The pup who slobbered on my face, with my consent, of course, was Sargent, a 9½-year-old Belgian Malinois and senior team member of the Fontana police K-9 unit in Fontana, California. Sergeant Kurt Schlotterbeck, who commands the K-9 unit, explains, “The perception of a police dog is that of a vicious animal. Our dogs aren’t vicious. Every training, before they start, we walk up to them, shake the handler’s hand, and pet the dog on the head. We want them [the dogs] to be social.”
I sat down with Sergeant Schlotterbeck and Sargent’s handler, Officer Mark Wyrick, to learn more about the work they and their dogs do. Wyrick, like all the K-9 handlers in the unit, spent time on the traditional police force before applying to the specialized K-9 team. Once chosen, he was paired with Sargent, and the two went through a 240-hour training course to make them a skilled team.
Sargent, like all dogs currently on the Fontana force, is cross-trained in two specialties. His training includes suspect apprehension and narcotics/firearms detection. Wyrick and Sargent’s training didn’t end after that first extensive session; it is continuous. Most of the unit’s dogs work for six to seven years, starting between the ages of 18 months to 3 years old. Even Sargent, who is near retirement age, takes part in 10-hour practice sessions with the unit and individual training with Wyrick during their shift. Wyrick has a bite sleeve and other training tools in his patrol vehicle so he can meet up with another K-9 unit for some in-field practice. Read More