The only scent to hit Officer Dan Anthony’s nose on Sunday morning was the fragrance of wet dog, courtesy of his brindle Dutch shepherd.
Scribbles, however, couldn’t care less.
The only odor this dog cared about was that of a volunteer walking through the wet, yellow grass of a nearby field — mimicking a criminal absconding from the law.
Scribbles, a Fountain Police Department K9, was one of 18 dogs from Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming that were led Sunday through the field east of Fountain to sniff out items “dropped by a fleeing criminal” and stale scent trails as part of an annual regional detection trial.
A day earlier, the dogs were tested on their ability to sniff out drugs planted in cars at Fountain Middle School.
The canines that performed well were re-certified by the United States Police Canine Association. The dogs that didn’t can take a make-up test.
Often, their abilities boil down to one factor: “The key really is if the dog has a lot of prey drive, loves to fetch, things like that,” said Joe Clingan, the chief judge of the detection trials. He spent nearly 30 years with the Fort Collins Police Department as a K9 officer, though he currently spends most of his time training dogs.
But Colorado can be particularly difficult for police dogs, as weather conditions are often dry and windy, easily scattering scents.
“I tell my guys if your dog can track in Colorado, they can track anywhere,” Clingan said.
On Sunday, the cold drizzle helped the scent stick to the grass — a blessing for the canines.
Since police dogs aren’t normally at the scene of a crime when it happens, they had to wait about 30 minutes before stepping onto the field.
“Right now, they’re ‘cooking’, as we call it,” said Anthony, overlooking the fields.
The course ready, three judges evaluated each dog’s interest in tracking and the handler’s ability to guide their canine as the dogs picked up the volunteer’s scent and trounced through the grass.
One by one, the dogs followed the horseshoe-shaped scent trail — three, 75-yard legs hinged together at 90-degree angles.
“If your dog can make a 90-degree corner… if some guy’s running, they’re going to be able to keep on them,” Anthony said.
Along the way were a screwdriver, a shotgun shell and a piece of leather for each dog to point out.
Some scents were easier to find than others. Noticing one handler stray too far east, Clingan offered a little advice.
“Amanda, she’s not going that direction because there’s nothing there,” Clingan said. “Trust your dog.”
Scribbles made sure Anthony was paying attention.
The Dutch shepherd barked anxiously at the start line. He pulled his leash taut and nearly dragged Anthony through the moist grass, keeping his nose glued to the ground.
A few minutes later, Scribbles found the rag — an “excellent” run, a judge said, one worth 175 of the 180 points possible.
Scribbles made sure no running criminal could stand a chance.
“Look at that turn,” Clingan said. “Boy, he’s tracking.”
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