Canine trains to take bite out of crime

Officer Ryan Rivers and Raven make up the University Police Department’s canine unit.

Elizabeth Cook

Raven’s bark can be heard echoing through the parking garage. As soon as her owner, officer Ryan Rivers, lets her out of the canine unit’s sport utility vehicle, she happily fetches her tennis ball over and over again.

Rivers and Raven make up the University Police Department’s canine unit.

The 70-pound, 3-year-old Dutch German shepherd is trained in bomb detection, criminal apprehension, building searches, tracking and evidence recovery, Rivers said. And she does it all to play with her toys.

Rivers said the most important thing when training dogs is to reward them immediately after they complete a task. Raven’s favorite reward is a jute toy, which is basically a cylinder-shaped pull toy. She’s also a big fan of tennis balls.

Rivers and Raven work 80 hours every two weeks. For every eight hours Rivers works, he gets paid for nine, which helps cover some of the pup’s expenses, like housing.

But Raven doesn’t live outside, Rivers said. She stays inside with Rivers’ wife and 3-year-old.

“She spends 24/7 with me,” Rivers said.

Every time Rivers is working, Raven is, too.

The veterinary school is a huge help to Raven. The school donates all of her Science Diet food and gives her check-ups and vaccinations.

Raven has a somewhat strict lifestyle, with no table scraps (only special diet food), four hours of training a week and chasing tennis balls four times a day.

Raven has been working for the University Police Department since September 2004. She was bought through the Minneapolis Police Department from a kennel in Indiana known for having police dogs, but she originally came from the Netherlands.

Her first batch of training lasted 12 weeks and was through the Minneapolis Police Department.

In those weeks she learned obedience, agility, apprehension, building and area searches, evidence recovery and basic tracking, and no training was done with aggressive training, Rivers said.

Raven was able to show some of these skills off Wednesday, starting with some mock criminal apprehension.

Officer Joshua Betts acted like a criminal and Rivers sent her to apprehend him. As soon as the command was given, she took off and sunk her teeth into the padding Betts was wearing.

Betts said it doesn’t hurt, but said it’s “like a vice, you can feel the pressure.”

Raven showed another similar tactic, only this time the scenario included Betts acting as a criminal who is running from police. Rivers started to chase after him, but then pushed a button on his belt that opened Raven’s door. Then, she ran past him and apprehended Betts.

After every time she does her job, there is much audible praise for her and she immediately gets a toy.

“To these dogs, it’s just a big game,” Rivers said.

After the 12-week training, Raven went to a three-week course in bomb detection.

For this type of training, the dog is exposed to seven or eight of the most common compounds found in bombs.

On Wednesday, Raven showed her skill during a mock bomb detection in a building on the St. Paul campus.

She was able to detect wires in a paper towel dispenser and C4 near the gas tank of a truck.

Rivers spoke of the connection he has with Raven.

“You get really proud of her,” he said. “It’s probably the equivalent of a child.”

Rivers said he never doubts for a minute that she would protect him from danger.

Jeannine Moga, a social worker at the veterinary medical school, said the bond that grows between a human and an animal is not taught – it happens naturally through interaction.

Dogs are known for being “loyal, forgiving and willing to do just about anything for the person they care about,” she said.

Moga said the bond is also stronger when the animal relates to the human as a companion and the two have a working relationship.