by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune
---- — Drugs and explosives littered a warehouse and the grounds of a construction company in Logansport Wednesday night.
But not to fret. While the contraband items were put there with no imminent danger, attendees of the training that took place that night under the guidance of a an internationally renowned dog-training facility said it prepared them and their dogs for the real thing.
Vohne Liche Kennels, out of Denver in neighboring Miami County and recently the subject of “Alpha Dogs” on Nat Geo Wild, has been bringing classes to Construction Unlimited and Tierney Industrial Warehouse in Logansport since 2009 to train for narcotics, explosives and apprehension scenarios for its clients in the fields of law enforcement, military, government departments and private security.
Luis Rodriguez, a trainer with Vohne Liche, said the company brings classes to Logansport in the fourth week of a six-week course to provide a new environment for the handlers and their new dogs.
“The owners are kind enough to give us a different environment to train in,” Rodriguez said. The rows of trucks in the construction lot and the three stories of the warehouse became the haystacks that would eventually hide the needles of simulated drug trafficking and terrorism.
“You train like you play,” he continued. “If you train the same way you’re going to hit it in the streets, you’re going to have success.”
The Logansport Police Department has two dogs of its own from Vohne Liche — Belgian Malinois named Hodo and Viggo — handled by First Sgts. Travis Yike and Adam Morrow, respectively. The four come out when Vohne Liche trains in the area to hone the hounds’ narcotics-detecting skills and receive tips from the trainers. Both dogs are trained to detect drugs, help catch fleeing criminals and protect their handlers.
“It’s a great training environment,” Yike said. “[The dogs] know what they’re trained to do and it’s fun for them.”
Representatives of several federal law enforcement agencies and government departments were also in attendance but were not permitted to speak to the press.
“Relax,” Rodriguez told the group of about 20 students huddled around him during briefing, at times illustrating his points by drawing maps in the dirt with a stick. “If it looks like it contains dope, go ahead and search it. This is all spanking-new fresh for him. Don’t overwhelm your dog.”
Kim Gorman, a K-9 specialist who works security for The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, met his new Czech shepherd, Grim, at the beginning of the class one month ago after his previous dog had to be retired.
When Grim gets to Las Vegas, he will use the training he received at Vohne Liche to search luggage and suspicious packages for explosives as well as perform sweeps of rooms that will be occupied by dignitaries.
In his time with the company, Gorman said he has yet to discover anything dangerous.
“Personally, I’d be happy if I never found anything,” he said.
One by one, the handlers and their dogs entered the warehouse, traversing along the walls, boxes, shelves, tools and other equipment. Both on- and off-leash, the dogs led their handlers around, moving where directed and being hurried along when lingering somewhere.
With their nostrils constantly flaring, the canines appeared to have just as much joy in their demeanor as concentration, a dedication that clashed with their oblivion toward the dastardly items they were seeking.
When successful, the dogs would fall into “final response,” either sitting or lying on all fours with their focus locked on the object they were seeking. In real life, the drug dogs’ handlers would make the bust, while the bomb dogs’ handlers would swiftly exit. During these training exercises, it meant a friendly toss of a tennis ball.
“Who’s a good boy?” Gorman asked Grim after successfully tracking down a pound of black powder under a bin on the first floor of the warehouse, ruffling his fur. Grim’s tail wagged as he chomped on the tennis ball.
Some weren’t able to find the drugs and the bombs on their first pass, but that’s the reason for the training, said Josiah Caldwell, who is currently studying to be a trainer at Vohne Liche.
Many of the dogs made it within “the fringe,” an area used to describe the general vicinity of the drugs or explosives, but not quite to its source.
When this would happen, Caldwell and other trainers would provide ways to improve and guide the handler, suggesting they “present” in certain areas, which means to swing one’s arm and open one’s hand in the direction the handler want the dog to search.
“Odor falls,” Caldwell said — so things get a bit tricky for dogs when targets are hidden below their head level. An opened door creates a vacuum, too, pulling that odor outside and posing further challenges.
However, changes in behavior are still present when the dogs catch traces of the odors they’ve been trained to seek, which a well-acquainted handler will be able to pick up on before having their animal search a particular area more closely, he said.
“That’s why it’s important to build up a rapport with the dog,” Caldwell continued.
Many of the handlers commanded the dogs in the animals’ native languages, calling out words in Dutch, German and Czech. Many of Vohne Liche’s dogs are purchased overseas at ages ranging from 10 to 18 months and have already received partial training.
Both Logansport business owners said they were glad to let the dogs be trained at their sites.
Tom Tierney, owner of Tierney Industrial Warehouse and friend of First Sgt. Yike, recalled saying “Heck yes” when Yike asked if they could use the property four years ago.
“Anything to help,” he said. “It’s easy for us to do, just lock up when they’re done.”
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him: @PharosMAK