Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputy K-9 Handler Mario Murillo and German Shepherd K-9 Ghost are back from a month-long training and certification program in California. Both Ghost and Murillo trained for tracking and narcotics detection in the community.
Ghost was paid for with a $20,000 grant distributed from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) which paid for the K-9, handler training, travel, per-diem and vehicle equipment. Murillo was selected to be the K-9 handler from three HCSO deputies who applied to be selected. Big R pledged to donate all the food for Ghost for his life.
The division also plans to involve the K-9 in community-based and school events, narcotics detection and tracking. Since Ghost is a tracking dog, it can help with tracking suspects, Alzheimer’s or Dementia patients, missing children and in search and rescue to find lost hunters in remote areas.
Murillo’s vehicle is equipped with a heat and safety sensor K-9 unit monitoring, which can communicate with both the deputy’s smartphone and dispatch, allowing the K-9 to be deployed remotely if necessary. The K-9 vehicle insert is designed so 70% of the back area of the vehicle goes to the dog and 30 percent of the seat is left for prisoner transports, so the officer can still function independently to make arrests and transports when needed.
The training allows Ghost to passively alert Murillo if a specific narcotic scent is present in a vehicle, with a search warrant. Ghost will be able to ride along with Murillo wherever he goes, but will mostly be in the vehicle unless deployed or at a special event.
The K-9 is trained on a stimulus, response and reward pattern with the stimulus being the odor, the response being the alert and a tennis ball as a reward. The dogs start training with the odors imprinted onto the tennis ball and the odors are gradually weaned off the ball to allow for training and odor recognition in the field.
“It was a great training, I learned a lot about odor, I learned a lot about dog behaviors, dog handling and how to run an actual K-9 out in the field,” said Murillo. “The one thing I was surprised about was how high the hunt drive these dogs have for that ball (training), it’s odor, alert and then ball, that’s the training they use at the kennels there.
Murillo said the biggest challenge at training was week two when he and Ghost started to get to know each other more and learn more about mannerisms and subtle signal recognition.
“I ran him for the first week and I thought this dog was flawless, no issues, nothing at all – the dog didn’t really know me, I didn’t know the dog. For the whole first week every time we would train he would hit every odor he was supposed to right on every time,” said Murillo. “Week two comes along and now the dog starts learning my behaviors, my speed, how quick I walk, if I give him too much leash… and what he was doing was watching me and then he would sometimes alert if there wasn’t an odor because of something I was doing and that’s where the training really came in for me was to keep a consistent pace, leash length and movement so the dog isn’t reading my movements… Once we moved back into week three a lot of things were corrected and he kicked right back into 100% find mode.”