Less shake, more control
When the position opened for a K-9 handler, Jim Goham had a pretty good idea of what he was getting into. But over the years, his role and his partner's have started to change.
Goham's been with the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office since 1999. Starting in the jail, he worked his way to patrol deputy, serving 2001-2006. The following spring, Goham received his first K-9 partner, Titan, who retired in December 2011. After Titan came Havoc, whose career came to an end after being struck by a vehicle last April. Now, Goham works and trains with K-9 partner Valor.
Whether it's building searches, area searches or apprehension, the K-9 serves one specific role.
"The dogs primary function is to be a locating tool for us," Goham said.
Goodhue County Sheriff's Office has three active K-9's who are on call 24/7. Along with Goham and Valor are K-9 Ransom with Deputy Matt Hoekstra and K9 Ambush with Deputy Matt Bowron. The German Shepherd K-9's are shipped by plane from eastern Europe. All dogs are dual purpose, meaning each can search for narcotics and missing persons as well as articles, such as dangerous weapons.
Next fall Valor will go back and complete narcotic training. Now that he's completed the street work portion of his training, he's ready to start his new job.
"School is fun, but it's not street work," Bowron said. "It's fun seeing them work and succeed."
Every year, the department certifies its three K-9s through the United States Police Canine Association. Valor wrapped up his three-month course last month in St. Paul.
"Once you get the dog used to eating out of your hand, you start moving that to luring. Whether it's the sit, heel, down, all of that's done with food," Goham said.
When those commands are complete, the dog moves on to detecting human odor. By using his heightened sense of smell, Valor will use the scent of the individual, whether it be a criminal or a missing person, then move on to tracking the disturbed ground where the person had stepped.
In the case of a criminal refusing to surrender to law enforcement, K-9s will be released to physically apprehend and render them into submission.
"That just proceeds into building searches, and eventually area searches out into the open," Goham said. "Apprehension starts pretty early with introducing the sleeve. We use dog treadmills to start with, but we control the behavior."
Bite and hold
Over the years, the training has changed to help improve the results. Now, K-9s learn to push their teeth in when using apprehension work, rather than pulling down to bring someone to the ground.
"The training of the dogs pushing in and being more confident helps them get a better grip," Goham said. "Both forms are bite and hold. But this modified version has less damage. More control is the prime reason."
Goham added that with this method of apprehension work comes less damage.
"We're not out there to hurt people," he said.
The K9s are also younger and spendier now, too. Dogs used to be about 2 years old when they started training, now socialization and environmental training starts much earlier. The reason for this, Goham said, can be credited to the new training. Dogs understand commands quicker and learn them on their own. Valor will be 2 years old in July.
"When I first started, dogs were about $5,000," Goham said. "The amount of demand for the dogs have gone up so much, it now varies around $8,500."
The increase, Goham believes, is due to how successful the K-9 partners have proven to be over the years.
"They also do a great deal of bridging the gap between the community and the public," Goham said.
Part of the job for Goham requires him to answer questions about his K-9 partner to the public as well as give demonstrations to classes and organizations.
Goodhue County Sheriff's Office had its K-9s paid for with help from Minnesota Vikings player Brian Robinson's foundation, "Reel 'Em In,'. The defensive end and his wife had chosen K-9s4Cops for a yearlong partnership in 2016 to provide K-9s for law enforcement agencies, school districts and college campuses.
While the job comes with its own set of difficulties, Goham said he wouldn't trade the work for anything.
"I can't complain," he said. "It's the best job. It puts you right on the front line."