“For him, this isn’t work — it’s play,” said Ocean View Police Department Officer Justin Hopkins of his new partner, Hardy.
Hardy, a 16-month-old German shepherd, joined the department in November, when he and Hopkins began their training together.
Hopkins, who has been with the department for almost three years, said he and Hardy are now certified as a K-9 team.
The OVPD chose Hardy through the help of a vendor. He was selected from Czechoslovakia, based on a number of factors, including breed and temperament.
“We were able to select from six dogs that would fit Ocean View’s specific needs,” said Hopkins. “His training started when he was a puppy.”
Since Hardy was already certified, he and Hopkins went through a month of in-depth training, covering patrol work, which includes tracking and bite work.
Hardy’s tracking abilities, which OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin has seen in training, can aid officers in locating someone at any given time.
“Say we’re looking for a lost Alzheimer’s patient — the dog can actually pick up the scent and help us locate the person — or if a subject has fled from police,” said McLaughlin.
Hardy and his training were paid for through grants acquired by the department, and McLaughlin said that, within his first week in the department, the dog had aided in two drug-related arrests.
Bite work may be the most sensational aspect of a K-9 officer’s job; however, McLaughlin said it will be the least-used skill Hardy has.
“Bite work will probably be the thing we use the least,” he said. “The bite work is more designed for handler protection.”
Hardy is also trained in narcotics detection — certified to detect marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines, to name a few.
“You name it, he can find it,” said Hopkins. “The dog doesn’t know it’s bad. He knows, ‘Every time I find this particular odor I get a treat.’ For them, they operate on a scale, as far as a praise system, the lowest level being praise — me just saying, ‘Good boy.’ The next is ‘Toy,’ and then ‘Bite.’ He thinks it’s a big game, and that’s his biggest reward.”
When detecting narcotics, Hopkins said, he needs to see a change in Hardy’s behavior as an indicator.
“You always hear, ‘The dog gave an alert.’ It’s not quite as simple as that,” he said, adding that Hardy could sit and stare or might aggress by clawing.
Hardy is also trained to focus on the task at hand and not get sidetracked.
“He has to be neutral to gunshots. He has to be neutral to anything that could be distracting,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said he was first approached by McLaughlin last winter to see if he would be interested in being a part of a K-9 team.
“I took some time to really consider it, because it’s a huge responsibility,” said Hopkins. “Every day for me — even when I’m not technically on the job — is spending time with him, playing with him, maybe doing some tracking.”
Hopkins and Hardy started training in November and will continue training with the Delaware State Police each month.
“That’s part of his maintenance,” explained Hopkins. “It has to be every day. The best analogy I have is, you can be the best athlete in the world but you can’t just go out and run a marathon. You have to train every day for it.”
When they’re not in uniform, Hardy lives at home with Hopkins.
“At home, he’s just a normal dog. We play, he spends time with the family and we just do whatever we can to bond.”
However, even when they’re not clocked in, Hopkins and Hardy are always on duty, as they are on-call in the State system as a narcotics K-9 team.
“He’s the only drug dog, other than state police, in the area,” explained McLaughlin.
Hopkins said Hardy is his dog and is happy he’s joined the family.
“We’ve bonded, we’re partners.”