Several Pasco Sheriff’s deputies recently tried out for two open positions in the K9 Unit. But like most special operations billets, deputies have to pass a series of reviews and tests in order to prove their mettle in this even higher-demanding job position.

A series of tests were conducted on a single evening for the group of deputies who were vying for the open K9 positions. The first test was a simple 1.5 mile run, not a problem for any of the deputies as that is part of their annual Physical Abilities Test, or PAT.

The first real test of the trainees began with them becoming the target of the K9 dogs. They donned the full-body “bite” suit, on which the dogs practice their bite and hold behavior. The deputies got a running start, but didn’t get too far before the K9 handler released the dog to take down the running “suspect.”

Each of the deputy trainees had their turn in the bite suit, and felt the power of the dog’s jaws on them, even though the suit buffered the majority of the bite pressure. The deputies had to try and remove the dogs, much like a real suspect would, in order to appreciate the drive and dedication of the dogs that they would be partnered with if they were selected for one of the open positions.

The final trial of the evening was a 10-mile march through the dark woods near the Sheriff’s Administration Office in New Port Richey.  Often having to traverse the woods on hands and knees, the group of trainees and the K9 trainers followed the lead of the K9 dogs, which is the procedure for an actual track of a suspect or missing person.

The turnaround point for the nighttime track was the Pithlachascotte River near Plathe Road and the Little Road bridge. The prospective K9 deputies had to enter the cold, black waters of the river, following a K9 dog, and swim through to the other side, through weeds and mud in the dark of night. The K9 dogs were all eager to jump in the river, and the deputies had to have the same enthusiasm, which would be needed in tracking a suspect or missing person.

Wet, cold and tired, the group of deputies and dogs trekked back to the Sheriff’s Office complex on Little Road. The first portion of the tryouts were complete and the deputies had to prepare for the next phase of the K9 trial, the oral board and home site review, in the weeks to come.