The Sanders County K9 unit is more than meets the eye. Last week, the Valley Press accompanied Sanders County Sheriff’s Office K9 Handler Lynn Lanzoni, K9 officer Max and retired LAPD officer Blaine Blackstone to one of their regular training sessions.
As mentioned in last week’s story, the county K9 unit runs through weekly training scenarios to ensure skill and technique is up to scratch.
By conducting different scenarios on a weekly basis, with the aid of Blackstone, who was also a part of a K9 unit and Equine unit during his law enforcement career, Lanzoni re-affirms that both Max and himself continue solid police work.
Max is a narcotics specialist. There are a range of specialized K9s that are used with law enforcement. For Sanders County, Max is one K9 that takes his work and training very seriously.
He (Max) emulates a very sweet disposition with his personality. This is, from what the Valley Press was told, is a great trait to have in a narcotics K9. This doesn’t mean that he is docile, as he clearly showed how he has the ability to quickly switch into work mode when asked.
There were three different scenarios that were set up by Blackstone during the training session at the Thompson Falls Airport.
“We want to make these as real as we can for both Max and L.Z (Lanzoni),” explained Blackstone.
“When you work in outside conditions, even to set up the scenario, you need to be aware of the environment around you. Wind is a factor, knowing which way the breeze is moving, if it is a light breeze or there is a bit of push behind it. We want to make it difficult, but not too difficult that he can’t do his job,” Blackstone further elaborated.
The overall aim of the game is to continue to build confidence in the team. Max requires the confidence to continue is accurate work of identifying those specific narcotic smells and Lanzoni to be able to build on an already solid relationship by identifying the changes Max makes to be able to guide fellow officers to the correct locations.
Unbeknownst to the average person, there are specific mannerisms that are a language of their own that Lanzoni and Max use to communicate effectively.
Just like a second language to a human, Max has had to learn to communicate with clear and crisp movements and body language that then tells Lanzoni what is smelling or finding, or even if the location should not present what they are searching for.
“Having another set of eyes, and the knowledge of over 30 years experience with K9 training is invaluable to a team like Max and myself,” said Lanzoni.
Scenario one was conducted outside within a small group of vehicles, where Blackstone hide approximately two grams of heroine under the back axle of a vehicle. There was a slight breeze that was steady as Lanzoni and Max began their search of three vehicles.
There is a moment when Lanzoni adjusts his own body language, which switched Max into work mode.
Max, for this exercise, was on a leash and became very enthused at the opportunity to go to work. His body structure changed and his nose began scouring all sides of the first two vehicles.
Max, seemingly confident in his own abilities, moved through the first two vehicles, and once he reached the third, it took less than three minutes to locate the narcotic that was hidden.
Once he confirmed what he thought was the location, Blackstone advised Lanzoni, who then awarded Max with a toy for a job well done.
“Max lives for this reward, it is what he really wants, so when he does good and locates a narcotic he really thinks life doesn’t get much better than his toy,” chuckled Lanzoni.
Scenario two took place in an enclosed hanger and Blackstone allowed the Valley Press to accompany him as he hide the narcotics for the next exercise.
“I’m adding this bag of shredded money that is clean and was provided by the mint. What we ideally want is Max to by-pass this bag of money as it won’t have any drug trace on it (this being because the money never entered circulation) and be able to only identify the narcotic that I’ll place close by it,” said Blackstone.
“This will give us (Blackstone and Lanzoni) an indication of what is needed to be worked on. Then we can be able to fix the problem so (Max) can differentiate those different smells,” Blackstone explained.
The money bag was placed around 4ft from a bag of 28 grams of Meth. Blackstone had also adjusted the levels of narcotics in each scenario.
Max and Lanzoni weren’t let into the exercise straight after the placement of the two aids. Blackstone explained that he was wanting the smells to set. With other smells of empty gas cans, office equipment, cardboard boxes, oil staines within the enclosed space, it will also give both men an indication of how Max’s mind works as he moves around the space to earn his reward.
Max was off leash for this exercise, and as he went around the perimeter three to four times. Each time, he worked through the enclosed setting as if it were set up as a grid.
This particular scenario seemed to showcase areas of his training that required some more specialized training as Max indicated the location of the money bag before he located the narcotic.
Not necessarily the worst thing that could happen, but Max is required to only identify the narcotics or items that have the residue of narcotics.
Blackstone instructed Lanzoni on what was the best way to re-direct Max without diminishing his confidence.
“There are distinct smells that he has to differentiate, and it’s a good thing to identify these problem areas in training; because when we can fix it correctly, they’ll both have the confidence of knowing he[Max] locates narcotics in the field when there are a range of smells that he will have to push aside,” explained Blackstone.
Scenario three was moved to a semi-enclosed area, a plane hanger where they used a small plane for the final test.
The smells from the plane, such as aviation fuel, was the biggest factor that Max had.
A small amount of Cocaine was placed in a back compartment above the wheel base that proved to showcase how the K9 worked his talents to locate the narcotic.
Though he was a little unsure of the exact location at first, it was impressive to see the team work to find the location. Max and Lanzoni both ‘grid worked’ the back end of the plane until Max was confident of the location.
It did seem to show a bit of difficultuy, however, the process was still the same from what was seen during the first two scenarios.
It proved the importance of having a K9 unit here in the county with Sheriff Rummel saying, ”Max and Lanzoni are a very valuable part of our department. Not only is Max very good at what he does, he has the ability to locate narcotics a lot quicker than we can.”
There is no doubt the invaluableness of the Sanders County Sheriffs Department K9 Unit.
Max and Lanzoni are always ready to do their part in combating the war on drugs to keep everyone in the community a little safer each day.