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Explosive detection dog familiar, furry face around Capitol

Explosive detection dog familiar, furry face around Capitol

January 27th, 2019 by Joe Gamm in Local News

K-9 officer Burbon is one of two explosives detection dogs that work at the Missouri State Capitol.

At about 4 years old, the springer spaniel is really cute, and he knows it.

But please don't pet him — he's supposed to be working.

Burbon and his handler, Capitol Police officer Adam Hoskins, have been partners for a couple of years, since the previous handler left the department.

Hoskins graduated from the police academy about eight years ago. He went right to work at the Cole County Sheriff's Department. About three years ago, he joined Capitol Police.

With the departure of the previous handler in 2017, Hoskins, who has a German shepherd and husky at home, stepped up to take on the handler's duties for Burbon.

Burbon came from Poland and was trained in Kansas at Iron Heart High Performance Working Dogs. That's where trainer Matt Skogen turned him into an explosives detection dog. Skogen trains dogs for drug or bomb detection. He also trains "bite dogs," or "man dogs."

And even though Hoskins took Burbon in more than a year ago, he wasn't allowed to take him into the field until Hoskins had been trained to be a handler.

That happened in October, when the team went to Kansas for a two-week course.

"What I learned when I went to my training with Matt is that they are finding that labs and German shepherds — while still very good at their jobs and very obedient dogs — the springer spaniels have just as good of a nose on them and can last longer," Hoskins said.

Larger dogs have shorter life spans, he said.

Continuous training is required to keep Burbon and Hoskins sharp. Hoskins and officer DeAnne Bogg — who handles Hutch, the department's other explosives detection dog — set up a schedule so they can train the two dogs together about four hours per week.

Hutch, a 7-year-old blond English Labrador retriever, has been with the department for more than four years.

"Even when I'm at home and not on duty, I still work on discipline," Hoskins said.

All his dogs know they have to perform a task to earn a reward.

For Burbon, the reward is a toy, according to Mike O'Connell, the communications director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety.

Although they don't get a lot of calls for service, the handlers and dogs are required to respond to requests from Homeland Security.

In mid-December, when the Hermann Advertiser Courier received a bomb threat by email, Hutch and Bogg responded to check the property for explosives, O'Connell said.

The dogs respond to threats at schools and other public places. They check for explosives at all Missouri state properties in Jefferson City.

Police in Columbia have only one explosives detection dog, Capitol Police Lt. Brian Quick said. Because the football stadium is so large, when the University of Missouri football team hosts games, Capitol Police send detection dogs to help with checks.

"We assist anywhere that we can go that we can help."

Quick, a former handler, keeps retired explosives detection dog Durango at home. He said handlers have to adjust to the dog; the dog does not adjust to the handler.

"When I got Burbon, I learned his cues," Hoskins said. "There are different tilts of the head."

Hoskins has to have a strategy for when people want to pet Burbon, O'Connell said.

Hoskins tries to be as nice as he can when he tells people they can't pet Burbon while he's at the Capitol or anywhere else they are called.

"He's as cute as a button, and everybody knows it — especially him. And he loves to be petted," Hoskins said. "But he's working, so I apologize and say, 'He's working right now. So you can't.'"