Police canines compete for top dog title at Alameda Point

Police canines compete for top dog title at Alameda Point

Dave Boitano

Vacaville Police officer Darren Young and his police dog Syan, get ready to compete in a search competition. Photo by Dave Boitano.

When Vacaville police officer Darren Young goes to work, he knows he has a partner he can rely on. His partner is everything the department could ask for: eager, obedient and doesn’t even get paid overtime - save an extra dog biscuit for a job well done.

Young’s companion is a 5-year-old German shepherd named Syan. He’s one of thousands of canines who help law enforcement keep the peace.

Syan was one of dozens of police canines who took part in a Police K-9 competition this past Friday and Saturday at Alameda Point.

Hosted by the Alameda Police Department, the competition tested the dogs in a variety of tasks, from sniffing out hidden drugs and searching cars for a suspect to obedience and agility on an obstacle course. A crowd, many of who brought their own dogs, watched the contest from behind a cyclone fence and police barrier tape.

The event, part of series of contests held throughout the state, involved 35 to 40 teams per day from a host of agencies. They ran the gamut from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to the U.S. Air Force, the Oakland Police Department and the Dos Palos (Merced County) Police Department.

Though trophies are awarded for exceptional performance, the real goal of the event was to help the canine teams gain experience through a series of realistic simulations, said Alameda Police Sgt. Darin Tsujimoto.

“We try to create scenarios that would be beneficial for the dogs and the handlers so that when they work on the street they will be more prepared for it,” Tsujimoto said.

Proceeds from the sale of T-shirts and other items were donated to a memorial fund for Galt police officer Kevin A. Tonn, who was killed in the line of duty in January.

Young’s dog Syan is named for Syan Industries, a company that raised the money to buy the dog from a breeder and donate it to Vacaville police, Young said. A good canine can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, though some are donated by animal groups or raised by the officers themselves.

Though a variety of breeds have been used as police canines, German shepherds and Belgian Malinois seem to adapt best to the work, Young said.

Along with a good sense of smell, a successful police dog must be obedient but possess the energy and drive to perform a difficult task when needed, said Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Thoms.

“Most dogs have good noses but it’s their ability to use it and their drive to use it,” he said.

A canine team goes through months of training before the dog is certified by the state that the animal is under control and can be recalled on voice command, Young said. Creating a good rapport between officer and dog is important and care must be taken to avoid personality conflicts between them, like any two partners, Tsujimoto said.

When Syan is not working, he is a gentle family pet who plays with Young’s children and isn’t aggressive, Young said. But when it’s time to go to work, Syan seems to know his role.

“He goes in with me,” Young said. “When I work overtime he works overtime. When I go on vacation, he goes on vacation. He knows when I put the collar on it’s a different time.”

Though the public may think of police dogs as snarling, aggressive animals, a ferocious dog is hard to work with and not desirable, the handlers said.

“It’s nice to have a sociable dog that way you know people can come up and pet him but you don’t have to constantly watch him,” Young said. “The dogs are just out here to make us happy and have fun, they are not doing it out of aggression.”

In the search competition, each dog was given 90 seconds to locate a person hiding in a car parked between two other vehicles. Some found the suspect quickly, while others took longer or were too distracted to accomplish the task in time.

Syan found the suspect, but his handler said he may need to bone up on his techniques.

“He could have done better,” Young said.

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