Manchester PD hosts K-9 training classes

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Tue., Apr. 26, 2011
Manchester Police Officer Rob Johnson looks on as Manchester Police Officer Mike Magrey and his K-9 Jax practice a tracking exercise. Photos by Martha Marteney.
Manchester Police Officer Rob Johnson looks on as Manchester Police Officer Mike Magrey and his K-9 Jax practice a tracking exercise. Photos by Martha Marteney.

The Manchester Police Department is currently hosting the training of five new K-9 teams for four Connecticut police departments: Manchester, North Branford, Plainville and Wethersfield.  Officer Rob Johnson has been with the Manchester Police Department for 13 years and has worked with his K-9 partner, Dibbs, for five years.  Johnson is leading the training, along with Officer Richard Boyle. “This is the first time our police department has hosted the K-9 class,” said Johnson.

The five new K-9 handlers were selected through an application process, and were paired with the young dogs.  The handlers and the dogs must complete the 22-week training program before undergoing certification as a K-9 team by the North American Police Work Dog Association. The handlers and the dogs train eight hours a day, five days a week.

“I just like working with dogs,” said Officer Mike Magrey of the Manchester Police Department about his decision to join the K-9 program.  Magrey has been with the department for four years.  He is paired with Jax, a 1-year-old Belgium Malonois.  This breed is a herding dog, similar to shepherds.

According to Johnson, many K-9s come from Europe, where the working dog lines have been better maintained.  The dogs are selected based on their temperament and size.  “These dogs are all type-A personalities,” said Johnson. Most K-9s weigh about 65 pounds.  Some K-9s are from Fidelco, other well-respected breeders or other non-profit organizations. Johnson and Boyle selected the dogs for Manchester’s two new K-9 teams.

About one month into their training, the dogs are learning to track.  For this exercise, Johnson marks a path by deliberately crushing the grass.  The handler tells the dog to track the scent.  At the end of the track, the dog is rewarded with praise and his favorite toy, such as a tennis ball. Johnson explained that all dogs track at different speeds.  He emphasizes motivational training, so that the dogs enjoy working. 

Officer Josh Eastwood has been with the Manchester Police Department for three and a half years, and is in the training program with his 15-month-old K-9, Kane. Eastwood also has another dog, who is strictly a house pet.  “It’s night and day between the two,” said Eastwood of his two dogs.  K-9 Kane has his own room and kennel area.  On working days, the K-9 team does not do any extra training at home, because they train eight hours a day.  “You develop such a strong bond with him,” said Eastwood.  “He becomes your best friend.”

Officer Joe Baich has been with the Wethersfield Police Department for two years.  He is in the K-9 training program with 16-month-old Owen, who came from Fidelco.  Because of Owen’s energy level, he would not make a good guide dog, or possibly even a good pet.  “You have to focus his attention,” said Johnson.  Owen recently underwent surgery to remove metal pieces of a harness he ate.

The North Branford police department has not had its own K-9 team for  almost 15 years.  Officer Mauro Piroli is pleased to be selected to train with his K-9, 16-month-old Chase. He said the role of the K-9 team will be especially important in North Branford, because it is a smaller force. 

Officer Pat Huntley of the Plainville Police Department is also taking part in the training with his K-9, Ostin.

Once the training is completed and the K-9 teams are certified, the dogs will accompany the officers during their patrols.  Manchester K-9s are involved in tracking, building and area searches, article recovery and apprehension, as well as narcotics work.

The two new Manchester K-9 teams are replacing Officer Joanne Collamati and K-9 Boomer and Sgt. Mike Ilewicz and K-9 Vegas.  At 10 years old, it was time for Boomer to retire.  Ilewicz’s recent promotion made him ineligible to continue as a K-9 handler.  The dogs will continue to live with their handlers.

Of his own K-9 partner, Dibbs, Johnson said, “He’s never going to want to retire.” At only 6 and a half, Dibbs will likely continue working with Johnson for another three to six years.

In addition to their police responsibilities, the K-9 teams also perform demonstrations for organizations and schools. For more information about the K-9 teams or to request a demonstration, visit the Manchester Police Department website at


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