New K-9 unit joins police department |

New K-9 unit joins police department

Axie Navas

Axie Navas / Tahoe Daily TribuneSouth Lake Tahoe Police Officer Matt Morrison praises the department's newest four-legged officer, Quatro, at a training session on Oct. 11.

There’s a new cop in town. Armed with a keen ability to sniff out crime and an iron jaw reserved for criminals, Officer Quatro will prowl the streets this December with his two legged-partner, South Lake Tahoe Police Officer Matt Morrison.

But first the 21-month-old black sable German Shepherd will need to go through intensive police dog training. On Nov. 12, Morrison and Quatro will drive north to Red Bluff, Calif., for five weeks of protection and drug-detection classes after which the dog and his handler will be certified in both patrol and narcotics.

“We’ll be together alone five days a week, all day, learning about what our job will be. I’m excited to get him out on the street. He already knows the fundamentals, now it’s just getting us to do it together. We’re a real team,” Morrison said.

The city approved purchase of the $9,500 police dog last week. Part of the reason behind the hefty price tag is that the European vendor searched for and selected the right dog for the job, Sgt. Josh Adler said.

“In a police dog, you’re looking for a dog with lots of energy, not skittish, good with people and with a good medical history. And a lot of that is genetic,” Adler said.

Quatro also comes with a top-flight pedigree. According to maintenance trainer Jim Barnes, the blood of the old working dog breeds of Eastern Europe runs through Quatro’s veins.

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“He appeared to be the best, most ready to go into an accelerated program. And that’s coupled with his bloodlines. He’s got an excellent pedigree. A lot of people don’t care about pedigree, but I do. It tells you what kind of dog you’re going to get,” Barnes said.

Quatro came from the same Czech Republic kennel where Argo, the other SLTPD K-9 unit, grew up. Before the Berlin Wall fell in 1990, Barnes said, the Easter European bloc counties controlled dog breeding as they controlled other aspects of society: autocratically. And in most cases those regulations made for better working dogs.

“Take East Germans. They were an autocratic, iron curtain country. Everything was highly regulated, including dog breeding. They were dictators and that was necessary to maintain the breeding lines. The Eastern bloc dogs overall were much stronger,” Barnes said.

Some groups tried to keep the lineages pure even after the iron curtain crashed down, but dilution still occurred, Barnes said. Another change he noticed was that, after 1990, the previously rare black sable German Shepherd flooded the market and dogs with coloring like Quatro and Argo became much more common.

High-quality dogs are easier to find in Europe, but they come with some downsides too, Barnes said. Most of the Eastern European German Shepherds grew up in kennels and when they’re transported to the United States to live in a home, they undergo canine culture shock.

When Morrison introduced Quatro to his Boston Terrier and pug, the police dog was in for a surprise.

“They have a big basket of toys and it was definitely different for Quatro. He’s finally just relaxing and he can be a dog in the house. At first he was just overwhelmed. It was like a kid in the candy shop when he first saw all the toys,” Morrison said.

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