if he finds the guy, he's going to bite him," he said. "He's taught to bite and hold."

Reach Ingersoll at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com .

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