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Ruff life: Tyndall, local police K-9 units train

Andrew Longo, Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy, leads Risko, his canine companion, into the Tyndall base chapel Feb. 7 as part of a narcotics working dog seminar attended by local and base authorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alex Echols)

Andrew Longo, Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy, leads Risko, his canine companion, into the Tyndall base chapel Feb. 7 as part of a narcotics working dog seminar attended by local and base authorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alex Echols)

Jason F. Gleason, Panama City Beach Police Department corporal, leads Argo, his canine companion, into the Tyndall base chapel Feb. 7 as part of a narcotics working dog seminar attended by local and base authorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alex Echols)

Jason F. Gleason, Panama City Beach Police Department corporal, leads Argo, his canine companion, into the Tyndall base chapel Feb. 7 as part of a narcotics working dog seminar attended by local and base authorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alex Echols)

Jason F. Gleason, Panama City Beach Police Department corporal, poses with Argo, his canine companion, in front of the Tyndall base chapel Feb. 7. They were participating in a narcotics working dog seminar attended by local and base authorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alex Echols)

Jason F. Gleason, Panama City Beach Police Department corporal, poses with Argo, his canine companion, in front of the Tyndall base chapel Feb. 7. They were participating in a narcotics working dog seminar attended by local and base authorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alex Echols)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Looking out across the nave, a tail slices between the pews like a shark's fin as it hunts prey. Chase, a German shepherd from the Bay County Sheriff's Office K-9 Unit, darts up and down the aisles of the dimly lit chapel.

He is doing what he was trained to do. He is searching for illegal drugs.

The room erupts with praise when the dog locates the drugs his trainer hid. His favorite toy soars across the room and a game of tug of war ensues.

This was part of a four-day narcotics training seminar held from Jan. 5 to Jan. 8. It brought together K-9 units from Bay County and other local police offices for one day of classes and three days of field exercises, said Lt. Kevin Francis, Bay County Sheriff's Office deputy.

The seminar, two months in the making, consisted of four instructors, 17 dog handlers and three observers, all with the same goals of learning new training and fine tuning their craft, Lieutenant Francis said.

This seminar was the product of a relationship cultivated by the Bay County Sheriff's Office K-9 Unit and the 325th Security Forces Squadron here on base.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office K-9 unit has had a long time working relationship with Tyndall's 325th SFS, said Mr. Jeff Duggins, Bay County Sheriff's Office K-9 Unit lead trainer.

In 1994, the sheriff's office wanted to train their dogs along with military working dogs at Tyndall. They made contact with Mr. Duggins, who was then kennel master for the 325th SFS. They worked out a mutually beneficial schedule, said Mr. Duggins.

Every Thursday, each unit joined forces to train their working dogs.

Since Mr. Duggins used to be a military kennel master, it was easy for him and Master Sgt. Michael B. Mellen, 325th SFS current kennel master for Tyndall's military working dogs, to understand each other and keep up the camaraderie between the two teams.

"They bring a lot of experience and information to my young guys and myself to the table. That's the main thing we take away from them," Sergeant Mellen said on the K-9 unit at the Bay County Sheriff's Office.

"We work hand and hand," said Mr. Duggins. "We learn from each other."

Due to manning and budget constraints, they had to cut their sessions to two Thursdays a month, but they get together as much as possible to work on their skills with the dogs, said Mr. Duggins.

The working dogs, mostly German shepherds and Belgian malinois, come mainly from breeders in Europe, with the exception of 20 percent of the Air Force military working dogs, Sergeant Mellen said. Those come from a special breeding program at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Once the dog arrives at its respective team, it is paired with a handler, and they train until they become certified, which could take from two to six months depending on how the team bonds together, said Mr. Duggins.

The bond between the handler and the dog starts there and grows every day. This is more evident with the police dogs as they actually go home with their handlers, Lieutenant Francis said. In some cases, they are together almost 24 hours a day.

"You spend more time with the dog than you do your wife," Lieutenant Francis said jokingly about one of his handlers.

The handlers and the dogs gained valuable training during the seminar that will help them bond and grow as a team, and the alliance continues between the 325th SFS and the Bay County Sheriff's Office.