University of Iowa

UIPD K9 Officers Mark One Year With Their Canine Partners

The University of Iowa Department of Public Safety’s K9 Officers are celebrating  their first year with their canine partners.  

In January of last year, Officers Jackie Anderson and Jess Bernhard travelled to Indiana, where they first met their respective canine partners at the Von Liche Kennels. After being shown how the dogs alerted to various types of explosive odor, both officers were shown a group of dogs and given the opportunity to meet their potential partners.  

With the then-retirement of one of the department’s explosive detection K9’s, Axel, still fairly recent and K9 Barry nearing retirement, both officers had to balance a number of factors in their decision. Size and longevity were key, but both officers agreed on one thing — they didn’t select their partners so much as their partners selected them. 

“Once we got out in the field, I got down on one knee and was trying to play ball with him and about the third or fourth time, he kind of pawed at me,” Bernhard said of his partner, Jago. “He put his paw on my chest and then he let me pick him up and I carried him around on my shoulder for two or three minutes — it was almost like, ‘you’re here.’” 

Anderson echoed  that sentiment.  

“He picked me more than I picked him really,” Anderson said of Falo. “He was the first dog they showed us and by far the smallest and the second calmest — Jago was the calmest — but he was pretty calm for a mal. We just clicked, it was more of gut instinct than anything else.” 

With a year of training and sweeps under their belts, both officers have learned a lot about their new four legged partners as their working and personal relationship continues to grow and develop over time.  

“We’re getting to the point where we’ve learned a lot about each other,” Anderson said of Falo. “I like that he’s just wildly intelligent, he’s really driven—it doesn’t matter how tired he is — he’s going to do what he’s going to do.” 

Bernhard has found a similar appreciation for Jago. 

“He is always ready to go and always wants to work. He waits for me in the morning to get the car ready,” Bernhard said. He’s excited but wants to go to work.” 

And if a year has proven anything, it’s that there is no shortage of work. The K9 Units and their handlers train a minimum of 24  hours a month. That’s a standard set by the department, and for 20 of those hours, they train with the cadre of K9 units from the Cedar Rapids Police Department.  
“With more dogs, there’s more evolution,” Bernhard said, “The more you get to see and the more you get to learn.”  

With the build-up to the Iowa Caucuses, regular training was quickly combined with a busy political season. Anderson and Falo worked 12 events, while Bernhard and Jago worked 15 with both officers assisting the United States Secret Service in securing and sweeping venues for the three candidates with Secret Service Protection all over the eastern half of the state. 

“Falo really liked it because it was constant work for him,” Anderson said.  

Despite the busy schedule, both officers have enjoyed the work. 

“It gave me a greater appreciation for the caucuses,” Bernhard said. “Seeing the passion that so many Iowans have makes me proud and to be first is awesome. Plus, the Secret Service treated me like one of their own.” 

“It’s cool to meet former Presidents,” Anderson added. “And the other people that come along with it, like pop stars and what not. It was cool to meet Demi Lovato. She was really nice, a dog fan.” 

With caucus season over, more training opportunities are ahead for both officers and their four-legged partners, including an urban tracking school in Colorado in April.  

But, after a year together, what strikes the officers most about their new K9 partners is their talent. 

“The miracle of how dogs can find odor,” Bernhard said. “It absolutely amazes me, time and time again. Just blows my mind how focused that is.”