LYNCHBURG, Va.—Gearing up for police work is a full time job for canine officers and their human handlers.
"You have to keep on training," said Gary Abbott, an officer who works with canine unit at the Lynchburg Police Department. "Once you get the dog where you want to get them, you have to keep on training to keep them there."
That training usually involves searching for drugs, but officers have to simulate that work in a way that doesn't always match with what they end up doing in the field.
"Sometimes we use boxes," Abbott said. "That's a little reckless, because my dog is high strung. He goes to check the boxes and ends up knocking the box over."
To keep their dogs from developing bad habits, Lynchburg police are trying something different. They've built a new training facility, specifically for simulating drug searches.
The building, which is located on the Lynchburg police training grounds in Campbell County, is no larger than an average backyard shed. Despite its small size, officers say it will make a big difference in how animals get trained.
"It's a more accurate way of pinpointing the source of the narcotics that the canines are trained to detect," said Abbott.
The difference comes in how the dogs are rewarded. Officers can now deliver a treat in the same spot where drugs are located.
"It just reemphasizes the fact that they need to stay and scratch where the odor is strongest," said Abbott.
That helps the dogs focus, which can improve their accuracy.
"It's going to result in a safer community," said Lynchburg Police Chief, Parks Snead. "You're going to see more drug seizures. You're going to see more effective prosecution, because the dog is that much better trained."
The new training facility was built by students at Heritage High School, with money donated by Lynchburg College and Areva.