Training helps handlers, dogs become a team

FLORENCE — Law enforcement will tell you the best training is to be put in real-life situations.

“No two calls are the same. You never know what to expect on any call, so training in different locations and scenarios is vital,” said Florence Police detective Sgt. Wes Gargis, who is also a training officer and supervisor with the department’s canine unit.

Gargis said using different locations is a major learning tool in training canines and their handlers.

“We have several different places that allow us to go into and train. They’re places that we could possibility be called into,” Gargis said.

The department’s canine units have worked in various types of buildings, as well as in a church.

“One day, they may be searching a car, then a house, or an office building or even a church,” he said. “We’re thankful that property owners allow us the opportunities to go into different facilities and train because these are real-life scenarios that can and have happened.”

Deputy Chief Mike Holt said the training is critical for the success of the unit.

“It’s important for the dog and the handler. The work they put in is a perishable skill set for both the dogs and the officers,” Holt said.

The Florence Police Department has four canine units — one trained just to detect narcotics; two dual-purpose dogs used for patrol and drug detection; and one dog trained to detect explosives.

Gargis said the department hopes to add another dog soon.

“The goal is to have one on every shift,” he said.

Each dog and its handler goes through weekly training.

New handlers, like Eddie Grissom and his dog, Vox, are going through basic training before they go on the street.

All of the training is based on U.S. Police Canine Association standards.

Gragis said Vox is a veteran of the department, but it takes time for the dog to get used to its new handler.

“Right now, Eddie and Vox are going through an eight-week narcotics handler course that we require before they start patrolling,” Gargis said.

He said all of the training is vital to helping the dogs and the handlers become better partners.

The department’s handlers and dogs are currently going through their annual certification work. Gargis said each handler and his dog must be certified as a “team.”

“And that’s what they are,” Holt said. “Our canine teams are a valuable tool for the department. They provide a safer environment for our officers, and allow us to expand our services for the public.

“They are a tremendous asset for the department.”