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New deputy chases tennis balls

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Sonoma’s newest police officer weighs about 65 pounds, loves to chase and catch tennis balls, is 2 years old and has a license to bite.

His name is Dickie – just Dickie – and he has a 24/7 partner in Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy Jeff Sherman, for the past two-and-a-half years a member of the Sonoma Police force.

Sherman and Dickie have already been through 10 weeks of intensive training together – five weeks in narcotics school and five weeks learning the nuances of canine patrol.

Dickie is a Belgian Malinois with, says Sherman, “a little German shepherd” thrown in for good measure.

Dickie came from a kennel in Hungary via a police dog training facility in Southern California. The price of adoption was $8,000.

Belgian Malinois are noted for being intelligent, fast, agile, high jumping, high energy dogs and are increasingly favored for police work. The U.S. Secret Service use Malinois, as did the Navy Seal team that killed Osama bin Laden. They are also widely used for drug detection and that specialty has already paid off twice for Sonoma police.

In July, Dickie “alerted” to marijuana during a car stop, and on Aug. 20, he located a bag of methamphetamine high on a shelf in the Valley Oaks Home apartment complex in an apartment occupied by a suspected drug dealer. Officers said they might well have missed the stash – which led to an arrest – had it not been for Dickie.

Sherman said Dickie is with him 24 hours a day, which makes for only a minor inconvenience since he already has a personal dog, a golden retriever he keeps separated from Dickie, who is clearly an alpha dog.

“I just walk them each separately,” Sherman explained. “Dickie is not a pet. You have to watch yourself with these dogs. They are trained on suspect apprehension. It’s a whole different world with them.”

As focused as he is on work – and the rewards he gets when he performs well – Dickie is equally relentless at play, retrieving a tennis ball as long as Sherman will throw it. “These dogs have a lot of drive,” he said. “A lot of toy drive, a lot of prey drive. He’s doing it (the police work) for the reward.”

Sherman explained that drug-sniffing dogs all have unique ways of alerting to what they smell – some are passive, some are aggressive – but they make it clear one way or another that they have found something the have been trained to locate.

Sherman said he has always been a dog person, and now he’s got a dog for a partner. The first few months of the relationship are all about bonding. “I have to be 100 percent focused on the bonding process,” said Sherman. “He (Dickie) is there to take the commands.”