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Woodville police may get a double dose of training in dealing with dogs they encounter in the course of their daily work.
Cheryl Kubista, the Toledo-area trainer with the international Bark Busters Home Dog Training, has offered the village her services to hold a training session in canine body language. Woodville Mayor Richard Harman also plans to seek council approval to bring in Texas-based Canine Encounters Law Enforcement Training for more in-depth training specific to law enforcement.
"We're going to go above and beyond," Mayor Harman said.
Police Chief Roy Whitehead could not be reached by The Blade for comment.
The interest in the extra training comes after K-9 Officer Steve Gilkerson on Nov. 3 shot a chocolate Labrador retriever that left its owners' business' property and approached him at a traffic stop. The dog had surgery to repair the shattered bones in its leg and is recovering.
The case has divided the small community because of competing testimony. The officer said the dog was threatening him, and witnesses claim the opposite.
The department does not have dashboard or body cameras that would have provided concrete evidence.
Bark Busters' program is called Stand Right No Bite, and will use several dogs for officers to interact with. Mrs. Kubista hopes to hold her training session before Christmas. She said all law enforcement officers should be required to take training in reading and responding to canine body language to reduce risk for both the officers and the dogs.
"The dog reacts to how we respond," she said. "It might mean one thing to us, but to a dog, it has a whole different meaning. You've got to learn how to communicate. ... No matter how much we try to humanize them, they are still an animal and they have a different reaction to things than we do."
For example, Mrs. Kubista said a wagging tail is often taken as a sign of a friendly dog. And while that can be true, differences in how the tail is wagging can give clues as to whether the dog is nervous or fearful or in a heightened state of excitement.
"Sometimes it's hard to tell," Mrs. Kubista said. "At least they can have the basics and look at what's happening and try to judge it."
Mayor Harman will also seek approval for $2,100 to bring in Jim Osorio from Canine Encounters. Mr. Osorio is a former Indianapolis police officer and has traveled across the country to train more than 10,000 law enforcement officers since 2005.
"A lot of police officers don't have much training at all when it comes to animals," he said. "But they encounter dogs all the time. I'm trying to give them a lot more options so lethal force doesn't have to be used at all."
Mr. Osorio's training course is an in-depth eight-hour seminar, and each participant gets a certificate of completion. The course addresses how to recognize the different kinds of canine aggression, factors that contribute to dog bites, canine body language, interacting with dogs, use of force, and self-defense against dogs.
"Every situation is going to be different," Mr. Osorio said. "But just because he barks at you, doesn't mean he's aggressive."
The program will teach officers how to use the normal equipment they may carry on their belts - like batons, pepper spray, and stun guns - instead of their guns, whenever possible.
Neither Mrs. Kubista nor Mr. Osorio would say whether such training would have made a difference in the Woodville shooting case, but noted the possibility.
"I can see it from both sides," Mrs. Kubista said. "My take is that I want them to know what to do if it ever happens again, to prevent any future things happening."
Mr. Osorio said Woodville is taking an active step to give its officers more knowledge and experience.
"Woodville is trying to move forward," he said. "They are doing a good thing. Any training is going to help. Right now, they don't have any training."
Mayor Harman said if the village council approves the expense, Canine Encounters will visit the area in May.
"We want to be the best we can be," he said. "The bottom line is, this will make us better."
Other area departments will be invited to participate in both training sessions, he said.
Contact Alexandra Mester: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.
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