Required for this Shelton police job: Intelligence, loyalty and social skills

Stryker, the Shelton Police Department’s newly acquired K-9, energetically tugged at his leash in the department’s parking lot under the watchful eye of his handler, police officer Daniel Loris.

The 1-year-old German shepherd will soon harness that energy as he begins pursuing criminals and doing public relations work for the law enforcement agency.

He’s been in Loris’s home for about a month — doing “full-time security work,” Loris quipped.

In actuality, Stryker is forming an important bond with Loris and his family before starting training in February at the state police training facility in Meriden. “We’re building a relationship together,” Loris said.

“This is a big endeavor,” Shelton police Lt. Robert Kozlowsky said. “It’s almost a marriage, to bring a dog into the family.”

“It’s important that the dog and the handler build a strong bond,” said Shelton Det. Christopher Nugent, who previously worked as a handler for Jager, the department’s recently retired police dog.

Police dogs serve an average of eight years, Nugent said, and it was time for Jager to relinquish his duties.

“It was a perfect time,” Nugent said. “I had an opportunity to make an advancement. I was promoted to detective, and the dog retired.”

Keeping the program going

“We need to keep the K-9 program going,” Kozlowsky said. “I took on the task of acquiring the [new] dog.”

He calls Nugent’s knowledge of the K-9 program “invaluable.”

The department acquired Stryker from Grasso Shepherds in Shelton, and the company’s owner, Erich Grasso, has a good reputation, Nugent said.

Potential police dogs like Stryker have good working blood lines, he said, but “a lot is the time and the sweat” that the dog and handler put in to the relationship.

Loris said he went through a selection process for the handler job, which included a physical agility test, and Stryker also was screened.

Training a police dog

The focus of the dog’s formal training is obedience as well as criminal apprehension, tracking and evidence recovery.

If a bank robbery occurs, “we’d do a track” of a suspect, Nugent said, often ending at the getaway car.

The dogs are trained to pull a suspect from a car, he said.

Training also teaches a dog to make associations, and “a police siren is a trigger, or the tone of voice,” he said. “He’s going to feel your adrenaline. Everything flows down the leash.”

Dogs are also trained to jump, and to deal with obstacles, and the dog has to be re-certified throughout its career.

German shepherds are thought to be “the most intelligent for police work and loyalty,” Nugent said.

For the handler, training includes classwork and hands-on training. “It’s important you put a strong handler and dog together,” Nugent said. “They make a strong team.”

A department ambassador

An important part of a police dog’s duties is the “community aspect,” said Kozlowsky, and the dog and his handler visit schools, Boy Scout troops and Girl Scout troops.

The dog has to be trained to be socially acceptable. “It’s part of building good relations with a community,” he said. “Every kid wants to meet the police dog.”

The officer’s ability to work with the public is also important. “Det. Nugent did a great job,” Kozlowsky said.

A police dog is “a good ambassador for the department,” said Shelton Police Chief Joel Hurliman.

Will go through drug training

In terms of work, a police dog finds missing persons and missing children and is used to track burglars and robbers.

“They’re trained for basic patrol,” Hurliman said. “We plan to send [Stryker] to drug training.”

The department started using police dogs in the 1980s, he said, and there has been “a slight gap” after Jager retired.

“I’m very excited to have another dog back,” Hurliman said. “He’s a welcome addition to the department.”

Nugent watched as an ever-alert Stryker romped behind the Shelton Police Department’s headquarters building. “He’s got that willingness to work,” Nugent said of the agency’s new dog.