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Training wall teaches Plaistow police dogs to sniff out drugs

By Jason Schreiber
Union Leader Correspondent

February 12. 2012 10:48PM
Master Patrol Officer Alec Porter demonstrates how K-9 Kraken trains with the new wall. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

PLAISTOW - The town's police dog and others in the state have a new place to train their noses.

Plaistow Master Patrol Officer Alec Porter and his K-9, Kraken, recently began training with a newly built wall designed to help police dogs sniff out drugs and other scents in preparation for their next assignment.

The large plywood wall, known as a Herstik Wall, was built and donated to the Plaistow Police Department by workers at the Plaistow Home Depot.

It's one of only two in the state and is designed with tubes attached to holes placed in a zigzag pattern to teach the dogs to search on their own by sniffing high and low.

The wall has tubes in the back containing screens where drugs are placed during training. As soon as a dog discovers the odor, a person standing behind the wall can drop a ball or other reward through the tube so it comes out at the source of the odor and is retrieved by the dog.

'The whole idea behind having the dog alert to that odor is to keep his nose there and keep focused on the odor,' Porter said.

Receiving the reward at the odor's source 'imprints in the mind of the dog the odor and the source of the reward and he's not going to get a reward until his whole body is focused on that particular area,' Porter said.

The Herstik Wall was developed by Mike Herstik, owner of International K-9. The concept is simple and is used by agencies around the world, including the Israeli Special Forces K-9 Unit who use the wall to train dogs to sniff out bombs, drugs and other scents.

'The whole idea of this is to use it for initial training, initial imprinting of the odors to a K-9 team and it also teaches dogs to search in a particular pattern,' Porter said.

The police department approached the Home Depot a few months ago to see if the store would be willing to help out with the wall.

The store agreed to donate the materials and labor to build the wall using several workers through Team Depot, a corporate volunteer program that takes on projects as a way to give back to the community. Those involved in the project were employees Jillian Acone, Hector Balcacer, Jason Madison, Chris Collette, Kevin Young, Gary Couture, Jim Beaupre and Caroline Lawless.

Acone said the store donated approximately $900 in materials for the project. Employees then worked on constructing the wall off and on over a two-week period.

'We're happy to be able to have a better line of communication with them. We know some of them personally and it's a help to us because they're the ones we call when we need help,' Acone said.

The wall is housed in a building at Chart Industries, which has allowed police to use its facility for free.

Porter said the wall could be used several times a month by not only Plaistow but other K-9 units as well.

'It was a tremendous help having Home Depot make this wall for us because it's expensive. Departments don't pay for training aids like this because it is expensive, so it falls back on the K-9 handler or the K-9 teams to pay for it out of their own pocket,' he said.

The only other Herstik Wall in New Hampshire was built by the State Police K-9 and is located in Manchester.

Porter said it's important to have different locations to provide K-9 training.

'If you keep bringing the dog to the same location he's going to know a few miles down the road before you get there, 'Hey, we're going to training today and I know exactly where we're going to go,'' he said.

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