DECATUR -- The Decatur police hosted a three-day K-9 seminar from May 13 to 15, which featured Paul Ludwig. Police Chief Steven Grizzle said Ludwig is a leading expert in K-9 training, and he appreciates him traveling to Northwest Arkansas to instruct local officers and their K-9 dogs.
Various local police departments in NWA were invited to participate in the event.
Ludwig retired from the Metro Transit Police Department in Washington, D.C., after serving the department for 25 years. His experience in law enforcement prompted him to apply for a K-9 unit. While on duty, Ludwig almost lost his life when his K-9 dog failed to engage a suspect during an emergency situation. Although the dog was "properly trained" and had a "certification," it was apprehensive and did not know what to do when tensions rose. This compelled him to "change how he trained" dogs and "focus specifically on real-life deployment instead of basic certification." He is now working with multiple agencies to help train their K-9 units to adapt to emergencies.
"So, we're basically trying to get these guys exposed to some things that have happened to me in real life or things that have happened to other officers I've worked with," said Ludwig. "They're not your normal patrol situations where we show up but these are when very chaotic things have gone really, really bad."
Training begins with role playing as officers stage various scenarios law enforcement may face during patrol. Decoys position themselves and flail their arms to distract the dogs while yelling at law enforcement. Officers will call out to the suspect and fire gunshot noises. Dogs also train in close spaces, conduct building searches, and experience high-speed pursuit simulations.
Officers present at the training seminar were Ty Eggebrecht, Christian Johnson, Caleb Cline and Cory Jackson. Jackson is a K-9 handler from Siloam Springs who arrived with his dog, Lord. Sgt. Cline is with the Gravette Police Department and handles his dog Roni. Ty Eggebrecht is an officer from Centerton and by his side was his dog Zorro. He says Zorro has a lot of experience and this event has shown him his ability to learn and read the situation as it happens. Watching close by is his daughter, Kayden Eggebrecht, who records and captures the event on her phone. "I like it," said Kayden. "Because I know that (my father) loves it.
Johnson is a corporal for the Decatur police department who handles Dex. He has been a police officer for eight years and has worked closely with Dex for two years. Johnson says Dex excels at sniffing out narcotics. "We've seized and recovered a lot of illegal drugs from people," he said. One of his concerns was Dex's reaction to the sound of gunfire. Initially, he didn't know how he would react, but this seminar put his fears to rest.
"Speaking with Paul," Johnson said, "I expressed that (gunfire noises) were a concern of mine. And (Dex) has done absolutely phenomenal with it. No issues and no concerns. It's been great."
Tagging along with Ludwig are decoys Kemp Bouwman and Micah Louis. They line themselves with heavily padded suits that protect them from the dog's bites. They need to be ready and prepared when a dog attacks. It's not an easy job. When asked if they get nervous when a dog springs into action, Louis said, "All the time. You can't predict or know what they're going to do." Bouwman adds, "Initially, it is very scary. But then you learn ways to catch dogs, and you learn to read the situation. It's controlled chaos at best."
But it's something they both enjoy. Bouwman owns a dog company but does this job "for fun." Louis said, "You either love it or hate it. There's no in-between."
Regardless, the responsibility of a decoy includes having a "safety plan" which considers the safety of the dog and its handler. Ludwig says he enjoys teaching these seminars because of the experiences and feedback he gets from his students.
"We've been having a good time. It's wonderful being able to come to places that I've never been before and work with guys I've never been around before. They will continue to call me and tell me the good and bad stuff that happens because I will employ that in my future training."
Ludwig will travel to Louisiana next and impart his knowledge and experiences to give another K-9 team the tools it needs to protect its residents.