Police canine handlers and their four-legged partners often work in dangerous situations which makes training critical.
This week, nearly 70 canine teams from throughout the southwest came to Payson to work with experienced trainers in the Canine Officers Survival Seminar.
Payson Police Sgt. Rod Mamero has coordinated the training for the past 12 years.
"This is the only seminar like this in the state," Mamero said. "Canine handlers traditionally are involved in a lot more high-risk situations. Handlers get in a significantly higher amount of shootings and a lot more felony situations because those are the calls they respond to."
Mamero started the Payson Police Department's canine program 12 years ago with his Russian Shepherd, Brigg. The department's current handler is Les Barr and his German Shepherd, Kodiak, who is a patrol and narcotics detection dog.
Deputy Dennis Newman of the Gila County Sheriff's Office has an explosives detection dog, a Belgian Malinois named Rex, and Zelma, a yellow Lab who detects narcotics.
Once the dogs smell drugs, they are trained to alert their handlers in one of two ways.
"You have passive alerts in which the dog will sit or point," Mamero said, "or an aggressive alert where they will scratch or bite at where they smell the narcotics."
Mamero said explosives detection dogs always alert passively. "A dog that scratches or bites at explosives is obviously not the winning combination," Mamero said.
During the training, officers spent the better part of two nights testing their skills in various scenarios all over the area.
"They have to make split-second decisions," Mamero said. "Then they are critiqued by an instructor.
Mamero said the use of dogs in police work is a very effective deterrent.
A dog's nose is several hundred times stronger than a human's and can discriminate between scents which makes them very good drug detectors, he said.
Police canines must be certified on a yearly basis, Mamero said.
A memorial to the fallen
This year, members of the Arizona Law Enforcement Canine Association, the organization which sponsors the training, are raising money for a police dog memorial.
"I think about 11 police dogs have been killed in the line of duty in Arizona," Mamero said. "The memorial will be a bronze statue of a police dog that will be located on the mall at the state capitol near the peace officers memorial."
Supporters of the memorial have two years to raise $25,000 for the statue.
"Police dogs are really part of handler's family," Mamero said. "When a dog makes that sacrifice, it has probably saved the life of its handler and other officers."
Anyone who would like to contribute money to the police dog memorial can call Mamero at (928) 474-5242, ext. 210.