SAN ANTONIO – The next time you go visit an airport anywhere in the country, chances are you will look around and spot a security dog sniffing around, making sure the airport and flights are safe.
Another special treat: Odds are those K-9 units and their handlers were trained in town at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
State and federal law enforcement and Transportation Security Administration K9 units are trained at the unique facility with a 10-week hands-on program.
Why are you here?
"Security for passengers is priority No. 1, and the reason we come here is because this training environment is second to none," Connecticut State Trooper John Blalock said.
Blalock, the only state trooper in his training class, is surrounded by TSA agents and their K-9 partners from places like Dallas and even Puerto Rico.
"They’ve made it great here. The training is non-stop, they keep you busy and just learning how the dog functions. Keeps things interesting," Blalock said.
TSA and police K-9s go through the same training.
TSA units are predominately used to screen passengers, while police K-9s are used more in public areas, searching luggage and vehicles.
What goes on at this facility that takes 10 weeks to learn?
"In there, we have to teach our dogs how to search effectively and make sure they hit all the odors productively," Joshua Araujo, a TSA K-9 training instructor, said.
Araujo is talking about one of the 15 training labs at the K-9 Explosive Detection Training Facility, which is inside of an old airplane with odors designed to replicate hidden explosives.
The dogs and their handlers' mission: Find the locations.
Blalock said the most important attribute learned over the course of the program and their most important part of working with the K-9 unit is communication.
What happens if the K-9 you were designated to work with just doesn't work out?
"The initial dog they gave me was a black lab, the sweetest dog in the world, but his initial drive to screen passengers just wasn’t there. They set him aside and provided me with another dog with more drive," Blalock said.
Each K-9 team is assembled strategically based on the animals' temperament and even the home life of the handler. Just like any job, sometimes it doesn't work out.
Now, with only a week left of the training, Blalock is partnered and confident with Rocky Reilly.
"One of the facts about Rocky Reilly is he has two names, meaning he is designated as a 9/11 dog and was named after a victim of 9/11," Blalock said.
After graduation, the K-9 team will return to Connecticut and be in charge of monitoring the security at their airport, their No. 1 priority.