It all started with a simple email nearly six years ago. And Sgt. Mike Jones of the Grantsville City Police Department didn’t let it go unanswered.
“I had always said I would be interested in being a canine handler, and if I had the opportunity, I would do it,” he said. “But being with a smaller department, I assumed it would never happen.”
Then the email came that offered Jones and Grantsville a chance.
The request was from the West Valley City Police Department. The department was donating a police dog and was looking for a smaller agency that could not afford the price of a trained canine.
Jones went to then Grantsville City Police Chief Daniel Johnson to ask about the opportunity.
“I figured I needed to just talk to the chief and see if he would let me do it,” said Jones. “So, I went into his office and he folded his arms, rolled back into his chair. I was thinking it was not good at all. But I explained all about it. He leaned forward in his chair and said, ‘If you want to go and see if they will donate that dog to you, then you have my blessing.’”
Jones went to the department and met the handler and the dog, Zoro, and did a ride-along with them. Ten other agencies in the state also put in for Zoro.
After two weeks, Jones got the news that Zoro, a Belgian Malinois, was coming to Grantsville.
Then came the real work.
“That started my career,” Jones said. “I went to Post Officer Standards and Training [POST] and became certified as a canine handler in both patrol and narcotics.”
He was living in Taylorsville at the time and went every Tuesday and trained with the all the different agencies in the area.
“The school patrol was two months, every day for 10 hours,” he said. “It was training dogs all day long. Lots and lots of repetitive stuff, getting commands to the dog to do what you want them to do, consistently.”
When an officer and dog are certified, then the dog is “off leash” all of the time, which means he will respond to all voice commands from the handler.
Jones worked hard and met a lot of other handlers and trainers in the area.
He then got an opportunity to start working with Rose Cox, a nationally- known dog handler and owner of the Oquirrhberg Kennel in Wendover.
“I really developed a lasting relationship with a lot of those handlers and vendors in the canine world,” Jones said. “It was there that I obtained my instructor’s license for narcotic and patrol training.”
Jones has worked with big vendors and the military and other agencies all over the United States.
“I started teaching at the kennel and was able to be added to the list of instructors at POST,” he said.
Jones next obtained a bomb certificate to work with explosive detection dogs.
“Because of my work with Rose, she had the contract with the [Utah] Jazz to have a dog at the games and do bomb sweeps,” Jones said. “So, I have met the most interesting people and been able to do the most interesting things.”
Zoro, the main dog that Jones trained, passed away in 2016.
Kaos (pronounced chaos), his current police dog, came from Heber City Police Department. The dog was four years old. The Heber department was closing its canine program.
Layla came from Oquirrhberg Kennel. She is in training to become a bomb/explosives dog and has given birth to two litters of puppies.
One of Layla’s puppies, Whisky, is training now to become Kaos’ replacement. Kaos is still a strong police dog, recently winning five awards in different competitions. But, he is set to retire in about a year.
“I got Layla and started teaching her the basics,” Jones said. “I bred her and sold those puppies.”
One of Layla’s puppies became a cadaver dog to help search for bodies. Another became a single purpose drug dog.
Jones bred Layla to Apollo, the second Grantsville police dog. Several police agencies came to buy those puppies. A Fargo, North Dakota agency even came to get one of them.
“That puppy is awesome, she is still in training — too young to be certified — but she will be good,” he said.
Don’t think all puppies turn into police dogs, he cautioned. It is a tough process.
“I have bred a total of 17 puppies so far, but only four have gone on to do police work,” Jones said. “The rest have gone out as pets or compassion animals.”
Most dogs do not have the qualities necessary to become working dogs. There are multiple tests that potential police dogs must pass along the way.
“We test their play drive, their hunt drive, social skills, what they fear, even how long they will stay on task,” Jones explains.
Throw a ball into the grass for a regular dog and it will go and search for a while and come back, he said.
“Police dogs need to stay on task. I want one that will hunt and hunt and hunt until they find that ball. I want them to look until they can’t look anymore,” Jones said.
Trainers start working on skills from the very beginning.
“We just take them everywhere, to work on their social skills,” Jones said. “When a puppy is 15 to 18 months old, we can tell where they are going, if they can be a working dog or not.”
But, what to do with the other animals? Jones sells some for pets and others have gone to Pets for Vets, an organization that matches veterans who worked with canines during their military service, to be companion dogs.
Two puppies went to another program to be companion animals for former police officers that had worked with some horrific scenes during their careers. One has been involved in a police officer shooting and one has had a lengthy career in law enforcement dealing with a lot of terrible things, Jones said. Both officers had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“They can just have those animals to fall back on,” he said. “The officers had a hard time being in society and just doing regular stuff. Getting that animal just changed the world for them.”
Jones is sure that his wife and kids sometimes get tired of all the work he puts into the dogs and their training.
“But my wife is so supportive overall. And the kids do like it,” he said.
“My wife, Melissa saw me working so much that she decided to come out with me and is now working to become a single certification handler,” he said. “The kids have been carted out of all kinds of unusual places to see trainings and certifications. We have gotten to go to a lot of different places and see different things because of these dogs.”
Jones said there is a big learning curve with training animals. Since he has been able to work with hundreds of dogs during his career so far, it has enabled him to understand dog psychology.
“My arms are black and blue right now,” he said. “We were working recently with bite suits, which are thinner but you can move more in them. I cried out, because it really did hurt, but that triggers an instinct in the dogs that ‘this is my prey’ and they need to pull into the prey and not pull back.
“The law enforcement community is a small world and a tight-knit community,” Jones added. “The canine community is even smaller. It has been nice to be able to be a good influence. I have had a pretty successful career for a small agency and I have gotten called out to help other agencies.”
Jones said he understands the job that Kaos does:
“I don’t want him to get hurt and would hate to put him in any situation like that, but if Kaos could save an officer’s life, I would rather do that.”
Grantsville is just a little agency, Jones said.
“I have been honored when other agencies call and asked us to come and help,” he said. “The phone is always ringing and I like it. It makes a good name for Grantsville. It is hard work, but it has paid off. We are small, but at the same level as the big guys. And we are happy to do whatever needs to be done.”