It was training day Wednesday at Butler County Prison. Time to play hide, sniff and seek.
A cadre of K-9s — mostly Belgian Malinois and German shepherds — from across the country were in town with their handlers to get some paws-on experience in law enforcement.
“It's a different environment here for the dog,” said Roy Key, a seven-year veteran of the Paulding County Sheriff's Office in Dallas, Ga., about 35 miles west of Atlanta. “We're here to do cell searches for contraband.”
The session was part of a six-week handler course for the dogs and their two-legged partners.
Participating were 12 law enforcement agencies from as far away as Bismarck, N.D., St. Louis County, Mo., and Iowa City, Iowa.
Other states represented were Illinois, Virginia, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.
“This exposes him to one more real-life situation,” said St. Louis County police Officer John Wolf, referring to his partner Kelso, a Belgian Malinois.
Kelso and the other dogs were provided by Shallow Creek Kennels, a police service dog training facility in Sharpsville, Mercer County.
“The officers come here to get a new police dog or another dog and to attend the handler course,” said John Brannon, owner of Shallow Creek Kennels.
Wednesday's training, he said, tested the K9s prowess in sniffing out four kinds of drugs — heroin, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.
The dogs over the weeks-long course will receive training in other disciplines such as tracking people and obedience compliance, and at a variety of venues — junk yards, closed steel mills and woods, to name a few.
Brannon noted that his company hand-picked all the dogs from Europe and pretrained them for two months, which ensures none will flunk out.
“There are no bad dogs,” he said, “only good dogs.”