06/02/13 — Dive team dogs undergo training exercise

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Dive team dogs undergo training exercise

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on June 2, 2013 1:50 AM

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Wayne County Sheriff K-9 officer Dan Truhan and his partner Nox, along with Tyler Kelly of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office Dive Team begin practice on Walnut Creek's Lake Wackena Saturday morning as part of a joint training exercise with the Arr-Mac Water Response Team.

Barks and splashes echoed across the water at Walnut Creek's Lake Wackena on Saturday as K-9 members of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office tracked the scent of submerged divers sitting on the bottom of Lake Wackena.

One of the dogs, Nox, was going through her first training exercise with the Arr-Mac Water Response Team and she passed with flying colors, swimming with the best of them.

The response team is a joint venture of the Arrington and Mar-Mac volunteer fire departments. They assist with the water training.

"She leapt off the boat when she got the first scent," said Nox's handler, Deputy Dan Truhan. "After that I wouldn't let her jump till she alerted with a bark."

Truhan could tell when the dog had the scent by the way her behavior suddenly shifted.

"She stiffened up and her breathing changed but I said some words to coax her to alert with a bark before giving her the toy," Truhan said.

The handlers gave a chew toy to the divers to give the dogs a reward when they found the submerged diver and alerted.

The Sheriff's Office Dive Team was assisting the dogs in their yearly training to identify the location of missing persons submerged underneath the surface of the water.

Once the dog alerts on a location the divers will work a grid pattern to find the source of the scent, usually a drowning victim.

Shorty was having her first training with the dive team Saturday but she had some real-world experience searching for the body of a man who went missing at Jordan Lake earlier this year.

"She alerted on a spot that two other dogs had previously alerted on 30 yards downwind from where he was last seen," said Deputy John Sasser, Shorty's handler.

The veteran of the K-9 Team, Remco, will be retiring around the end of July but came out for one last water training before ending his 10 year career with the Sheriff's Office.

He has spent the last 18 months of his career day in and day out with his handler, Deputy Billy Rivenbark.

"He's about to start spending his days at home being petrified," said Rivenbark with a laugh.

He is not sure how Remco will do living the lazy life of a retired police dog, though.

"I don't know how he'll do to be honest. He loves to work," Rivenbark said.

Just because Remco is aging does not mean that he has lost a step with the younger dogs alerting with a loud "Woof!" after finding submerged diver, Deputy Tyler Kelly in under four minutes on his first descent.

However, unlike the other dogs, Remco did not jump in the water once he alerted.

"He's a little wiser now, he knows when you leave the boat you still have to get back in it," said Rivenbark.

Sasser said as handlers spend more and more time with their dogs they learn their behaviors like a second language.

"You know what your dog is going to do before they even do it," said Sasser.

It's a close relationship between a handler and his dog.

Anyone can pet Nox but don't be insulted if she doesn't take her eyes off of her handler, Truhan, for more than a second the whole time.

While all of the dogs on the K-9 Team are very sociable as a requirement they know who their master is.

The team is certified by the state which allows them to travel to any water based situation in the state they are needed at and be able to work with other agencies using the same tactics to maximize their efficiency and cohesiveness.