Northern Virginia K-9 Units Benefit from New Training

Urban Area Security Initiative Grant funded the three-week training course for police dogs and handlers.

“Danno” and his handler, Fairfax County Police Sgt. Joe Furman, have only known each other three weeks and all of that time was spent training with other police dogs and handlers from Northern Virginia.

In all, 15 dogs went through 120 hours of training at the first-ever regional train-the-trainer course held at the Fairfax County Police Operations Support Bureau in Annandale. The dogs were trained to detect anything from cocaine and marijuana to explosives by only using their noses and not relying on their handlers.

The training, done by Mississippi-based Alpha K-9, put the dogs through a gauntlet of training scenarios geared toward training them to sniff out anything on their own.

“For the three dogs that haven’t had the previous training, this is invaluable,” said Furman, a 21-year veteran of the force with just weeks of experience in the K-9 unit. “My job right now is to love on him and create a bond.”

The three-week program for Northern Virginia police agencies in the National Capital Region was paid for by the Urban Area Security Initiative Grant and sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Montgomery County (Md.) Police Sgt. Ari Elkin, organizer of the training, said K-9 units from Maryland police agencies went through the same training weeks ago. The federal grant, which is for training purposes, was for $204,000, Elkin said. The grant required Montgomery County Police to partner with a local small business and they chose Training Outreach, LLC in Potomac, Md. K-9 units from Fairfax County, Alexandria, Loudoun County, Manassas and Manassas Park, Strasburg and the Pentagon participated in the course.

Like any 11-month-old dog, “Danno” jumped at the opportunity to play with a tennis ball Tuesday. It was that desire that propelled him to find the cocaine in a long wooden box with eight slots in it. His reward, he got to play with the tennis ball until it was time to go find something else.

For more than three decades, Alpha K-9 owner and founder Randy Hare has trained police dogs. Over the last six years, he has trained dogs to know the smells of drugs and explosives and find them on their own. Hare has turned it into a game for the dogs: they know once they find the substance, their handlers will play with them with a ball on the spot. The dogs that just completed their three weeks of training have mastered Hare’s game.

“If it’s a substance that has an odor, they will find it,” Hare said. “The dog understands he has to be here and can’t wait on his handler.”

Alexandria Police K-9 officer Sgt. Steven Carr believes it’s incredibly important for the dogs to be able to detect dangerous substances and drugs on their own. The small price of playing with the dogs is nothing in comparison to the job they do finding substances, he said.

“All of their drive is to find the source because that's the only place we’ll play with them,” Carr said.

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