Efforts to bring back K-9 unit to sheriff’s office underway

Lt. Richard Dickson said he looks for the same qualities in dogs and people: drive and ambition.
Dickson, a 58-year-old Odessa resident and veteran dog trainer with the Ector County Sheriff’s Office, said he is hoping to find dogs loaded with the kind of drive he and Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis seek to order to help revive the K-9 unit for the sheriff’s office following an almost two-year hiatus.
Dickson recently kick-started this endeavor by donating his police dog “Axel,” a 3-year-old, 75-pound German shepherd, to the sheriff’s office.
“My wife named him,” Dickson said. “She’s German.”
Having trained dogs for drug detection and patrol since 1983, Dickson explained that the drive he speaks of is the innate physical capability to focus on an objective and to go after it, traits that are ideal for a “work dog” and that often come from a certain lineage of dog bred for that kind of activity.
Such traits are especially useful for drug detection, tracking and patrol work, Dickson said. He likened the training the dogs receive to instilling a sense of anticipation in nearly winning, or coming close to attaining a certain goal, but always falling short.
That’s what compels or keeps the dog in coming for more, in wanting to hopefully catch the prey object, which could be for training purposes a tennis ball or toy. It’s the anticipation in receiving a reward that fuels a dog’s drive, Dickson said.
“When we train these dogs, we’re training a gambling addiction into them,” he said.
Currently, Axel has been given to another handler and is assigned to work at the Ector County Detention Center, where he would be useful in detecting drugs that can get smuggled or brought into the facility, Dickson said.
“It’s a deterrent to keeping the drugs out of the jail,” Dickson said.
While there are certain breeds of dogs that could be a good addition to a K-9 unit, German shepherds appear to be the right pick, Dickson said.
Unlike other dogs that have short or stubby legs, German shepherds can easily “can get in and out of cars,” said Sgt. Gary Duesler, a colleague of Dickson’s and an experienced dog trainer himself. Duesler compared the breed to “a well-oiled machine.”
There has to be the right fit between the K-9 dog and a handler because of amount of time they can spend together. Once a handler is assigned a K-9 dog, the handler is responsible for it, Duesler said.
“You got to match the dog with (a person’s) personality,” Duesler said.
The effort in searching for the right kind of canine for the sheriff’s prospective K-9 unit can be a painstaking effort since not all dogs would be suited for the line of work. Ideally, the unit would have five dogs, one at the jail and four dogs in the street, Dickson said.
That would entail assigning one dog to each of the four 12-hour shifts and narcotic training can consume six weeks, Duesler said. The total price tag for those five dogs would be an estimated $20,000, Dickson and Duesler said. The last time the sheriff’s office had a K-9 unit was May 2015, Duesler said.
“You get what you put into it,” Duesler said.
During his days in high school when he would work as a decoy for the sheriff’s office and later became a police explorer for the Odessa Police Department, Dickson said he wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Dickson started a K-9 unit during his days working as an officer for the Crane Police Department for seven years, and he also worked for the OPD for six years, he said. Dickson said he operated his own private K-9 business for a time before he eventually joined the sheriff’s office and became a member of the state-funded Permian Basin Drug Task Force in 1991.
But K-9 dogs, and the work that goes into training them, remains Dickson’s passion as evidenced in such things as his elaborate explanation of the animal’s olfactory senses and how they can be trained to compartmentalize them.
“The odor of the drug is like a command,” said Dickson, who added that K-9 dogs ought to retire after seven years. “It’s obedience to odor.”
Dickson’s knowledge of the police K-9 world has been gained through years of experience, he said.
“I spend as much time with my dogs as (I do) with my wife,” he said.