In addition to protecting the public, one American Fork police officer has taken on a new role — helping citizens to train their dogs.
While this may not seem like something a typical police officer does, it comes natural to Officer Nick Cunningham, K-9 handler.
This month, the American Fork Police Department began offering dog obedience classes to the community, taught by Cunningham. The classes will serve as a way to raise funds for the department’s own two K-9 officers, Zeke and Creed, both Belgian Malinois’. The obedience course costs $40 for four weekly classes. All of the proceeds will be used to help pay for food, veterinarian visits, trainings, equipment and other K-9 expenses for the American Fork Police Department.
The dogs themselves are expensive. Zeke, who came to the department as a “green dog,” before extensive training, was $8,500. Creed, who was more trained, cost $10,000.
“That’s a huge investment for the city,” Cunningham said. “The K-9 program is one of the most expensive that the Police Department has.”
Cunnningham has trained and continues to train Zeke. When he came to the department in January, he had only been bite-trained. He is now narcotics-certified and is being patrol-trained. He is learning to find evidence and track scents.
“Generally, we don’t use patrol dogs to find lost people, but in a dire situation, he would be able to track,” Cunningham said.
Zeke will also be training in open air searching and building searching. American Fork Police Department’s K-9s are trained several hours each week.
“We do a lot of K-9 demonstrations and when we do, a lot of people inquire about training their dogs,” Cunningham said. “I started thinking, ‘How could I create something to help these people?’”
Cunningham came up with the idea to conduct the trainings, which would not only help dog owners in the community, but would help the department’s own K-9 unit. After advertising the course on Facebook, the classes began to fill up quickly.
At the class, basic fundamentals are taught and Cunningham uses the same training techniques that are used for K-9 training. “This is basic knowledge that an owner should have,” Cunningham said.
The first class was held last week. Cunningham began by introducing the science behind dog training. He asked the dog owners what they would like their dogs to learn and began teaching the basics of sit, down, stay and heel.
“It’s definitely hands-on,” he said.
It is also an individualized class. Some of the dogs already knew commands such as “sit” and “down,” so Cunningham personalizes the training.
“Some wanted to work on getting their dogs to stop pulling or jumping up,” he said.
Jeremy Rice took his golden retriever, Harley, to the class, hoping to find ways to get her to stop leading and pulling when she is being walked. “We were quite surprised at how much progress she made in that time. By the end of the night, she was walking by our side,” he said. “It was a game-changer.”
Hayley Snow said she took the class to learn how to train her two dogs properly. “Her biggest issue is she pulls a lot on the leash,” she said about her border collie-Labrador mix, Lady.
“We worked on leash techniques. He showed me how to hold the leash. By the end of class, she was walking alongside me,” she said.
“Dogs learn by natural discovery and praise. Your actions are what’s putting the dog into natural actions on their own,” Cunningham said. “This is much more successful than being forced.” Then, they are encouraged to take what they have learned and practice at home with their dogs throughout the week.
The dog training classes will continue through August because they are held outdoors. Because of the significant number of people who are interested in participating, the dates may need to be tweaked, Cunningham said. For more information, contact the American Fork Police Department at (801) 763-3020.