Continued from Friday, July 22, 2016 Here—
DNR K-9 Officers are amazing creatures. I was lucky enough to talk with ICO Levi Knach while he demonstrated the abilities of his K-9 partner, Kenobi.
One of the capabilities of a dog like Kenobi is an “article search”. Like the name implies, the team is looking for an article, usually related to a crime.
To get the dog in the right frame of mind, ICO Knach goes into a set routine using special gear. For an article search Knach puts a different harness of Kenobi. Not that there’s something special about the harness other than Kenobi associates that particular harness with an article search. The routine is the same each time. Knach shows Kenobi the harness and then goes through a ritual of putting it one. The right foot always goes through first, followed by the left. Knach even goes so far as to use clips that makes a specific sound. All of this gets Kenobi excited about doing a specific job; finding something.
The ultimate goal is to get a dog to find an object and once it’s found, stay with it and make their human partner aware that they found something. This is called “alerting”.
To train Kenobi, Knach started out in a short grass area with a used shotgun shell. When Kenobi stumbled across the shotgun shell, Knach rewarded Kenobi. By doing this repeatedly Kenobi grew to know that finding items that smelled of gunpowder meant a reward. But, Knach threw in another twist. He started stepping on the shotgun shell so that Kenobi couldn’t reach it. In frustration Kenobi started scratching in an attempt to get to the shotgun shell. This led to Kenobi scratching when he alerts on an article that he is trained to hit on.
Another ability is wildlife detection. To train Kenobi, Knach takes a piece of the animal, such as venison, and places it in a special rolled up play towel that Kenobi loves. When Kenobi get the venison out, it is replaced with another piece. As days go by, Knach hides the venison impregnated towel inside a vehicle and other enclosures. It doesn’t take long for Kenobi to find his towel while learning to search vehicles for venison and other wild game.
Using the same process Kenobi has learned to alert on deer, turkey, waterfowl, and ginseng.
If you’ve ever watched an IDNR K-9 team, you’ve noticed they are always tethered. This is for several reasons. The first is to hold the dog back. When the dog is tracking it can get so excited it could overheat or blow right past a turn that the subject made. Plus, it keeps the man and dog within sight of each other. While Kenobi is the primary tracker, Knach keeps a close eye on him to read his tracking profile. If Kenobi is on the track, his tail is rigid. If he has lost the scent, his tail is circling around. By watching Kenobi, Knach knows how to react and help get Kenobi back on course.
This kind of relationship doesn’t happen overnight. It can take up to two years for the team to truly know each other. During that time, they can feel a great deal of pressure to succeed.
One of Knach and Kenobi’s first big cases was a possible suicide. The man had ran off into a wooded area. His grandfather had attempted to find him, but it was to no avail. While the grandfather’s concern and attempt to find the man was understandable, it made tracking more difficult.
“Now I have two tracks,” Knach said, “and I just hope we’re on the right one.” The issue was, whatever track Kenobi started with was what he would end with. The concern was compounded after a few moments. “As we’re tracking, we come to a fork.” Kenobi headed to the right. The track lead out to a field and right back to where they started. They realized then that they had followed the grandfather.
However, during the track, Kenobi had turned his head, which was an indicator that he had scented another person at that spot. “We went back to that spot where Kenobi had given me what we call a “negative”.” After getting on the new track, it didn’t take long to find the man, alive, safe and sound.
Knach and Kenobi continue to work together, always improving their skills as a team.
The desolation of State Fish and Wildlife areas attract unsavory people that want to hide their activities from public view. “People will make meth using the one-pot method back in the Tri-County Fish and Wildlife Area, so we’re actively look for them,” Knach explained. “We came up on a vehicle. Hunting season isn’t in yet, mushroom season is past, so I decided to run a track.” Kenobi and Knach followed the scent around one and a half miles, through woods and fields, and finally spotted a man in camo clothing hiding in the foliage. It turned out that the man was a wildlife photographer. While the man wasn’t doing anything illegal, it was terrific training for Kenobi and Knach.
ICO Knach approached the wildlife photographer and explained what he was doing and how it helped train the dog. The photographer was amazed and appreciative of the dog’s abilities. Now every time Knach sees the man’s van he uses him as a training exercise. “The photographer can’t believe we can keep finding him, so now he’s really trying to hide! In reality, that’s the best training I can get for Kenobi.” Someday, perhaps when someone is lost or hurting, that training will truly be a blessing.
For more stories about Indiana’s Conservation Officers, check out the author’s ebook on Amazon.com. Behind The Badge: True Stories of Indiana’s Conservation Officers