K9s complete certification in Marshalltown

More than 55 K9 teams from across the state came to Marshalltown to complete narcotic certification Wednesday.

The Marshalltown Police Department K9 unit hosted the United States Police Canine Associations (USPCA) annual Iowa Narcotic Dog Certification Trials at the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office and the National Guard Armory.

Sgt. Melinda Ruopp, of the Marshalltown Police Department, organized the event. She said the event tests a dog’s ability to locate and alert an illegal drug hidden in a car or room.

The exercise at the National Guard Armory required canines to locate marijuana and meth hidden in different vehicles. The officer circled every car with their K9, unaware of where the drugs were located. When the dog found the drugs it would paw, sit or signal the officer in some way.

“The police officers are relying on the dog’s nose to tell them when they find the stuff,” Ruopp said. “Basically you can put a nice juicy steak in the car and the dog is not going to respond to that because he knows that’s not my job, my job is to find drugs.”

The exercise at the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office was similar, but instead of cars, the K9s had to find drugs hiding in two of three different rooms without their handler.

Eric Siemens, of the Marshalltown Police Department, said Raji, who joined the MPD last June, is fully trained.

“Basically what we do now is we keep enhancing the training, making it a little more in-depth by adding things to it that challenge both the handler and dog,” Siemens said. “It makes it harder for both of us and we keep on adding to it to make him more complex and a better dog.”

Of the two activities, Siemens said he liked watching Raji search the rooms.

“It’s fun to let the dog naturally search in his own way of finding things,” Siemens said. “If the heater is on it will blow the scent to the other room, so the dog will search over there for a long time then he’ll work it back to wherever the odor is. So it was really cool to watch that.”

In order for the team to achieve certification, Ruopp said the team must score 70 percent or find three of the four drugs hidden.