At times, Matt Hammond's dog Reese lives a life like that of any other dog - playing in the yard, chewing toys and napping on the bed.
Jerry Lyda, an obedience trainer for Quality K9 Concepts, works on attack training with Reese, a Belgian Malinois. A well-bred and fully trained dog can cost between $13,000 and $18,000.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
But when Hammond slips on Reese's collar, the 5-year-old Belgian Malinois knows that it's time to work.
Reese is one of the highly trained working dogs at Quality K9 Concepts, in Grovetown, a business where dogs are bred and trained for police and military operations, including narcotics and explosive detection, security and patrol, search and rescue, handler protection, tracking and basic obedience.
"One of the last secrets, as far as the war on terrorism, is how we train these dogs on odors," said Hammond, the owner and operator of the Grovetown facility who spent nearly 10 years as an Army canine handler and trainer.
Hammond and his team have trained several dogs currently serving in the Middle East with private contractors to sniff out explosives.
Rave, another Malinois, went from sleeping in Hammond's bed to detecting explosives in Iraq.
"Her place was out there doing work," said Hammond's wife, Dena, who also is the kennel's breed warden. "She was great at explosives. She was great at protection. Why keep them from doing what they were born to do?"
David Hammond, 8, plays with two Belgian Malinois puppies that his father, Matt Hammond, is training at Quality K9 Concepts. The dogs must know the difference between play time and work time.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Jerry Lyda, owner of U-Good Dog-U, an obedience school, and a Quality K9 Concepts obedience trainer, said a well-bred and fully trained dog can cost between $13,000 and $18,000. Such dogs are currently serving in police departments throughout the country. Hammond said his team has bred and trained at least 33 dogs in the past three years with nearly 80 percent going to police departments or other security functions.
Choosing a puppy with the right disposition is the first step in training a working dog, Lyda said, adding a test can be conducted on puppies at 6 weeks old to analyze their disposition.
"It's not a guarantee, but it's a good indicator," Lyda said. "Bang pans together and if they look and come on up (to investigate the noise), get that dog. But if he turns and runs, chances are he just doesn't have the nerve."
Training will begin soon for two 13-week-old Malinois puppies - Drake and Dara. Hammond said he has high hopes for the pups, who have natural curiosity and a strong drive for positive rewards such as ball play, petting or food.
"(Drake and Dara) are going to be awesome," Hammond said. "Neither one of them is scared of anything. They are very adventurous and that's what you want to see in a puppy''
Before intense training begins at 3 or 4 months old, Lyda said building trust with the dog is the most important task.
"If the dog doesn't trust you, you can forget it," Lyda said.
Dara will become the kennel's breeding female, while Drake will probably be trained and sold, Hammond said.
Reese, like most trained working dogs, have to know the difference between work/training time and off time, Hammond said.
"We're sending police dogs out into the field,'' he said. "They are going to be in some stressful, stressful unreal situations. They have got to be able to keep their focus on the handler and off the environment around them.''
Hammond handled dogs his entire military career and became especially close to Donja, who died overseas after ingesting C-4 explosives while serving with Hammond.
"I'll be the first one to tell anybody that Donja got me the star,'' Hammond said of the Bronze Star award he received for his service with Donja in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It had nothing to do with me."
Hammond started his business after leaving the Army in 2000, helping a friend train his dog.
Now, the Grovetown facility not only trains professional dogs, but also offers obedience training, security for special events and discreet private narcotics detection for parents or employers who suspect children or employees of drug use.
"Nobody offers that in the community," Lyda said. "We'll be discreet, too.''
Lyda offers basic and advanced companion dog obedience classes as well through U-Good-Dog-U. The six-week classes cost $100 and will be held at 6 p.m. March 21 and 31. For more information or to register for a class, call Lyda at 855-7734. For more information on trained working dogs or information on sending your dog to training, call Quality K9 Concepts at 651-3194 or visit www.qualityk9concepts.com.
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