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Dogs on duty: K-9 work explained

MSP Trooper and K-9 Handler Mack Schlicht leads a demonstration with his dog Wick at a community event. (Journal file photo)

By TRINITY CAREY

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — There are currently 50 police dogs working throughout the state of Michigan with heir handlers.

Serving as a Michigan State trooper with a dog r

d once selected are sent to Lansing for a 10- to 14-week training with their new dogs.

Dogs are purchased untrained from a kennel in Indiana at roughly one to two years of age when they begin to mature, he explained.

The black lab Nitro, an MSP K-9 trained to detect explosives, is pictured. (Journal file photo)

“At that point, they’ve gotten past a lot of the puppy stuff and you can actually start working with the innate capabilities of the dog to hone their skills and get them to do what we’re looking for them to do,” Schlicht said.

Patrol dogs are typically German shepherds or German shepherd-Malinois mixes, but labs are used for patrolling crowds. When officers are attending community events with K-9s, the public should always ask the handler to approach the dog, he added.

“The electronic detection dogs and our vapor weight dogs are pretty special purpose dogs and we use labs for that just because they’re a little more people-friendly, less intimidating and work crowds a little better,” he added.

Dogs are trained for electronic detection for use by agencies such as the computer crimes unit when executing a search warrant for a USB, laptop, cell phone or similar objects.

“The dogs are used to pick up the odor from those objects and locate them,” Schlicht said. “The glue that they use has a very specific chemical odor to it and it’s the same as with like narcotics. We’ve trained the dog to recognize that odor and give us a response.”

Trooper Schlicht is pictured with his current K-9 Dresden, a 2-year-old German Shepherd trained in narcotics recognition. (Photo courtesy of Michigan State Police Negaunee Post)

K-9s are also trained for tracking; building, area and property searches; obedience; aggression training; and narcotics detection.

While the HST is headquartered in Marquette, Schlicht and his three partners cover a majority of the Upper Peninsula conducting traffic stops and assisting other agencies with their K-9s.

“The State of Michigan, we offer our K-9 services to any agency, search and rescue agencies, other police agencies, that kind of stuff, free of charge and then 24/7,” he said. “We get the call, we go, we do what we can to help out.”

Schlicht currently works with his dog Dresden, who he named after the city in Germany. Dresden is a 2.5-year-old German shepherd trained for narcotics tracking, property searched and the protection of himself and Schlicht.

“My dog is trained on four substances, crack, meth, cocaine and heroin.” he said. “If we’re searching a car and he indicates on the outside of a car that there’s going to be narcotics in there, it’s going to be one of those four substances.”

This is Schlicht’s second K-9. He first worked with a German shepherd, Wick, who was also trained for narcotic identification.

“My last dog was imprinted with the odor of marijuana but when they changed the marijuana laws we were forced to make a change ourselves. With the job that I do, with the team that I work with, to have a dog that could not be used for probable cause to search a vehicle anymore that just wasn’t mission specific, it wouldn’t work,” he said.

Dogs trained to signal for marijuana odors aren’t used in patrolling the motoring public, but can still be used in areas where marijuana is prohibited such as prisons and schools, he said. Wick was transferred to Gladstone to work with another handler, which was difficult for Schlicht, he said.

“My last dog Wick was the first dog I had and there’s a process and the bonding is part of it and everything and bringing him home. They live with us 24/7, so when they call us at 3 in the morning we get up, jump in the car and away we go,” Schlicht said. “I didn’t enjoy the process but in order for me to keep my job where I’m at I needed to make the adjustment.”

While the dogs live with the troopers they aren’t a family pet, even when they get home from work.

“Our dogs are outside dogs. We keep them outside so that they acclimate to the weather, they can handle the temperatures we experience up here and then they can do their job when we need it. He doesn’t come in the house, he has contact with my family but it’s supervised because he’s a dog, he’s also trained to apprehend people he’s also trained to bite if needs be,” he explained. “His reward, his fun time, it all revolves around work. That’s what he gets paid for, that’s his purpose with the state police and we need to keep that in mind as troopers and as family people. They’re not pets, they’re there for a purpose.”

While Schlicht’s last dog had a very high drive and could search for hours without tiring, Dresden’s strong suit is his nose. Despite his incredible senses, he’s still “just a big, fluffy, happy dog,” Schlicht said.

Being a K-9 handler is what Schlicht enjoys most about being a trooper and success with the dog is the most satisfying aspect of working in the canine unit, he said.

“When he’s working and he’s successful, when we get that stop and we get somebody that’s ‘no, you’re not searching my car’ and within the confines of what we can and can’t do we get the dog there and he’ll hit on a car and we find what we’re looking for and we get either the narcotics or the guns or the violent felons take care of — those are the days that are huge,” he said. “The phenomenal work that the guys do all over the state with the dogs is just incredible.”

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is tcarey@miningjournal.net.

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