- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

SUMTER, S.C. (AP) - Dina, a black-and-tan German shepherd, is friendly, outgoing and extremely curious.

She’s also a good tracker, according to her handler, Cpl. William Self.

“We just had a successful track with her about two weeks ago,” Self said.

A suspect fled from an officer off an interstate after a car chase, he said, a situation that can put a pursuing officer’s life in danger from ambush in South Carolina’s dense woods.

“That guy had warrants out of North Carolina for burglary charges, trafficking charges, probation violation charges, and Dina found him in about an hour and 15 minutes,” Self said.

He has had Dina for about six months.

“She is still in training, but her tracking ability is very good,” he said. “I have a lot of experience with dogs. I’ve had several dogs, and her tracking ability is what I’d call ‘more than the average dog.’

“It almost comes natural to them. Sometimes they get off the track, and you have to be able to read the dog. If they are tracking and they get off the track, you have to be able to know that, which is very simple if you have that kind of experience. In addition to tracking, they also seem to, if you are walking through the woods and they find a human odor, they’ll go straight to it. If you are trying to clear, say, an acre of land, you can pretty much follow a grid, and they will pick up the odor and go straight to it. Even if somebody’s hiding in a hole, they are going to go to it.”

It doesn’t take long to sense Self’s enthusiasm for his police dogs and dogs in general.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 13 years,” Self said. “I’ve been a dog handler since, I think, my first year.”

He has had four police dogs in that time, he said.

Dina may represent the future of the K-9 unit for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.

“She is the first dog that we decided to actually train in-house,” Self said. “We didn’t buy her; she wasn’t pre-trained when we brought her here. She has done real well.”

In-house training at the sheriff’s office is only possible because Staff Sgt. Robert Reynolds, who heads the K-9 unit, has been certified as a master trainer. Not only is he certified to train dogs, but he can also train the trainers and handlers, he said.

The cost of a fully trained police dog can run from $10,000 to $14,000, Reynolds said. By training dogs in the department, that expenditure can be saved.

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