MONTICELLO — The Monticello Police Department has a police dog.
Piet (pronounced “Pete”) is a 22-month-old Belgian Malinois. He is partnered with Officer Chris Blake and is finishing up his first week on the job.
The dog is the breed of choice among a majority of law enforcement agencies throughout the country, especially U.S. Customs and Border Protection, for its high intelligence and ability to detect contraband.
Piet recently went through six weeks of training in various skills such as narcotic recognition, tracking and water deployment. So far, everything is going well, Blake said.
Piet stays with Blake and his family each night and goes to work in the K-9 unit vehicle each morning.
“We are together 24/7, 365,” Blake said.
This will be Blake’s first police dog that works directly with him, he said. Going through training together helps establish the trust the two will need in the field together. Back at the station, Blake works as a crime scene technician along with his job as an officer.
“I wear many hats,” he said.
After Piet’s six-week training course, he and Blake trained more closely on things such as narcotic recognition, a process otherwise known as “imprinting.” The procedure is fairly basic for dogs to grasp, Blake said.
Four to five boxes are set out for the canine to sniff, with one box containing narcotics. A hole within each box allows officers to drop a tennis ball into it, signaling Piet to stick his nose in the box to fetch the ball.
When the ball is dropped into the box with the narcotics, Piet smells the drugs, and is then taught to sit in front of that crate before being rewarded with the ball. This teaches him to notify officers of suspicious material, with a reward in mind for himself as well, Blake said.
“In his mind he’s thinking, ‘Oh, I recognize that odor and if I sit, I get that ball,’” he said.
As Piet and Blake wrap up their first week together, the Monticello Police Department is encouraged that he will be a good fit for the job.
“There’s less leg room in my car now,” Blake said. “But he is already very territorial of his home in the back seat.”
The new K-9 can be seen around town in he and Blake’s police car. Piet’s black fur coat and golden eyes are hard to miss.