When he was an eighth grader, Erich Grasso read a passage in a book that made a lifelong impression: \u201cFind your passion and pursue it.\u201d Grasso\u2019s passion for breeding, selling and training German shepherds for police K-9 work and as pets has led to a successful career and a solid reputation with police departments all along the East Coast. Although much of his work as owner of Grasso Shepherds involves importing and breeding dogs, he makes one point clear. \u201cI make a living from training, not selling,\u201d Grasso said, and he trains between four and six dogs a month. He supplies shepherds to police departments in Shelton and other Connecticut towns and cities, as well as New York City, Yonkers, N.Y., and the West Palm Beach, Fla., sheriff\u2019s department. Grasso is a Bridgeport native who bought two acres of land in Shelton to begin his training business. He and his family own Family Pet and Grooming at 530 Shelton Avenue in Huntington, where they train and groom dogs and sell pet supplies and the special raw food that he feeds to his dogs and that\u2019s also used for police dogs. Early interest in dogs \u201cI was born into a house with three dogs,\u201d Grasso said. \u201cAs a kid, I would put myself on a leash.\u201d He began to conduct $20 pet obedience lessons in 1994 when he was a high school senior. While attending college at the University of Central Florida, he forged ties with the K-9 unit at the Orlando Police Department. Grasso earned an associate\u2019s degree in criminal justice and a bachelor of science degree. \u201cMy two loves were police work and dogs,\u201d said Grasso, whose grandfather was a Bridgeport police officer. Although Grasso was hired as a police officer, he opted not to go to the police academy. \u201cAt age 27, I wanted to start my own business,\u201d he said. Grasso worked at several occupations, including veterinary technician, mortgage broker, carpenter, and waiter, before starting as a full-time dog trainer in 2003. Word of mouth His business started through word of mouth. \u201cIn the beginning I trained dogs that nobody could train,\u201d he said, including Rottweilers and pit bulls with biting issues. These days he imports German shepherds from Europe from proven stock. \u201cI believe in going with dogs that are genetically bred to do this work,\u201d he said, but he\u2019s quick to point out a popular misconception. \u201cNot every shepherd can be a police dog,\u201d he said. He starts training dogs when they\u2019re 8 weeks old, concentrating on building their confidence. \u201cYou want the dog to think they\u2019re king of the world and to feel like they\u2019re Mike Tyson,\u201d he said. Versatility and drive For police dogs, he looks for puppies that \u201crise above loud noises\u201d and are comfortable walking on different types of surfaces. \u201cI want a dog that can\u2019t get enough of [eating] food and [playing] ball,\u201d he said. Police dogs need \u201cfood drive, ball drive and prey drive.\u201d They have to be prepared to work in all types of weather, including tracking a robber in 110-degree heat in Florida or in New England snowstorms. \u201cIf they have the necessary drives, they\u2019ll drive through the environmental factors,\u201d Grasso said. The shepherds Grasso trains have to be between 1 and 2 years old to be supplied to a police department. \u201cMaturity is a huge part,\u201d he said. \u201cVery young dogs don\u2019t have the mental ability to do police work. I\u2019m proud when the dog is truly ready for police work.\u201d An important factor in supplying dogs to the police is to earn the trust of the department, he said, and he conducts free training after the sale is completed. Local departments The Shelton Police Department acquired its current police dog Stryker from Grasso, who \u201chas a good reputation,\u201d said Detective Christopher Nugent, the department\u2019s former K-9 handler. The Bridgeport Police Department has bought dogs from Grasso for eight years because of \u201cthe quality of the dogs and the customer service,\u201d said Bridgeport police Capt. Robert Evans, who\u2019s in charge of that department\u2019s K-9 unit. \u201cIf there\u2019s a problem, we know it will be addressed,\u201d Evans said. Good police dogs are loyal, intelligent, even-tempered, and socially friendly, Evans said, and have to be able to live with the handler\u2019s family. Grasso said in Bridgeport, \u201cthe police dogs see everything,\u201d including domestic violence and major crime scenes, and are used to track missing persons and criminals, protect their handlers, control crowds, and \u201creduce injury of cops and people.\u201d 'A non-lethal force' \u201cWhen the police get nervous, they call the canine,\u201d he said. \u201cDogs are a non-lethal force and a great tool, but they have to be the right dog.\u201d Grasso said he\u2019s seen one police dog instill more fear in criminals than several cruisers of police officers. \u201cPeople have an innate fear of dogs,\u201d he said. At the same time, \u201cdogs naturally are fearful of people,\u201d so they have to be trained to bite and release, and recognize the sound of gunshots. Trainers see benefits Travis Plucinski, Grasso\u2019s cousin, has been working with him as a trainer for about eight years. \u201cIt\u2019s a unique profession,\u201d he said. Plucinski said he trains both family dogs and police dogs, picks up the dogs at the airport, and socializes them. \u201cI show them the world so they\u2019re well-traveled,\u201d he said. That includes trips to Home Depot and other local stores. Plucinski works on puppy obedience and agitation work that involves donning \u201cbite suits.\u201d Helping the community Grasso\u2019s work also includes training rescue dogs for the Lexus Project, a group that provides legal defense for dogs, and he conducts family dog training under the name \u201cDogs by Erich.\u201d He donates a dog to one family and to one police department each year \u201cwhen it\u2019s a cost issue.\u201d Recently, he donated a shepherd to a Shelton family with an 11-year-old boy. \u201cWe found the right dog,\u201d he said. \u201cI make sure the right dog goes to the right place.\u201d Training dogs is a 24-7 labor of love for him. \u201cI always keep dogs with me,\u201d he said. \u201cI love to see dogs in police work. They become like human beings. They can rationalize.\u201d For him, dog training is the career of a lifetime. \u201cIt\u2019s a total passion,\u201d he said.