Dogs and drones typically don’t have a lot in common – unless used for policing.
Municipal dog handlers from middle- to smaller-sized municipalities around Dane County, including McFarland, Monona and Cottage Grove, joined together for a K-9 and drone training on Tuesday, Nov. 26.
Handlers and their dogs visited multiple sites around McFarland, including Lewis Park and the Hope Rod and Gun Club, to work on drug training, tracking and apprehensive training, as well as communication between K-9 handlers and drone operators.
“A lot of these smaller municipalities, they all get together so they can help use each other’s resources, so it’s unique in different types of training environments,” McFarland Officer Anthony Craft said.
The handlers get together once or twice each month to conduct similar training sessions and touch base with one another. They rotate among the municipalities to create different training environments.
“It’s hard to find people within to train your dogs that know what the dogs need, so we get together as the handlers and we decoy to work on problems we may encounter in the street so they don’t happen again,” Monona Police Department K-9 handler Sgt. Adam Nachreiner said.
Inside the Lewis Park’s shelter, handlers hid samples of illegal drugs in restrooms. The main drugs the dogs can track are methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine and marijuana.
One-by-one, handlers took their dogs inside to sniff out drug samples hidden in changing tables, under sinks and other secret spots. When the dog alerted their handler with the correct location of a substance, they were rewarded with their favorite toy.
“Today was mainly more focused on area tracking for people, but we have some narcotics dogs – they all do narcotics – so it was just a nice thing to give them some extra work and some down time,” McFarland Police Department K-9 handler Jeremy Job said.
He said that the handlers learn from each other by contributing different scenarios they have come across in their work.
Job added that these trainings help keep the county’s handlers and K-9s on the same page.
This training was one of the first conducted with both the UAS (unmanned aircraft system) team and the K-9 team. Some K-9 handlers had never trained around a drone and wanted to see how the dogs reacted to the buzzing sound and quick movements.
“The intended uses of the UAS is it’s a tool just like anything else,” Craft said. “Certain situations require different types of tools, same thing with a drone.”
The biggest use for drones are search and rescue operations to locate a missing or endangered person. The bird’s eye view drones offer aerial photography of crime scenes and crash scenes and surveying damages from natural or manmade events.
The UAS program began in McFarland when the emergency management director secured funding. The equipment is shared by emergency services, McFarland Police Department and McFarland Fire and Rescue and is operated by seven individuals among the three departments.
“Drones are kind of new to the canine world,” Nachreiner said.
Drones can detect heat signatures and objects that stick out during searches, making searches safer and easier for K-9 handlers.
“It’s like the dog obviously can find the direction, but they can’t see,” Craft said. “Likewise, the drones, they can see everything, but they don’t know which direction to go.”
In the Town of Madison, a man was recently pulled over during a traffic stop and took off running. The city of Madison UAS team used thermal imaging to find the suspect and narrowed the area to apprehend him.
Last week, agencies requested the help of drones to search for a missing elderly to narrow down a large search area.
“It was kind of an eye-opener to both the K-9 handler and the drone operators, because it’s two different tools,” Craft said.
The training helped the K-9 handler and drone operator learn to communicate to complete the same objective with both tools.
“They (K-9s and drones) definitely go hand-in-hand and help a dog team out with having an eye in the sky,” Nachreiner said.