For the first time ever, the United States Police Canine Association National Police Dog Trials featured a K-9 and officer duo from Savannah police.
The annual competition is the highest form of K-9 certification in the U.S., and this year Cpl. Benjamin Ferrero and his Belgian Malinois partner, Dooly, qualified to compete among the 85 of the best handler and K-9s in the country.
“They’re basically the national standard — toughest competition certification you can do,” Ferrero said.
Back in April, Savannah police hosted the USPCA regional trials and Dooly and Ferrero placed first, which qualified the team to participate in the national trials in Huntsville, Ala.
The competition is split into six different trials: agility, obedience, evidence search, box search, criminal apprehension with gunfire and criminal apprehension without gunfire.
The Savannah police representatives scored especially high marks in both criminal apprehension trials.
“That is his thing,” Ferrero said. “Going into this competition, I was not worried about bite work, but I wasn’t prepared for the scrutinization of how the dog did things.”
Dooly and Ferrero didn’t place in the national trials, but Ferrero said he now has a better understanding of the perfection expected at the national level.
“We did very well in some events, and in some events, there’s a new training standard for me, because my dog can do it,” Ferrero said. “It’s just now I have to work on every little detail on how he does it.»
Ferrero said judges will knock off points if the dog doesn’t sit straight when returning from their task, or if the dog moves a little while the handler is pat-searching the suspect, or if the dog sniffs the ground during a trial where sniffing isn’t required — each trial has to be perfect.
“I’d say the judging is a little bit tougher,” Ferrero said. “They’re very meticulous about everything, because it’s not just if the dog will complete the discipline, it’s how pretty they do it too.”
For reference, in the regional trials in April, Dooley and Ferrero scored 644 out of 700 points. At the national competition, they scored 613 out of 700. Ferrero said the winner of the nationals from St. Paul, Minn. only lost two and a half points during the entire competition.
But the competition was only part of the trip. Ferrero said he enjoyed the opportunity to learn from fellow handlers. A handler from Miami even pointed out small cues Ferrero was inadvertently giving to Dooly.
“I had a great time. It’s a lot of camaraderie, and you stay at the same hotel. Huntsville PD did a great job organizing it,» Ferrero said. «A lot of people donated food, so each night we had a big family dinner.”
Dooly and Ferrero shared a hotel room, as did many of the teams at the competition.
The duo have been together for nearly three years now, and Ferraro said much of their free time is spent training.
“If you don’t keep up with them, it’s a perishable skill for the dog, so you have to stay with it,» Ferrero said. «It’s hundreds of hours a year.”
And at the end of the day, they both clock out at the same time and head home to Ferrero’s house.
“I’m responsible for him 24/7. It’s like having a child — a child who bites people and destroys stuff,” Ferrero said. «It’s not like having a regular pet. He perceives a lot of stuff as toys, and some pillows at my house have not made it.”
Ferrero said Dooly likes to cool down after work by relaxing in the backyard and digging holes.
“He goes and digs himself a hole and goes to sleep. For whatever reason, my dog likes to sleep in a hole in the dirt. It makes him happy,” Ferrero laughed. “Whatever makes him happy, He’s an exceptional street dog, and for this competition, you kind of need a show dog.”
Ferrero said he’s ready for next year.
«It puts you in a frame of mind. I just want to do better now,» Ferrero said. «I want to go and be one of those guys arguing at night about who’s going to win.”