Dog day afternoon: Manchester K9s in training

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Officer Rick Valente Jr. with Dutch Shepherd Axel, one of the police department’s newer K9 recruits. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – Officers from Manchester, Goffstown, Hillsborough and the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday took advantage of a vacant bank-owned property on Summer Street to run through training exercises with 10 police K9s.

Manchester Police Sergeants Eric Knight and John Cunningham were in charge of the operation, which included having the dogs search through the three-story house for bad guys in hiding (dog handlers dressed in bite suits), drugs, and explosives.

Officer Jeff Fiermonte and his K9, Bauer, ready to charge into action. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Training exercises happen frequently, said Knight. It’s all fun and games for the dogs, who live for the hunt. But it also provides opportunities for the officers to see how the dogs respond in various scenarios, which prepares them to work together in the field.

Officers who partner with K9s have a special bond – it’s a 24.7 commitment, as the dogs not only work side-by-side with their handlers, but also live with them.

“We see the dogs more than we see our families,” says Officer Jacob Tyler, who is working with a rookie K9 named Doug.

Officer Ben Foster and K9 Moose. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“I’ve had Doug almost a year,” Officer Tyler says looking at his watch to check the date. “My previous K9, Bud, retired on Aug. 23, 2016, and I started working with the new guy on Aug. 26.

Although “the new guy” may seem a strange way to refer to one’s dog, the relationship between officer and K9 is all business, and the dogs are regarded as members of the team.

Officer Ryan Brandreth’s longtime K9 partner, Colt, is retiring this month, and a new recruit will soon take Colt’s place.

If you’ve ever wondered where retired police dogs go, often, it’s with their handlers, to live out the rest of their lives with fewer restrictions. Although the training drills may end, the bond continues.

“Officer Brandreth is going to take Colt when he retires,” said Sgt. Knight.

Doug is ready for his first drill. Officer Tyler holds him at the bottom of a stairway by a long lead and shouts up the stairs, giving a warning to the bad guy in hiding, that he’s about to come up the stairs with his dog. He repeats the warning, and the tone of Tyler’s voice excites Doug, who responds with a series of furious barks as he tugs at the lead, ready to roll.Officer Tyler holds on to Doug’s lead and shouts again, this time warning that if the bad guy doesn’t come out, the dog will bite him. Then, Officer Tyler gives Doug some slack, and together they head upstairs. Doug is given plenty of leeway to move room to room, panting and sniffing as he picks up human scent. Officer Tyler hangs back, concealing himself behind a refrigerator while Doug heads toward an open space. 

Officer Rick Valente Jr. and Axel listen to Officer Ben Foster, in the bad guy suit, make some suggestions for the next drill, as Officer Jeff Fiermonte, left, looks on. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Within a few minutes, Doug is alerting and immediately zeroes in on the bad guy, in this scenario, played by Officer Rick Valente Jr.

“Packen! Packen!, says Officer Tyler, the German word for “bite,” and Doug obeys, getting a firm hold on the thick bite suit as the “bad guy” is moved from a closet and told to lay down on the ground. 

Doug is showered with praise and is given the command, “aus,” or release, as he reluctantly retracts his teeth from the suit.  

Of Manchester Police Department’s 10 K9s, seven are certified bomb-detecting dogs, and three are trained to sniff out drugs.

Officer Rick Valente Jr. is all smiles, after a rigorous stint as “the bad guy.” Photo/Carol Robidoux

Most of the dogs recruited for police work are between 1 and 2 years old. Then they go through a rigorous 14-week training program through the Boston Police Department before they are ready to hit the streets with their handlers, who are also specially trained.

Manchester K9s have worked all kinds of cases, from missing persons to fugitives, says Sgt. Knight.

“For the most part they serve a deterrent, similar to a Tazer,” says Sgt. Knight. “As soon as someone hears the barking, they are usually ready to surrender.”

Their bark may not be worse than their bite, as the dogs are trained to latch on and not let go until they get the command. 

Officer Jeff Fiermonte with his K9, Bauer. Photo/Carol Robidoux

During another training round, Officer Ben Foster is playing the role of bad guy, while Officer Rick Valente Jr. and his rookie K9, Axel, a brindled Dutch Shepherd, get to hunt him down. 

“Look – it’s monkey puppy baby,” says one of the officers, referring to Axel’s unique appearance, as the dog trots past with a bit of attitude, getting his snout in the game of hide-and-seek to search the second floor.

Another training session comes to an end, this time at a foreclosed property on Summer Street. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“The disadvantage to being one of the last dogs to train is that, by the time they get up there, there are so many different scents and smells, it can throw them off a little,” says Knight. That analysis, after Axel takes a little longer than expected to zero in on the bad guy.

After the drill, the officers take a minute to analyze the situation, and Officer Foster suggests they try an abbreviated hunt, this time with a quick reward for Axel. It pays off, as Axel barks almost immediately when he picks up Officer Foster’s scent in the closet.

Officer Foster’s partner, Moose, is a veteran of the K9 unit. The experienced pair took their turn, and moved quickly through the drill.

“The dogs are a real asset to the police force,” says Sgt. Knight. “It’s really good to be able to have opportunities like this to train in the field. For the dogs, it’s what they live for. And it’s even fun for the officers – when I was a handler, it was the best part of the job.”



About Carol Robidoux 6324 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!