The Wright County Sheriff’s Office is getting ready to welcome a new member to its ranks – K9 officer Grizz, a 15-month old German Shepherd/Malinois mix. In March, Grizz began a 12-week training program under the guidance of Steve Pearson, owner of Performance Kennels Inc. outside of Buffalo, and Deputy Michael Loomis, who will be his partner when Grizz’s training is done June 4.
Later this month, Grizz will go through the certification process in narcotic detection and patrol work through the United State Police Canine Association and will replace Vader, who retired after seven years of service to the Wright County Sheriff’s Office in February.
Pearson said Loomis and Grizz have been virtually inseparable since they began Grizz’s training in early March and that is a necessary part of building the bond between them.
“They’ve been working together since Day 1 – every day,” Pearson said. “They’ve been together 24/7 since I gave him the dog. They’ve never been separated. He sees his dog more than he sees his wife and kids.”
Pearson said the training of a K9 officer is a fine line that needs to be walked. He specifically handpicks dogs in Slovakia that display the proper temperament to be an effective police dog – a trait in dogs Pearson has mastered over the years.
He calls it the ability for a dog to flip a switch in its brain and when he takes down or bites a suspect, it’s simply a part of his job and, when the tense event is over, he returns to being a friendly dog that his officer/partner (many of whom have small children) keep in their homes on off hours.
“I do enough screening and I know what I want – a dog that will engage a bad guy, but doesn’t hate people,” Pearson said. “They’re biting out of training, not because they’re anti-social. These dogs are super, super social. They don’t bite out of anger or defense or spite. They bite because of their training.”
The 12-week course is the dog version of Army basic training. A typical dog reaches its peak effectiveness at about four or five years old – through consistency and repetition, where the training becomes akin to muscle memory.
One unique trait Pearson and Loomis have learned about Grizz is that he doesn’t respond to the most basic form of reward in training – food. Offering treats as a reward is one of the early staples of training because it is so obvious and successful. However, that simply doesn’t work with Grizz.
“One of the hard parts about Grizz is that he isn’t motivated at all by food,” Pearson said. “If it’s not dog food, he won’t eat it. He won’t eat a piece of bacon or a hot dog. It makes his training a little bit harder because food is usually a powerful motivator. It’s easy to train a dog with food as a reward because you don’t need to get it back. We had to change gears with Grizz because of that.”
In two weeks, Grizz is going to complete his training and start what is expected to be approximately seven years as a K9 officer on patrol. Pearson said he had high expectations for Grizz from the time he selected him halfway across the world. Almost a year later, his confidence has been rewarded and Wright County is going to have a law enforcement asset it can be proud of.
“He’s definitely at the top of the class,” Pearson said. “That was intentional. I live in Wright County and you think I’m not going to give them one of the best dogs? Of course I am. Grizz was definitely one of the top two dogs I picked out. He’s going to be a great street dog because he’s so clear in the head. He likes people, he’s very good at detection and he’s very good at tracking. He’s definitely at the top. The Sheriff’s Office is getting one heck of a dog.”