June 22nd, 2018

Passing the sniff test

By Mo Cranker on March 12, 2018.

Const. Jason Ross and police service dog Astor do drug search testing Thursday afternoon at the old Rona building on Dunmore Road. The two have been training for a couple weeks, and will soon travel to Calgary to become a certified drug team. --NEWS PHOTO MO CRANKER


For the vast majority of the dog population, sitting, shaking their paw and possibly rolling over is more than enough to get a treat, or some time with their favourite toy.

For police service dogs Astor and Flint, some of the highest praise comes after sniffing out drugs hidden in a home or a vehicle.

The Medicine Hat Police Service is two weeks into training PSD Astor to detect drugs and to notify his handler of any illegal substances he may sniff out.

“We’re about a week-and-a-half in Astor’s drug training, and we’ve been pretty busy,” said Astor’s handler, Const. Jason Ross. “We take three weeks to do this and run our dog through hundreds of different searches. We’ll then go out to Calgary and then we’ll hopefully be certified by the trainer there. There will be unknown hides up in Calgary and we’ll have to pass them all. If we do we’ll be a certified drug team.”

Through nearly two weeks of training, Ross says Astor is doing a good job, but still has work to do.

“Basically what we do is bring him into an area using different search patterns, depending on what type of area it is,” he said. “He’s doing great with the training so far. He’s the third dog I’ve done this with, and he’s been the best so far. His trainability and intensity are really great, and you can see him in here — he’s so happy, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.”

Communication between Ross and Astor is the most important factor of drug searches, with each party giving the other clear signals during a search.

“The repetition of these search exercises are important because we have to be on the same page,” said Ross. “When we’re searching and he thinks he’s found something, he’ll sit or lay down. That’s when we know there may be something. In our searches we reward him with some time with his ball, he loves this thing, in the field it’s more about praise. We may not know at a crime scene if there’s actually drugs hidden right away, so we just will give him a lot of praise.”

The MHPS is training Astor to detect cocaine, methamphetamine, crack cocaine, heroin and MDMA, giving the service yet another tool to use at a crime scene.

“There’s a lot of times the drugs are just so well hidden,” said Ross. “Sometimes they’re also in a really small quantity that we could have missed them. A dog’s nose will rarely miss those hidden quantities or hidden amounts, so having that at our disposal is pretty great.”

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