K-9 ACADEMY: Training DMPD’s Newest Recruits

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

The Des Moines Police Department's newest recruits are training in Evansville, Indiana.

They can stop a bad guy in his tracks, sniff out drugs and find people who are lost or missing.  Before they hit the streets, these police recruits learn the basics at the academy.

“We're looking for high-drive dogs,” says John Haller from Top Dogs Police K-9 Academy.

Titan has what it takes to become a K-9 officer for Des Moines PD.  Named after the Greek god, he’s a fast study.

“You watch some of the bite work and he is lights out fast,” says Des Moines Police Officer Tony Ballantini.

When we caught up with him, he and Titan were half-way through their training.   Ballantini has 14 years on the job, most recently working in narcotics.   He’s about to head back to patrol with a new partner.

“It's all new, I’m a rookie dog handler,” Ballantini said.

They call veteran handler and trainer John Haller the dog whisperer.

“Dogs are masters at body language,” says the retired cop.

Haller spent the last 30 years teaching others how to communicate with canines.  He’s trained about 500 dogs for police and sheriff departments across the country.

“The dogs catch on very fast.  I mean, do it a couple of times and they've got it, but the handlers, they got to keep doing it and doing it and doing it,” Haller said.

During one training exercise, Titan has to sniff out a suspect hiding in a box.  When he picks up the scent, he alerts Ballantini and gets rewarded with praise and his favorite toy.

Whether it’s tracking someone or finding a stash of drugs, authorities rely on their trained noses

“I'm ready to put him to work for the community, but at the same time, I want to make sure that he's, that I'm ready to go,” Ballantini said.

In the remaining weeks, the bond between these two will only grow stronger.

“It’s what makes the difference between success and failure.  Good handler, bad handler.  The more you can learn by watching that dog, the better off you are,” says Haller.

Des Moines will soon have eight police dogs on the force.  Titan is expected to graduate from the academy in the next week.

“He's going to ruin some bad guys' day,” Haller said laughing.

“He's just a perfect dog for our city,” Ballantini added.

The department is also getting a drug dog named Blaise.  The K-9 unit is funded by seized drug money.