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Doggone good training

Bruno, the Keizer Police Department's new K-9, attacks Stephen Richardson (left) during a training exercise June 26 while officer Scott Keniston (right) watches. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
Bruno, the Keizer Police Department’s new K-9, attacks Stephen Richardson (left) during a training exercise June 26 while officer Scott Keniston (right) watches. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

The purchase is only part of the process.

Before Bruno can hit the streets as the Keizer Police Department’s newest K-9, he has plenty to learn.

His human partner, Scott Keniston, is there to teach him. Keniston is assisted by fellow officer Stephen Richardson, whose current partner is K-9 Buster.

Keniston and Sgt. Jeff Goodman flew down to California in early June to pick a new K-9 to replace Bas, Keniston’s current K-9 partner who is nearly 10 years old and starting to experience eyesight issues as well as arthritis in the hips.

“We got to see every dog,” Goodman said. “It came down to this dog and another. Scott made the decision. It’s his partner. It’s like a marriage.”

Richardson noted the last three K-9s the KPD has selected have all been malinois.

“I didn’t think we would have a shepherd again,” he said.

For Keniston, the breed of dog wasn’t the main thing.

“I went down there with an open mind,” he said. “I tried one malinois, but it didn’t fit me. This one, I felt that connection. Everything I saw about him, I liked.”

Richardson said dogs cost about $10,000 each, with a private donor paying for Bruno’s purchase. Training, shipping the dog to Keizer and equipment are all extra.

Richardson is a certified K-9 trainer who helps train dogs for other agencies as well. He utilizes a course set up at Wiessner Park – which is maintained by the Keizer Public Works department – to do the six-week training.

“The first week you do a baseline, then you back off to see the progression,” Richardson explained June 26 as Bruno neared the end of his second week of training. “He’s already excelling faster than some dogs have. The main thing is he’s young. He will be two in October. We have to get the puppy out of him. He loves to play. Otherwise, he’s a great dog.”

With each dog, a plan is followed.

“You do building blocks, adding on to what he knows,” Richardson said. “You make sure he’s confident first before you add on something else. The obstacles are out here. Then you start with obedience. You want to have 100 percent control of the dog. The goal here is to get the dog exposed to as many scenario-based trainings as you can.”

For Keniston, there are several adjustments to make after being partnered with Bas for five years.

“I’m using different commands now,” he said. “I’m using Czech commands. Previously, I used Dutch. Previously (with Bas), I had an experienced dog. Bas was four-and-a-half when we got him. Bruno is only one-and-a-half. But he’s responded very well.”

Keniston noted the vendor had named the K-9 Bruno.

“We tried different names, but we felt it was easier to keep it,” Keniston said. “He knows his name.”

That was evident as Bruno went through his lessons last week.

As Richardson donned a “bad guy” suit and went through different scenarios, Keniston gave Bruno commands, all of which were followed.

“Bruno’s done a good job,” Richardson said during a break. “He’s getting one-on-one time, which helps him focus.”

At some point, probably in the early fall, there will be a public retirement party for Bas, who now lives with Keniston’s brother.

“We really want to thank the community,” Richardson said. “This program is all supported by the community. The community has stepped forward, which allows us to provide this public service.”