Officers train police dogs in the Western Slope

Published: Jan. 10, 2016 at 5:36 PM MST
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Dogs can do a lot more than serve as pets. Here in the valley, some go through tough training to help make the community safe.

The Grand Junction Police Department has two German Shepherds named Joker and Nero. Joker was imported from Europe, while Nero came from Tel Aviv, Israel.

Both dogs train weekly with their handlers.

"Dogs are not quite like people in how they learn,” said Geraldine Earthman, a police officer and K9 handler for the Grand Junction Police Department. “They don't see something once and remember it forever; they learn by repetition."

The dogs are trained on searching buildings, tracking human odor and even finding narcotics.

And while all of these tasks are important, Trevor Hawkins, the patrol officer and K9 handler for the Grand Junction Police Department, said he thinks the most important job a dog needs to know is obedience.

"You have to be able to control them, to tell them to go do something, to call them off of doing something, they have to listen to you,” Hawkins said. “Obedience and that bond between the dog and handler has to be there. If you don't have that, you’re not going to have control of your dog."

Officers said they can complete their jobs in a safer and more effective way by adding a four legged officer that catches things humans cannot.

“They smell (whereas) we have to open every cupboard, every door and look under everything,” she said. “They can smell ... and tell us if there’s someone there."

Earthman said that police dogs generally work five to eight years and after retirement, they are usually then adopted by their trainers.

She added that different businesses often lend their buildings to the police department to train their dogs. Sunday morning's training took place in Tabor Auto Body in Grand Junction. Earthman said this is helpful because it exposes the dogs to different flooring and sounds.