The lone four-legged member of the Los Altos Police Department recently added some hardware to his trophy case.
That’s because Lord, the department’s 6-year-old police dog, placed first among 23 competing canines at the annual K9 Witmer-Tyson Trials. The competition, held Oct. 16 and 17 in La Honda, pitted the all-black German shepherd against police canines from neighboring agencies, including Palo Alto and Sunnyvale.
Los Altos Police Officer Julie Ognoskie, Lord’s handler, said the first-place award is a point of pride for her, also. The competition not only judges the precision of the dogs as they’re put through the paces, but their handlers as well.
“When they announced my name (for first place), I was actually really shocked,” she said, noting that several other teams at the event also had strong performances.
Lord has competed in the trials for four years, said Ognoskie, who became Lord’s handler in 2009, one year after she joined the department. Prior to his first-place finish this year, Lord had placed as high as second in the competition, which tests dogs in a variety of scenarios they might encounter on patrol.
The dogs and their handlers are tested in obedience and obstacles, in addition to search and protection. The protection competition, Ognoskie noted, can be particularly challenging because it demands that handlers control dogs in what she called a simulated “high-drive” environment – chasing after and catching suspects.
“He knows when he sees the guy wearing a full K9 Bite Suit, ‘Oh, I’m going to get to play with that,’” Ognoskie said with a chuckle, noting that Lord took just 23 seconds to sniff out his target in a simulated search drill as well.
Ognoskie added that confidence and trust are two key components in handling Lord while on patrol. That trust extends to other environments as well, including those with children. Her K9 companion is popular with children when visiting local schools to promote safety initiatives.
“He’s very good around kids, and we need that here in Los Altos,” she said.
Her partnership with Lord extends beyond the duties within the Los Altos Police Department. Being a handler is a lifetime commitment that includes taking Lord home and caring for him when off-duty. Once he retires, Ognoskie said she’d purchase Lord from the department and keep him as her own.
“He’s my partner, he’s my pal and he’s my kid,” she said. “It’s definitely a position in the department where you always take your work home with you – but with him, I really don’t mind.”