The relationship between man and dog has spanned over 15,000 years. Our canine counterparts have been pivotal to everything from our hunting and gathering strategies to our farming and cultivating of the earth and even to the success of our land crossing into North America through the Bering Straight. Today, whether our canines are treasured lap dogs or hard at work, they have truly earned the title of “man’s best friend”.
Shane Grammer, of the Litchfield Police Department in Illinois demonstrates just how important working dogs still are in our everyday lives. On the job, Grammer and his dog Arie, an almost 6 year old Malinois from Holland have gained a reputation as a strong police resource in the Lichtfield K9 Unit. At home, Grammer has three other dogs that he loves and trains in his free time. Gauge, his yellow lab, is an upland flusher. Gunner, a black lab, is his trusted duck hunter. And Hank, a handsome English Pointer, is the dog he uses in competition at PHU and UFTA field trials. Already devoting many hours to Arie for the K9 unit, Grammer’s passion for hunting makes his bond with dogs a 24-7 affair.
Since DARE class in the 6th grade, Grammer knew that he wanted to work in the K9 unit and serve the community. In 2003 he became a police officer in Lichtfield and gravitated to the K9 unit as only the second member of its team. He discovered Arie from a police dog broker in Indiana. Of the 15 dogs available to choose from, Arie displayed a certain toughness and tolerance that Grammer admired immediately. The pads on Arie’s feet were painfully worn down from spinning in his crate and, despite his discomfort, the Malinois still managed to perform the basic tasks that Grammer required of him. Thus began their relationship as the new members of the Lichtfield K9 unit.
After getting Arie some pad tough spray for his feet, Grammer and his partner began their 10 week police academy training. During this time, repetition became the cornerstone of their education. They worked on proofing odors so that Arie wouldn’t alert Grammer to food or clean money, but rather to narcotics. For a reward, Arie was given play time with his favorite toy, a rolled up white terry cloth towel that he looks forward to tugging on even today. When they emerged from the academy, Arie was a dual purpose dog able to smell narcotics and bite suspects.
A few years after Grammer was introduced to his K9 unit dream in a middle school DARE class, his uncle began taking him rabbit hunting. Then after high school, he began duck hunting and became thoroughly addicted. As an almost natural progression, Grammer found himself upland game hunting and began to get familiarized with the field trials when a relative of his wife, Dana, introduced him. It wasn’t long before Grammer was hooked on the competitions too. He used the summer after his field trial introduction to read as many books and watch as many dvds as possible on field training to ready himself for the upcoming winter. Instead of the Glock that he carries on duty, Grammer prefers a camouflage over under 12 gauge field Browning Citori while working with Hank his pointer.
He found Hank at a field trial in Higginsville, Missouri where he admired the way that Hank busted through the brush and held a stylish point. The pair trains together at the CrannieMack Bird Hunting Preserve in Hillsboro, Illinois and the South Otter Hunting Preserve in Carlinville, Illinois where they root out quail and pheasant in the thick cover. The two joined the Trophy Time Gun Dogs team, headed by upland champion Josh Tucker in Central Illinois. With the trials running from September through May every year, Grammer and Hank take every opportunity they have to compete, making it to about 7 or 8 trials a season. During their second competition, they placed in second. However, for Grammer and Hank, this year is all about gaining experience and getting clean runs. He and his partner are striving to point all of the birds, shoot all of the birds and retrieve all of the birds at every field trial. Of course, Grammer admires the style with which Hank runs at a dead sprint and will, all of a sudden, flip his tail straight up and snap frozen on point.
While Lichtfield, Illinois is by no means considered an epicenter of drug abuse, it is located next to Interstate 55, a major highway that leads northward to Chicago. It is on this road where large quantities of narcotics move into the city and the corresponding cash moves southward out of the city. For this reason, Secret Service sends Grammer “clean money”, or money with out any traces of drugs on it to smell for every training day that Arie gets put out in a car. In addition, the DEA sends annual samples of one ounce of the five pure smells – cannabis, crack cocaine, cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine – for Arie to train with. As a result, Grammer and Arie are constantly repeating their scent proofing and policing technique.
Unlike what is portrayed in movies, odor is not containable. Eventually it will permeate the storage vessel it is in and escape. As a result, Arie is able to make some remarkable finds on the job. Last year, the Malinois found 33 lbs of cannabis travelling northbound from the Tex-Mex border towards Chicago wrapped in duct tape, wheel grease and plastic bags. On another occasion, Arie alerted to a suspect’s tail light and discovered 6 ounces of cannabis ensconced in coffee grounds and a hard plastic box.
In addition, Arie also has the ability to track or conduct an area search for suspects who run from a traffic stop or committed a crime then flee the scene. Arie can also find missing people or children and is trained to search for evidence containing human odor. When Arie locates an article with human odor he lets Grammer know by laying down and putting the article between his paws. When Arie alerts to such an item Grammer throws his towel for a reward.
Currently, as the only members of the K9 unit at Lichtfield, Grammer and Arie have become known around the region as a seasoned force to be reckoned with. Arie becomes excited and barks as their vehicle accelerates and the sirens blare; he knows it’s time for duty. Even the tone of Grammer’s voice or the sound of the police radio will signal the dog that it’s working hours. Once at the job, Grammer holds the lead and Arie takes over. Off duty, Arie lives with Grammer and will continue to live there even after his service career has ended.
At most trials, a truck takes the competitors to the field where the competition becomes about hunter, dog, bird and judge. At this point, Grammer believes in allowing Hank to do his job and putting trust in his partner just like he would with Arie in the K9 unit. It is this bond and trust that Grammer believes is the key to success with any dog.
Aside from the actual competition, Grammer sees the field trials as an opportunity to meet other people who share his passion for their canine partners. He feels at ease exchanging stories and tips with his fellow competitors and enjoys the camaraderie.
The hard work, focus, and determination that Shane Grammer carries with him in all arenas of life is only one of many reasons that Ultimate Upland is proud to sponsor him and Hank at the field trials this season. You can also follow what's happening with Shane, Arie and Hank by becoming a member of the Birdhunting Crimefighters group at the Ultimate Upland Lodge.
*Interview and Article written by Marston St. John