Every day a dog day for officer, and he’s loving it

Metropolitan Police Department officer DuWayne Layton’s patrol partner is pretty cool.

Except for all that shedding. And those fangs. And the panting. Oh, and the pooping in public. That’s really gotta stop.

But it won’t stop, because Layton’s patrol partner is a Belgian Malinois shepherd named Rico. Layton serves with Metro’s K9 unit, a corps of 21 patrolmen who partner with dogs to chase down criminals, uncover narcotics and pinpoint explosives.

Unlike any human patrol partners (we hope), Layton’s K9 patrol dogs go home with him at night, living with his family and other household pets. The 24-7 relationship creates strong bonds: Layton teared up as he discussed Rico’s retirement in November, when, after 10 years of service, he’ll make way for Layton’s next patrol dog, a Malinois named Boris. Another Malinois, Bonnie, works with Layton as a bomb-detection dog.

Today, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Orleans Arena, you can meet Layton and see handlers and their pups from across the West in action during the Las Vegas Police K9 Trials. Several Ultimate Fighting Championship stars will serve as attack decoys during the demonstrations, which are free to the public.

Question: What’s a typical day like for a K9 unit?

Answer: The first thing I usually do when I get my dogs in the car is go to a park where they can just relax and be dogs. I let them out to loosen them up and get them ready, because they are wired. Then we target high-crime areas where we’re having burglary or robbery series. We go to high-priority felonies in progress, or anything where a dog would be beneficial in helping us contain the situation. Anytime we have someone running from us or a building that needs to be cleared, it’s much safer to do it with a dog than it is for officers to do it. Humans have preconceived notions as to where people can hide. We found one guy in a surgical center who’d climbed into a biohazard bag and had closed the lid up and twisted the bag shut behind him. Never in my wildest dreams would I have looked in biohazard bag for a suspect, but my dog found him there.

Question: How often has Rico bitten suspects?

Answer: Rico is probably up to 90 apprehensions, and he’s bitten only five or six suspects. We give a command to search, and when the dog finds him, it’s up to the suspect what happens. A lot of what we do is reactive. I respond to how somebody treats me and how they respond to what I’m telling them. We actually bite very few people. We teach our dogs not to bite somebody who’s still standing. Normally, when a dog encounters a suspect, the suspect bats at the dog, and that can instigate a bite. But we don’t allow our dogs to get up to somebody if it’s not a biteable offense.

There are times, though, when a suspect decides he’s going to run, or something else happens. We had one robbery suspect stick his hand in his waistband to retrieve a gun, so we let the dog bite him. We could have shot him, but the dog was in the right position to apprehend him.

Question: Any other experiences with your dogs that stand out?

Answer: Rico has saved my life, and he has saved me from having to shoot people. Everybody we go after is actively resisting or doesn’t want to go to jail, and they will go to great lengths to get away.

One night, we were looking in the southwest part of town for two armed home-invasion suspects. As Rico and I were making a loop back on a construction site to our truck, he alerted me to the back wheel of a water truck. I took cover behind another truck and called another unit. When he got there, we started challenging (the suspect), and sure enough, the guy had tucked up underneath the rear axle. We get him to show his hands. I grab one hand, and the other officer grabs the other hand. As we pull him, I turn my back to the truck, and all of a sudden Rico turns around, and he’s barking at the truck again. I spun back around and found the second suspect with a gun lodged under the drive shaft. Had we just focused on the first guy, the second guy could have taken us very easily.

We had another incident where an officer got into a foot pursuit. One of our dogs found the suspect hiding in a doghouse — we find a lot of people in doghouses — and we get him out. He turns to run, and he’s got a gun in his waistband. He hits the wall, and the dog starts pulling him off the wall. As he’s reaching for the gun, he hits the ground. The gun falls, he’s trying to grab the gun and the officers are fighting with him. He reaches down into his waistband for a second gun. Had it not been for the dog, we would have had a cop shot, no doubt in my mind.

Question: What’s home life like with a K9 dog?

Answer: It is like having another pet, to some degree. At the same time, they’re working dogs, so my kids don’t play with them, interact with them or take them for walks unless I’m there. It really depends on the dog and the handler. Some handlers allow the dogs in the house, and some don’t.

One time, I was in my kitchen and I saw Rico shoot across the yard. I could tell he was after somebody. I yelled to him to lay down, and as he did, I looked over and saw a kid dropping off the wall into my neighbor’s yard. He and some other kids were burglarizing houses, and they were wall-hopping. I watched them go down the street and break into a house, and I took them into custody. That’s bad luck, jumping into a K9 officer’s yard.

Question: How do you look at your K9 dogs? Do you see them strictly as professional partners, or are they members of your family?

Answer: They’re all members of my family. I’m closer to Rico because of the situations we go into together. He’s going to be really hard to lose when it’s time for him to go. He’s been the best partner I’ve ever had. I’d trust him with my life, and he’s been good with my family. At the same time, I have to remember that his job is to make it safer for me and for that officer who just walked by. It’ll be a lot easier for me to go to my family and say, "Rico was shot and killed tonight," than it would be to go to that officer’s family and say, "I would have sent my dog in, but …’ "

Every K9 handler has had calls where, when they tell you to send your dog in there, you pat him on the head and say, "Alright, buddy, this might be the last one," and you’re really grateful when he comes back.

Question: Do you ever have a hard time sending him in?

Answer: No, because mentally, you prepare yourself for the job you’ve got to do. That’s where the stresses come with police work. It is hours of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror, and you live with it afterward.

Question: Do suspects act differently toward a police officer with a dog?

Answer: Absolutely. They know what I can do, but they don’t what he’ll do. They can reason with me, but they can’t reason with him. One example: One night, I didn’t have my dog with me, because he was sick. But I was in my K9 truck. I stopped a guy and had him in front of my car, and the entire time, he was worried about whether the dog in the car was going to bite him. I never told him I didn’t have a dog that night.

Question: Have you ever had an animal-loving suspect want to pet the dog after an arrest?

Answer: No, they pretty much want to get away from him. We have had family members of people we’ve caught want to pet our dogs, though. That’s usually an inappropriate time. I tell them he’s all excited, and he needs to cool down.

Question: What personality traits does someone need to do what you do?

Answer: You’ve got to love dogs. You’ve got to not mind getting dirty, getting bitten and cleaning up after them. You also have to be well-grounded. It’s very easy as a cop to become cynical. When I became a cop, my wife and I decided we wanted kids. After about year, I said, "No kids," because the only kids I ever saw were bad. Now, I’ve got five kids, and I see most kids are good. I’ve tried very hard to be who I am at work, but at the same time you need friends outside work, and to ground yourself in church, service projects and things like that.

You also have to be able to divide your attention. The dogs have the mentality of a 2-year-old child, so I have to pay attention to what my suspects are doing, plus what other officers are doing, plus what that 2-year-old is doing.

Question: What’s your best dog-training tip?

Answer: Consistency. People are not consistent with their dogs. I tell Rico to lay down. If he gets up, I correct him and make him lay back down, because I told him to lay down. A lot of people will tell their dog to lay down, and then he gets up and walks around, and they’re like, "Ah, forget it." Dogs learn by repetition.

Question: Are you OK with people stopping you on duty and asking to pet your K9 dogs?

Answer: Absolutely. I love it. We socialize all of our dogs. The main thing is that you ask us first. I have to be able to read what he’s doing and thinking, and we want to make it safe for people. We take our dogs to schools and public demonstrations all the time. Rico is a mascot at Marc Kahre Elementary School.

Question: How do you want people to approach you?

Answer: Just stay back five or seven feet and ask, "Can I pet your dog?" It will always depend on the dog’s mood or what we’re doing. If I’m in the middle of a search, that’s not the appropriate time, but if I’m done with my search or out at the park, that’s an appropriate time for people to get introduced.

Question: What will Rico’s life be like when he retires?

Answer: He won’t go to work with me, but if I run supplies or uniforms, I’ll take him with me, because he likes to get out. I will still take him to Kahre, because they love him there, and he loves it. But he’s just going to relax. He’s going to become my wife’s pet, and her protector while I’m gone.

Question: What’s next for you and your career?

Answer: I keep thinking I ought to test for sergeant, but I struggle with that, because I absolutely love what I do. I love getting out. My office is my truck, and I’ve got the best partner in the world. I might just retire here.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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