Ana’s training is different than how many K-9s in the area are taught.
“Ana was trained using the Randy Hare method, which is more of a focused method,” he said. “It’s not that this training is any better (than other methods).”
The handler is not the teacher, he said. The dog teaches itself.
“Basically what (the Marion Police Department) is looking for when training our dog is for her to use her nose, not eyes, to associate an odor.”
Former training involved interplay with the dog, Stone said. The dog would identify a toy it loved and then the trainer would take that toy and wrap or hide narcotics inside of it, conceal it, and have the dog find it.
“What we found when we started doing things this way was that it was more of a play method,” Stone said.
But if a dog is in a stressful situation in the field, he said, the play method doesn’t always work because it isn’t fun anymore.
With the Randy Hare method, the dog is taught nothing but odor.
To demonstrate, Stone placed a tennis ball with a narcotic scent inside one of the compartments of a Dutch box, and placed plain tennis balls in other slots.
Stone said the dog can put its nose right against the holes in the bottom of the box. Even when the dog sees the right ball, it will stay until receiving a tug from the handler.
“We can dump other tennis balls right on top of her, make sounds, throw chairs, turn a vacuum on, or do anything possible to get the dog off the odor—but the dog won’t pay attention to the handler,” he said. “Ana stays focused on the scent.”
Stone said they have graduated to using different distractions to disguise the narcotic scent by adding dryer sheets and coffee.
“Some guys train on all four odors at once, but we have been going now for two months on one odor,” he said. “We want her to get to know the odor.”
Using the former training, Stone said he would play with the ball, show it to Raven and the dog would then go to the area it was located
“He would smell the odor and then be rewarded quickly,” Stone said.
“With this method, we stand back and our trainer is bouncing the ball off all the boxes and then hides it,” Stone said. “Then we release the dog. We don’t tell the dog anything or present anything. We stand back and let the dog work it out.”
This new system takes a long time to get right.
“We want to prove the dog is 100 percent (accurate),” he said.
Wichita Search and Rescue came to Marion recently to see how Ana was working out.
“We did a demo for them and they couldn’t believe the focus of the dog,” Stone said.
Ana can detect meth and is learning to identify marijuana.
Stone said Ana is not afraid of anything.
“She doesn’t fear going up in high places, jumping on things and her bite work is solid (in defending herself),” he said. “She will bite with someone firing a gun at her, but basically her job is narcotics and apprehension.”
Until Ana is certified, though, Stone said she isn’t able to go on calls.
“We got the dog from (Cross) but he won’t certify her,” he said. “We will go with one of two independent agencies—either Kansas Police Dog Association or Ironhard.”
Stone said the minimum standard for training a dog using the Randy Hare method is about 20 hours a week.
“It’s like having a part-time job,” Stone said.
The new training system can be used in ways he never thought it could.
“You may see (Ana) come over and paw at something, but when her nose drops down into the holes (of the box), she will sniff and hit on the box,” he said.
Stone said Ana is probably the first dog in Marion and surrounding counties to have this type of training.
Ana and Stone make up the K-9 unit. As such, they stay together. Ana goes home with Stone and rides in his police vehicle when they are on duty.
Expenses can be costly. Chief Tyler Mermis, formerly a K-9 handler, said the department pays for food, certifications, veterinarian bills, harnesses, leashes and training equipment all with the help of donations.
Stone said, “Two local people donated 10 (Dutch) dog boxes. It would have cost us $125 for each if we had bought online.”
He said Ana’s certification will cost between $500 and $1,500. After Ana is trained and certified, the department may acquire a bullet-proof vest.
The city hadn’t planned on having a K-9 program, but it “fell in their lap,” Stone said.
“Tyler saw the benefit of a Raven on several narcotic busts, but the city hadn’t planned on (having a unit) yet.”
Even though the city hadn’t budgeted for Ana, Stone said the process has been encouraging.
“We have had nothing but support from the city council, Mayor Mary Olson and the schools,” he said. “I have never seen agencies support a K-9 unit like these have.”
Mermis and Assistant Chief Clinton Jeffrey said they believe it is the police department’s responsibility to make the program work.
“When Ana gets close to retirement, we will breed her and bring her puppies into service,” Stone said. “We will have a full K-9 program and never have to pay for another dog again.”
Mermis said K-9 T-shirts are still available; all proceeds will go toward program expenses.
Anyone interested in donating can call 620-382-2651 or mail donations to 112 Fifth St., Marion, KS 66861.