SEBASTIAN — When Officer Rob Kyzer picked up his K-9 partner Rosco nine years ago, the German Shepherd puppy was a year-old, fresh from out of the country and had no training.
Now, Rosco has eight years of service under his proverbial belt in sniffing out pounds of drugs and tracking down criminals. The dog officially retired Oct. 31.
“He’s goofy, fun loving, playful and loves playing tug-of-war,” Kyzer said of the alpha dog. “He enjoys getting out there and tracking down people who are hiding from him.”
Rosco, now 10 and weighing 105 pounds, is from the Czech Republic. Kyzer said he knew Rosco was ready to retire when he noticed his stamina decreasing during training sessions.
“He’s getting older,” Kyzer said. He said K-9 dogs’ careers usually last nine or 10 years.
Back in 2008, after Kyzer received Rosco as his new partner, he spent a month making a personal connection with Rosco until the K-9 Academy began.
All K-9 dogs and handlers go through the K-9 Academy to earn a certification for patrolling on the streets. The academy teaches dogs how to bite and track suspects, sitting, heeling and how to search buildings and other areas, said Kyzer.
It usually takes a few months for K-9 dogs and their handlers to complete the training. After the academy is drug school, where dogs learn different techniques to sniff out narcotics.
One of those methods the handlers use is called the “cocktail,” where the handlers put the dog’s toy in a box that also has different types of drugs. The box is sealed with holes on the top, so the dog can sniff out the items inside the box.
The handlers first put the toy inside the box that also has drugs that are securely placed inside canvas bags. The toy absorbs the narcotic odor, which includes cocaine, in powdered and crack form, crystal meth, heroin, marijuana, ecstasy and more, Kyzer said.
The handler pulls the toy out and lets the dog play with the toy.
“They’re sniffing out the drugs, but they think they’re sniffing out the toy,” Kyzer said. “We teach them to associate the odors with their toy. It speeds up the process of being able to sniff out drugs.”
Drug school lasts for a couple weeks. The dogs learn through repetition and from watching other dogs.
After completion, the dogs are ready to patrol the streets with their handler.
Law enforcement officials usually pick young alpha dogs from out of the county because they’re healthier than American dogs, according to Kyzer.
“The main issue is blood lines. They’re crossbreeding in America, which leads to health issues,” Kyzer said. “Over there, the bloodlines are more stable.”
Kyzer said police usually like to get dogs that have no training.
“It’s rewarding to watch the dog build up and excel throughout the program.”
With Rosco’s retirement, there are now only two K-9 dogs, Odie and Jerry, with their handlers at the Sebastian Police Department. Kyzer, who has worked there for 18 years, said he’s going to miss his four-legged friend sitting in the back seat of his patrol car.
Fortunately, Kyzer will still get to see Rosco everyday, since the dog will continue to stay with him at his home after his retirement.
“I’m going to take him on some walks to keep him active,” Kyzer said.