The U.S. Police Canine Association’s spring trials aren’t your typical dog show.
Sure, judges grade the dogs on obedience and agility, but the competiton also features article searches and bite work, both with and without gunfire. And while the judges hand out trophies to the best K-9 team, the real prize for most officers is certification, which lets them know their dogs are up to the challenges of police work.
The Clayton Police Department hosted the USPCA’s Region 2 Spring Dog Trials May 21-22 at East Clayton Community Park. The event drew more than 50 K-9 teams from state and federal agencies in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Police dogs and their officer handlers are judged in five categories and must obtain a minimum score to be certified. High-scoring teams qualify for the National Police Dog Trials, which will be held in October this year in Wilson.
Dogs are certified annually, and K-9 handlers like Norris Bunch, of the U.S. Department of Energy, said every dog is different.
“A lot of it depends on how smart the dog is and how willing the dog is to learn,” Bunch said.
North Carolina does not set standards for police dogs, but nearly all departments still certify their animals for training purposes and to reduce liability concerns.
The USPCA is one of several groups that offer different levels of training for multiple skill sets. The trials in Clayton were for Police Dog 1 certification.
Sgt. Jesse Webb of the Tarboro Police Department was set to take part in the trials before his police dog, Bullit, injured himself in the run-up to the event. Webb, a USPCA member, said the event can be stressful, but experience pays off.
“We put a lot of unneeded pressure on ourselves,” Webb said. “Most of us have to realize that ‘Hey, it’s a dog.’ A dog has a dog’s brain, and we have to make sure, through training, that we develop a relationship.”
Judges evaluate the police dogs on skills they will likely use in the field.
In the box search, K-9 handlers command the dogs to find a person hiding in one of six boxes in a field, simulating a suspect search inside of a building. It works similarly in the article search, when handlers ask dogs to locate objects like expended shotgun shells, a gun or credit cards.
The police dogs, usually German shepherds or Belgian Malinois, also maneuver through an obstacle course as part of their agility testing and chase and bite decoys for criminal apprehension.
Clayton Police Capt. J.R. Herring said the town volunteered to host the regional spring trials, which rotate each year. Clayton’s two K-9 teams competed along with teams from the Raleigh and Garner police departments.