By Amanda Dyslin
---- — ST. PETER — Officer Rick Jennings and his police dog work for the Minnesota Department of Corrections in Stillwater.
That's why it's important for the dog to maintain his anonymity. Only Jennings and a handful of others know the dog's name. To everybody else, Jennings calls the German shepherd/Belgian malinois mix “Discipline.”
The discretion is because Discipline has to stay focused while working in a potentially dangerous environment with convicted criminals. If inmates knew the dog's name, they might call it out and district him.
So constantly working with the dog to keep his skills sharp is vital, Jennings said, as is routinely getting recertified — which is why the U.S. Police Canine Association Region 12 Dog Trials have been going on in the area since Sunday. Nicollet County Sheriff's Office is this year's sponsor.
The trials involve obedience, agility, suspect searches, evidence searches and criminal apprehension events. Dogs and their handlers who successfully complete the trials are eligible for certification.
“Obedience is the foundation of what we do,” Jennings said. “If we fail this week, you don't work. It's a real big deal.”
Jennings and his police dog completed an article-search trial in a field near Whiskey River in St. Peter Monday afternoon, and they performed well, he said. Using his sense of smell to detect human odors, the dog had to sniff out a couple of hidden articles from a 30-foot by 30-foot section of field and obey his handler's commands.
“We rocked this one,” Jennings said.
Depending upon the handler's job and needs, the dog might be passive or aggressive. A passive dog, for example, would lay down beside an article it found in the field, whereas an aggressive dog might bite or scratch at it.
There's some friendly competition among the officers, too. Everybody wants their dog to perform the best, he said, and it can be difficult to know how the dog will perform each day. Things it's never missed in the past might suddenly become an issue.
“A lot of the time it's how the dog feels that day,” he said.
Today's focus is on the bite work, when dogs get to take down pretend suspects. When the suspect runs, the dog has to be able to stay until the command is given to run.
The dog also has to be able to turn around halfway to the suspect and return to the handler if asked to do so. And after taking down the suspect, the dog needs to be able to be called off so the suspect can be patted down.
The only time the dog doesn't wait for a command before attacking is when the handler is being assaulted, Jennings said.
“These are the only weapons that can be recalled,” he said.