By Marie Damman and Rikki King Herald Writers
EDMONDS — The big, young black dog still needs his leash to stick next to his police officer partner, Jason Robinson.
Hobbs has been on the force only four weeks. He’s still learning.
Hobbs, a 17-month-old German shepherd, arrived this summer at the Edmonds Police Department. He came from Germany. Robinson named the dog after Roy Hobbs, a character in the baseball novel, “The Natural,” that was made into Robert Redford movie.
Together, Robinson and Hobbs are spending 10 weeks training to pass state handler tests before they can go on police missions tracking bad guys.
Every day, Robinson must learn to read Hobbs’ personality, his body language and his moods. When they go tracking, the movements of the dog’s tail have different meanings.
“It is amazing how the bond was there so quickly,” Robinson said. “He is really a faithful partner.”
Most police dogs start at a department when they are young, between 15 months and 2 years old, said Edmonds police Cpl. Shane Hawley, the department’s dog trainer.
Hobbs was a gift from the Edmonds Police Foundation, a nonprofit that supports police services in Edmonds. The foundation raised the money through community donations and by selling plush-toy police dogs, President David Jones said.
Hobbs is the second dog the foundation has donated. The first, Dash, retired earlier this year, department spokesman Sgt. Mark Marsh said.
Robinson joined the police department three and a half years ago. To be a handler, he needed three years’ experience as an officer. He also spent more than a year attending police dog training.
“This is a huge commitment,” he said. “I showed my interest for learning more and more.”
When they aren’t training, the handler keeps learning and spending time with the dog, Hawley said.
“It is difficult to learn what the dog wants. He doesn’t speak English,” Hawley said.
Hobbs is receiving two kinds of training: obedience and tracking suspects.
Hobbs and Robinson must train with Hawley for 309 hours. They’ll work with police dogs and trainers from around the region. Their training runs four night a week, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. They are on their fourth week, and Robinson already sees an improvement in Hobbs’ behavior, he said.
Hawley and Robinson communicate with the dog using hand signals and commands.
Because the dog is from Germany, Robinson had to use some German language commands, like the word for “sit.” Hobbs had to learn some English commands — because Robinson’s German wasn’t perfect.
The department picks police dogs according to strict criteria, Hawley said.
“It needs lots of energy, to be able to go tracking, and catch,” Hawley said. “If it is a really excited dog, we can pick a calm handler; make the opposite work sometimes.”
It’s a tough job for police dogs, Hawley said. They tend to retire between 7 and 9 years old, more often because of injuries.
Robinson hopes to keep Hobbs for the dog’s entire life.
“It is kind of like having another kid,” he said.
Marie Damman: firstname.lastname@example.org.