Fido won't be limited to fetch and tug-of-war games at the Bijou dog park this fall if the South Lake Tahoe Police Canine Association has anything to say about it.
Sgt. Josh Adler with the SLTPCA said the group plans to bring four or five permanent, custom-built pieces of dog agility equipment to the park within the next month, or before winter sinks its teeth into the basin. The association will also have 10 movable pieces that can be used for training and competitions, he said.
Those pieces include a balance beam, A-frames, jumps, a tunnel, a tire and a split log, all with a Tahoe-feel and built by a local contractor. The equipment will look like natural wood, and not like the white obstacles of a traditional dog agility course, Adler said.
And there's no discrimination when it comes to dog-size. The group hopes to also have small pieces of equipment suitable for your average Chihuahua or corgi.
The association needs the equipment for both training and the annual canine trials, Adler said. Since SLTPCA borrows the pieces from other agencies for the event and doesn't do any actual agility training, Adler said he anticipates that the new equipment will both save time and help train the unit's dogs.
"We don't do any agility training because we don't have the equipment. The training is good for the dog, it's good for the handler and it's good crossover training for police work," Adler said.
Though balancing on a log or jumping through a hoop might not seem directly related to police dog training, police officer and K-9 handler Ryan Wagoner said it's all about getting the dog to answer to every command and to be comfortable even in an abnormal environment.
"The environment is something the dogs need to get comfortable with. The basis of the agility trials is obedience, and they need to be able to navigate the obstacles in a difficult environment. It's getting them used to it, and then they realize they're not going to be harmed," Wagoner said.
Wagoner and his dog, Argo, walked through their paces on Thursday at the Lake Tahoe Airport under the guidance of Jim Barnes, the association's trainer who works with the dogs once a week.
Barnes instructed Wagoner who then relayed commands to the K-9 unit in German. That's right - Argo, a German Shepherd who came from the Czech Republic, speaks German. Or at least he understands it. According to Barnes, it's a guttural language that the dogs respond well to in training.
Thursday's training focused primarily on maintenance and obedience, and the agility equipment will add to those sessions, Wagoner said. The shepherds will still have to complete 240 hours or about six weeks of police dog training, but when they're in the South Shore they can practice and hone skills learned at the camp. Wagoner said that once the equipment arrives at the dog park, the police officers will set times to work at Bijou.
Adler said the agility pieces will take up the back corner of the park, about 25 percent of the fenced space. But as far as he's heard, no dog owners are concerned with the equipment taking up fetching room. All the responses have been positive, Adler said.
For Noreen Curtin, a seasonal South Lake Tahoe resident who frequents the Bijou dog park with her black lab, Toby, the equipment would be a good addition to the area.
"It would be great. And I would definitely use it," Curtin said on Wednesday as Toby tore across the wood chips after a ball.
The SLTPCA has already raised about $20,000 - three-quarters of which comes from the city - for the equipment. The remainder comes from the association's coffers and donations.
"Everybody I've talked to is excited and it's free to the public. We have a lot of great dog people here in South Lake Tahoe. It's good for everybody, and it's not that difficult because the dogs have fun using it," Adler said.